NEJC Faces: Urban explorer George Mathews

By Tommy Sherk


A lot of 12 year olds spend their free time playing video games or maybe shooting hoops in the front yard. But Mission Hills native George Mathews eschews the ordinary, and instead spends every minute he can exploring the nooks and crannies of Kansas City, from drainage channels to old buildings.:

GM: I always go with my dad. Occasionally I’ll go with more people. I started exploring drains, tunnels with my friends when they would dare me to go in them. It kind of gave me the love for fun like that. Then, I asked my dad if we could go take photos in the West Bottoms, and we found an abandoned factory. I begged him to go into that building, so we did. We both started to like it, and it kind of just grew from there.

What’s your definition of urban exploration?

GM: It’s going somewhere you wouldn’t normally go or are not supposed to go, whether it’s opening a door or crawling through a crawlspace. How I do it is with abandoned buildings. There is a motto that’s “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, and break nothing but silence,” and we try to abide by that.

How do you feel, as a 12-year-old, going into these places adults would be scared to go into?
GM: I’m not sure… I feel pretty normal about it. Yeah, I still get scared. It depends. Some places that I know are really sketchy can be downright terrified. And then some places I’ll be comfortable to the point where I’ll be playing hide-and-seek tag and riding scooters in the halls.

I have a bag that has one flashlight, [a] NightCore EAX Hammer, one headlamp, [a] O-light H35, two sets of batteries, a carabiner, occasionally a harness, [and] pepper spray for defense. But my dad has all the stuff — he has a socket wrench, a screwdriver, lots of flashlights, respirators to protect from mold and asbestos and hazardous chemicals. He has a grappling hook, three rope ladders, caving ladder, 30 feet of rope, a taser flashlight and a baton. And the pack of cigarettes, because if you offer a homeless person cigarettes, they’ll be your friend. It’s better to take the peaceful approach, rather than the tase-pepper spray-club approach.

Answers condensed for publication.