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ESSENTIAL GUIDE: Abandoned Insane Asylums

article-imageWhittingham Hospital (via environmentalgraffiti.com) 

Early psychiatric asylums were imposing structures. Hundreds to hundreds of thousands of patients were held in these buildings for everything from depression to criminal behavior, and then there were those who, medically speaking, suffered from no mental condition at all.

These were improvements, however, over no treatment or the condemnation to prisons, which had previously been the norm. Yet eventually many of these new psychiatric facilities saw an unmanageable increase in the number of patients. Staff and investigative journalistic reports indicated the overuse and unnecessary use of treatments in order to manage these growing populations. However, it was not until the 1990s when many of these expansive asylums were completely overhauled into modern medical centers or closed because of underuse, underfunding, or scandal.

Much was learned during that period in psychiatric history, but much remains to be done in terms of advancements and understanding of medical disorders globally. Stories of abuses, tragic deaths, and murders can be found in old newspaper archives for many of these buildings that remain as towering ghosts. Most of the structures have crumbled, but like the memories of their patients, they remain. Below are some of the most unsettling of these abandoned insane asylums:

Topeka, Kansas

Topeka State Hospital in 2008 (via Wikimedia)

Topeka State Hospital opened in 1872, and by the early 1900s horror stories emerged regarding patient treatment. There were investigative news reports of patients being left in rocking chairs in the hallways for hours, reports of patients being raped, chained, kept nude, and one reporter claimed to have seen a patient who had likely been strapped to his bed for so long his skin had begun to grow over the straps.

Administrative disorganization led to commitment papers that could not be found, or verified, which made identifying some patients difficult. Relaxed legal and medical processes also made it so that evaluation of medical conditions sometimes was reported to not occur before a patient was admitted. Topeka was also notorious for the implementation of forced sterilizations for patients that were deemed habitual criminals, idiots, epileptics, imbeciles, and the insane. Hundreds of men in Kansa who entered Topeka State Hospital were said to have been castrated.

The hospital closed in 1997, and while some buildings remain, the cemetery is a bare landscape. The unmarked cemetery does not have any signs, paths, or major stonework for the reported 1,157 patients who died here. 

article-image Map of Topeka State Hospital (via Kansas Historical Society)

Danvers, Massachusetts

article-imageDanvers State Hospital (via Wikimedia)

This psychiatric asylum was opened in 1878 in Danvers, Massachusetts. Danvers State Hospital is rumored to be the birthplace of the pre-frontal lobotomy, a surgical procedure which cuts, or scraps away, tissue of the prefrontal cortex of the brain. The procedure was widely popular in the early 1900s in treating psychiatric patients, since its serious effects included reduction in initiative and inhibition. The procedure is now banned in the United States.

A series of complicated underground tunnels connected to various buildings on the campus and were used to move patients to nearby buildings on campus, especially during winter months. The original design allowed for the treatment of 500 patients — by the 1920s, the hospital was serving more than 2,000. Staff reports of inhumane therapies, such as excessive shock treatments, lobotomies, overmedication, and straightjackets used to keep the growing population under control was common. The hospital saw a decline in patients in the 1960s and closed its doors in 1992.

In 2005, the property was sold to Avalon Bay Development, which began demolition with the intention of creating an apartment complex that would house 497 units. A mysterious fire at the site in 2007 consumed most of this construction. Today, about a third of the original structure of the hospital remains, as well as its cemeteries and underground tunnels, which are said to be blocked off. It's believed that the hospital was the inspiration for H.P. Lovecraft’s Arkham Sanatorium in his short story “The Thing on the Doorstep,” as well as the inspiration for Arkham Asylum in the Batman comic world.  

article-imageIllustration of Danvers State Hospital (via rootsofmyroots)

Remains of Danvers State Hospital (via Opacity)

Danvers State Hospital in 2008 (via Wikimedia)

Denbigh, North Wales

article-imageDenbigh Mental Asylum (via Wikimedia)

Also known as North Wales Hospital, Denbigh Mental Asylum was built for 60 but treated over 200 patients. The hospital opened in 1848 and began its series of closures in 1991, with it completely closing in 2001. Paranormal investigators now frequent the grounds, to the dismay of locals.

In 2008, plans to renovate the building to apartments were thwarted when a fire broke out. Arson was suspected in the damage that destroyed the main hall. People who have made their way through the abandoned property have left garbage, smashed windows, and covered many remaining walls with graffiti.  Some of the floors are rotting away due to excessive water damage. 

article-imageDenbigh Instane Asylum (Public Domain)

article-imageDenbigh Insane Asylum (Public Domain)

Athens, Ohio

Athens Lunatic Asylum (via complex.com)

Athens Lunatic Asylum has gone through a few name changes over the years; The Athens Hospital for the Insane, the Athens State Hospital, Ohio Mental Health Center, and others. The hospital was opened in 1874, and in 1876, the most common cause of insanity among male patients was listed as masturbation and menstrual derangements, while postpartum and menopause were the top causes for female patients.

Originally, it sat on 141 acres and treated over 500 people. By the 1950s, the acreage had spread to over 1,000 acres that contained 78 buildings where nearly 2,000 patients were treated. For many years, the hospital was Ohio’s largest employer. Patients also conducted most of the work to maintain the facility and grounds. That is, until psychotropic drug treatments were added, like thorazine which can cause excitability or catatonic states, and many patients were no longer able to perform their duties. Records of the hospital in the Ohio University archives also show evidence of hydrotherapy, lobotomies, and electroshock.

