August 23rd, 2005: Jeff Chapman, or as most people knew him, Ninjalicious, dies quietly in his hospital bed, surrounded by his family. Today marks the 5-year anniversary of his passing. He was not quite 32 years old.
The world of Urban Exploration has changed a lot in the last five years. There are many of you here to whom the name Ninjalicious evokes no feelings. I'm hoping this post, and the replies sure to follow, will show you what Ninj was all about.
Ninjalicious was, of course, the founder of Infiltration
, the zine about going places you're not supposed to go. I found Ninj's site way back in 2001, when someone had mentioned in passing to me that there was an abandoned subway station in Toronto. I breathlessly read every article, and quickly whipped out my credit card to order the complete back issues of Infiltration. They took more than 6 weeks to arrive, and I couldn't wait.
Infiltration represented a rarely-seen look into the underworld... a place devoid of warning signs, protective barriers, and safety features. As a 17-year-old kid growing up in a quiet suburb in Scarborough, these ideas were new and scary to me. But they were also terribly exciting.
The story of how UER began is long and not very interesting, but UER owes much of its success to an early partnership with Ninj. I came up with a concept of having one forum spanning multiple UE sites, allowing each site to retain its individual look and feel, but providing a united, larger community. I approached Ninj in 2002 and asked if he was interested in participating in this concept, and he agreed. There were four sites initially (Infiltration, Wraiths, UEC, and mine). Thus, a "Forum" link was added to Infiltration, and UER grew.
It wasn't until many years later that I first met Ninj in person. In 2003, I had an opportunity to see "behind-the-scenes" at TTC's Wilson Yard, and I invited Ninj to come along. He jumped at the chance, and I got to meet him for the first time. For me, it was meeting my idol. He was nothing like what I expected. In my mind, I had pictured an "extreme"-type, like you see on those sports shows on TV. In reality, Ninj was quiet, but his eyes betrayed his immense intelligence. I was astounded by how "ordinary" he looked -- clean-shaven, well-dressed, quiet haircut. In fact, he looked so ordinary that he would easily be forgotten, a fact he used to his advantage.
Liz on the left, Jeff on the right (2003)
I was consistently impressed with Ninj's social engineering skills. He preferred to explore "active" places, using his words to talk himself out of confrontations. People just looked at his face and listened to what he said, and they believed him, trusted him. I don't have many photographs of Ninj, because he hated being photographed. He was very protective of his identity.
The basement of the unfinished student residence on Willcocks, UofT (2003)
In 2004, someone suggested the concept of a global Exploration meetup, to be held right here in Toronto. Ninj jumped on the idea, and he quickly helped organize what would eventually become the "Office Products Expo '94", a tongue-in-cheek name to confuse non-attendees about our actual motives.
The event was a blast, and everyone had a great time. Over 75 people attended, from as far away as Europe, Alaska, Texas, New Mexico, and of course all over Canada. At one point, over 30 people entered the same drain at once. The final event was a huge game similar to 'Capture the Flag', played in Toronto's extensive 'PATH' network of underground arcades.
Ninj inflates the buffalo that was used as the 'flag' (2004)
Something I respected most in Ninj was his ability to lead. He could find a compromise in every argument, and somehow he was able to defuse any situation before it got out of hand. He had a way of listening to both sides of an argument and making suggestions without coming off as patronizing.
Those who knew Ninj, often only knew the Urban Exploration side of him. But Ninj was a goofball at heart, and had created several really silly projects over the years. Some of these are still online: Yip, a really goofy zine, can be seen at www.yip.org
. Ninj also enjoyed swimming in public fountains, and photographing knock-off "Coffee Time" places (called Cloney Time).
Av & Ninj in the OCAD Tabletop while it was under construction (2003)
After his death, in September 2005, I helped organize a memorial for Ninj. Over 40 people attended, and some gave wonderful eulogies. I didn't say much. It has taken these last five years for me to fully comprehend what we've all lost.
Jeff Chapman, you live on in each of our hearts. Bonus:
In January 2005, I did a fake radio show with Ninj. A friend of mine worked for a major radio station, and Ninj and I went in there one night and had a discussion about Urban Exploration. We also did our own fake news reports and other silliness.
See the thread and listen to it here
. Are you an organ donor? If more people were, early deaths like Jeff's would've been avoided. Please consider becoming an organ donor today.
- Read the original announcement of Ninj's death here. A lot of people shared their feelings for Ninj.
- Donate to the Toronto Western Hospital