Diagnosis: Decrepit - Inside Creedmoor Psychiatric Center
Decay in Building 25 of Creedmor Psychiatric Center (all photographs by the author)
Hundreds of thousands of psychotic individuals have walked the grounds of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens Village, New York, their collective intensity potent in the air. Way out on the city limits, right on the Nassau County border, where the concrete jungle quickly transitions to suburban sprawl, Creedmoor is a world unto itself. The buildings at first appear deceptively sterile – but in truth they contain the memories of troubled minds, horrific stories, and, in some buildings, decade-high piles of pigeon shit.
A medical device, wasting with the ages
Once an open wasteland moor owned by the Creed family, the area on which the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center now stands was purchased by the New York State Legislature in 1870 to house the New York State National Guard. Various rifle tournaments took place there for the next half century, until complaints from the surrounding areas regarding the long range bullets resulted in the range's abandonment in 1912.
That same year, Creedmoor State Hospital opened as the farm colony for Brooklyn State Hospital (now Kingsboro), with 32 patients who worked the farmland as part of their treatment, and to ease the expense of their room and board. This was a time when fresh air, physical labor, and rural living were thought to be the best cures for diseases as wide ranging as hysteria and dementia. A self-sustaining community was developed, and to this day many lament the cessation of such programs.
In 1918, 150 patients were living in empty National Guard Barracks on the grounds. By the 1950s, the typical overcrowding state hospitals are known was seen in a population increase similar to that of a large town – 8,000 patients lived in over 50 buildings, including a high rise which is still in use.
Patients tended gardens and raised livestock on hospital grounds, which contained gymnasiums, a swimming pool, a theater, a television studio, giant kitchens, and laundries where patients worked. Over the second half of the 20th century, like many other farm colonies, the advent of Thorazine and social security lead to deinstitutionalized, and Creedmoor quickly shrunk from 5,000 to 500 patients in less than four decades. Large portions of the campus were sold off, and the rustic lifestyle of the past spiraled into administrative chaos.
Strange anecdotes regarding Creedmoor and the surrounding areas populated the New York Times’ archives far before deinstitutionalization. The hospital came under scrutiny in the 1940s after a dysentery outbreak due to unsanitary living conditions in the wards. One article tells of a 26-year-old German man with a foot-long beard caught living as a hermit in the woods near Creedmoor in 1931 (police prepared him a steak dinner after arrest). A 1953 article reported two mentally deranged patients overpowering an attendant and escaping Creedmoor, avoiding capture despite a 13-state police alarm.
By 1974, the hospital was completely out of control, with on-campus crime reaching horrifying numbers: three rapes, 22 assaults, 52 fires, 130 burglaries, six suicides, a shooting, a riot, and an attempted murder occurred within 20 months of each other. And then, in 1984, a patient died after being restrained in a straitjacket and beaten by a staff member with a blackjack.
Staff members reported terrible conditions during this time: being locked in the violent ward, outnumbered by men committed for violent abuse moved to Creedmoor straight from prison, and having to sneak weapons into work for self-defense. A 1977 article tells of one patient who, despite being committed due to stabbing his wife 60 times in the chest and strangling his child with an electric cord, was allowed to freely wander the grounds until the day he casually escaped. Furthermore, this was not an infrequent problem, as Creedmoor maintains an open gate policy despite its solid population of criminals convicted for violent crimes.
Nowadays, a few hundred patients populate the campus, with most buildings owned by new tenants. Building 25, however, has been left to rot since it was vacated in the early 1970s. Never sold off or demolished, the building was once the residence and treatment center for the mentally ill.
Today, one “patient” of sorts remains in Building 25 – a squatter who’s been living on the third floor for over a decade. His extensive pad includes a tidy living room, years of piled trash in the kitchen, and toiletries, clothing, and dead D batteries scattered on the floors. Wary of visitors, he was so bothered as to leave his home and angrily pace outside the building when one blogger came to photograph in 2008.
Common objects are piled together in disparate corners of the building
Every floor of the building has the same in layout: long hallways ending in two perpendicular wings, one half leading to sunny day rooms, the other isolated chambers with heavy metal doors where the violent and incurable patients would spend their time. A kitchen, dining hall, and a number of recreational rooms used for such wide ranging purposes as lithography, storage, or small stores also populate the passages. Besides the actual blueprints, though, each level could not be more different.
The first floor contains the most artifacts, but is boarded up and pitch black, even daylight blocked out by the slats. On the fourth floor, the pigeons reign — and golly what they’ve done with the place. Mountains of feces pile under pipes and their nests. The stench is palpable from the stairwell, and many objects have simply sank into mountains of poop. The birds themselves, isolated from human contact, have become intensely aggressive, swooping low and often at anything that moves. Through the filth, a mural of the Virgin Mary is still visible under the peeling paint and feathers on a day room wall. The soft pink paint deteriorating around her seems almost peaceful, as though this forgotten existence is at least better than the excruciating lunacy of the past.
As if their fate weren't bad enough, someone soaked these chairs in fake blood
This bra is at least 40 years old
Small toys arranged on a windowsill... by an urban explorer or a patient?
A peeling mural in one day room
The doctor is out... of his mind
An entire room of wheelchairs
98.48 is also the world record for the men's serrated javelin throw
The springs of a rusted mattress
Fire safety doesn't get much more ineffective than this
A lost shoe
A cafeteria on the third floor
All photographs by Hannah Frishberg.
CREEDMOOR PSYCHIATRIC CENTER'S BUILDING 25, Queens, New York