The hospital was closed in 1993 and its property was later deeded to Ohio University and was renamed The Ridges, and is still in use as a medical facility. However, a few buildings remain eerily empty. At one point, the hospital cemetery fell into disrepair, but the National Alliance on Mental Illness took over this responsibility. There are over 1,900 people buried in its grounds, many whose grave is only indicated by a numeric post, as markers indicating names and birthdates came later. Over 80 veterans are also buried there, many who fought in the Civil War. 

article-imageAthens Lunatic Asylum (photograph by Wesley Peyton/Flickr user)

"Ward for Males" (via WOUB Public Media)

article-imageAthens Lunatic Asylum (via Wikimedia)

Brentwood, New York

article-imagePilgrim Psychiatric Center parking lot (via mymodernmet.com)

Opened in 1931, Pilgrim State Hospital contained a farm, fire department, courts, a post office, a power plant, a church, and a cemetery. It would eventually house 13,875 patients – making it the largest hospital of its kind in the world at the time.

Some reports state that thousands were lobotomized and subjected to electroshock therapy and ice baths for treatments. It makes an appearance in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, and the 2009 documentary Cropsey also focused on Pilgrim State Hospital as part of its investigation into the bogeyman figure of Andrew Rand, a convicted child killer. Rand’s mother was said to be institutionalized at Pilgrim. By the 1990s most of the land and farms had been sold for development purposes.

The hospital was renamed Pilgrim Psychiatric Center and some of the original buildings are still in use today, providing both inpatient and outpatient psychiatric treatment. Part of the abandoned sections include a long tunnel covered in graffiti, and rooms with peeling, cracked paint and dappled with mildew. Debris-covered operating tables and large wooden desks with drawers still labeled with patient names can also be found. The remnants of outdated medical equipment and spray-painted messages from intruders announcing which areas to keep away from, such as opened elevators, or messages to continue further down broken glass covered hallways, are found throughout.

article-imagePilgrim State Hospital (via rootsweb.ancestory.com)

article-imagePilgrim Psychiatric Center (via Wikimedia)

article-imageThe Pilgrim State Hospital morgue (via bf11.org)

Weston, West Virginia

article-imageTrans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (via graveaddiction.com)

Originally opened in 1864 to house 250 people, Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum became overcrowded by the 1950s with an estimated 2,600 patients.

Questionable conditions at the hospital go back to the early 1900s, and in 1949 a series of reports by The Charleston Gazette cited the facility as having poor sanitation, insufficient furniture, lighting, and a lack of heat throughout the complex. Reports of mistreatment of patients stretched through the 1980s with patients being reportedly kept in cages.

After the hospital closed in 1994, a series of proposals were presented with possible plans of preserving the building, but all of these fell through. A portion of the building is now owned and managed by a tour organization that offers historic and paranormal tours. 

article-imageTrans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (via Wikimedia)

article-imageTrans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (via graveaddiction.com)

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (via Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum)

Lancashire, England

article-imageWhittingham Hospital (via worldabandoned.com)

Open officially in 1873, Whittingham Hospital pioneered the use of electroencephalograms, more commonly known as EEGs, which is the diagnostic recording of electrical activity along a patient’s scalp. Injured patients from World War I and World War II were also treated here.

However, the hospital is most famous for abuse and scandal. Among the ghastly reports, patients were left unattended for long periods of time, were fed scraps, and strangled until they lost consciousness. Plans to renovate the property for residential use failed. Today, many of the original buildings stand – abandoned.

article-imageWhittingham Hospital (via environmentalgraffiti.com)

article-imageWhittingham Hospital (via Wikimedia)

Wakefield, England

article-imageHigh Royds Hospital (via weirdlyodd.com)

Also known as West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, High Royds opened in 1888. The hospital was built on 300 acres and was intended to be self-sufficient, housing its own library, butcher, bakery, farm, and more.

Electroshock therapy was used frequently at High Royds. It was believed that epileptic seizures caused by the therapy would shut the brain down and restart it, in hopes that it would be restarted on a better path. Insulin therapy was also used here, with patients being forced to overdose in hopes of creating the same reboot experience thought beneficial by electric shocks. In addition to these abuses, doctors were known to submerge patients underwater and beat them for offenses deemed punishable by staff.

The hospital officially closed in 2003. Plans are underway to redevelop the facility, but for now it remains empty.

article-imageHigh Royds Hospital (via Wikimedia)

article-imageHigh Royds Hospital (via Wikimedia)

Northumberland, England

article-imageSt. Mary's Hospital (via environmentalgraffiti.com)

St. Mary’s Asylumis located in an isolated area of Northumberland in England in the small village of Stannington. Originally, it was known as Gateshead Lunatic Asylum.

The hospital opened in 1914, but was eventually modified to treat tuberculosis patients. It was then taken over by the military during World War II as a place to treat injured soldiers. Several areas remain almost entirely intact, such as the chapel, superintendent’s residence and the main entrance. Much of the facility remains in good condition, because of its isolated location. Some equipment can still be found in a few buildings.

article-imageSt. Mary's Hospital (via newcastlephotos.blogspot.com)

Preston, Connecticut

article-imageNorwich Hospital(via kingstonlounge.blogspot.com)

Norwich State Hospital opened in 1904 and closed in 1996. It was originally a mental health facility for those found guilty of crimes by reason of insanity. Many violent patients were held here, including rapists and murderers.

The hospital would go on to care for geriatric patients and those found to be chemically dependent. Underground passageways connected the majority of the buildings on this sprawling campus, and still do. The underground tunnels were meant solely to transport equipment, but patients were also moved about here. There were reports that patients were tortured in the tunnels.

article-imageNorwich Hospital (via Wikimedia)

article-imageNorwich Hospital (via kingstonlounge.blogspot.com)