Filming Jitters Inside an 19th Century Gothic Revival Church
Behind the Scenes of Abandoned: Philadelphia AME Church
When you're surrounded by people you trust, even the scariest places don't seem so bad. It's even fun to be in a creepy place, as long as there's a familiar voice to return a joke, or a pair of hands to steady you on shaky footing. On most shoots, this is the case. But in the Ruffin Nichols Memorial Church, an 18th century gothic revival church in central Philadelphia, a moment came when I found myself alone.
No flashlight, stumbling through the former priest's quarters on 200 year old timbers with mortar crumbling from every step. Not good. The part when it gets worse begins with a sudden, frantic scrambling sound. An aggrieved creature, probably mammalian, certainly clawed, seeks rapid egress. Will it choose fight rather than flight? To what extent will I be ridiculed if I use the Walkie Talkie that unites the crew to call for help? What weapons do I have at hand? I am legitimately scared, and wrestle an intrinsic distrust of superstition against a deep ancestral belief that places like this have powers that our species does not rationally understand.
I freeze-- listening intently for signs that the creature has happily escaped, or is balled in a corner, timing an imminent strike. In the quiet, I have a moment to contemplate the lives that have passed though this building: the optimism with which it was first built, the rites of passage that welcomed generations of Philadelphians into the world, the acknowledgement of their passage to adulthood, their marriage, and their death. The Ruffin Nichols Memorial church, formerly St Jude's, was a cornerstone of the community here on North 11th Street. The joy of this show comes from exploring places like this: forgotten for now, but once the focal point of people from another time. When you step into places like this, you step out of your own life. You speak in a hushed tone; you regard the objects around you with wonder. It's pretty neat.
When enough time passes without further report from the creature, I proceed down a set of stairs into the basement. After all, there's a show to produce, and Jay, Mark and Dan are down here somewhere. Upon descending the rickety staircase without incident, I make two realizations: the basement is even scarier than the priest quarters, and I'm never going on another of these shoots without bringing a flashlight.