When I was 19, my friend and I- having been out in Danvers, Massachusetts one afternoon so she could purchase a new guitar from a store in the area she liked- decided to try and swing by the notorious and long since abandoned Danvers State Hospital to see it with our own eyes and determine whether or not it was as unnerving and frightening as the rumors swirling around it over the years had suggested.
We had turned onto the neglected roadway leading up to it’s enormous front entrance for only a moment before a police cruiser pulled up behind us- slowly following our car to see if we’d dismiss the multiple NO TRESPASSING signs that lined the road. We decided not to take our chances and promptly turned around to leave the premises- but I got a brief look at parts of the building- and it sent a shiver down my spine without my even having to get out of the car.
Opened in 1878, Danvers State Hospital- a self-contained psychiatric facility- quickly became famous for all the wrong reasons. Experimental and often torturous treatment methods like lobotomies and shock therapy were perfected at the hospital- and severe overcrowding, abuse and patient neglect occurred frequently.
The hospital remained open until 1992 when it finally shuttered it’s doors after significant budget cuts and the growing popularity of alternative treatment methods and the encouragement of deinstitutionalization. From there, the empty buildings were left to rot for years. It became a popular destination for urban explorers, photographers, teenagers and those curious about it’s gruesome and brutal history. The 2001 horror movie, “Session 9” (starring David Caruso) was filmed there- and much of the hospital was left untouched for the film given it’s already dilapidated and creepy conditions.
By 2006, the property was purchased by a residential apartment developer and much of the buildings were demolished to make way for luxury condominiums (in true American fashion, of course.) The developer remodeled the hospital’s main entrance way, however- opting to keep the historic brick Kirkbride-style building and extended “wings” branching off of the front clock tower at it’s center after the town’s residents petitioned to salvage at least something of what was an architectural and medical marvel in it’s day.
I’ve been up to the former Danvers State Hospital since then- now called the Bradlee Danvers. The tunnels that connected the hospital wings and allowed patients and their caretakers to move from area to area underground during harsh New England winters have since been boarded/blocked off- and the cemetery that served as the final resting place for patients who had died while living within the hospital was given an upgrade so that those who passed could be identified and provided with a proper headstone (which were previously a numbered marker with no name or date of birth/death.)
There is also an on-site memorial that briefly touches on the hospital’s history and patient life (while leaving out the more sordid details) where visitors can sit, relax, and take in the peaceful, almost eerie quiet of the area while reflecting on the atrocities that were committed there.
The last time I was visiting the location, I’d stumbled upon the cemetery by pure accident. It’s not marked. There is no signage. It was along a trail that circles the outskirts of the property beyond a series of apartments, and while marveling at the overgrown graves- I came across the aforementioned numbered markers- which had simply been discarded in the adjacent woods. It was a sobering and quite bleak moment- so naturally when I went back over this past weekend- I wanted to see if they’d been moved.
They haven’t. The grave markers still sit in the woods- although other visitors have undoubtedly tampered with them- propping them up against trees, knocking them off of the pile they had been stacked on, etc. But they are there- and they serve as a reminder to just how impersonal and poorly the mentally ill were treated.
I stopped to take photos and pay my respects, of course- and then quickly got out of there before it got dark. There’s a weird, palpable energy/vibe around the place- and it’s not just because the apartments that sit there now are terrifyingly expensive.