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abandoned places

Essex County Hospital

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Found in Essex County Hospital

Clothing left behind in a group dormitory.

Clothing left behind in a group dormitory.

I outlined New Jersey’s Essex County Hospital in a previous post, but a few months back I made it out a second time to explore a little further. I ended up in the tunnels underneath the wards, where I found a file room stuffed with material dating from the 1930s to the 1980s, near the last years of Essex County Hospital’s operation.  The records are scattered in cardboard boxes with no apparent system of organization, many of them overtaken with mold and rot.

Much of what’s been left here is mundane, day-to-day operational notes on staff, time sheets, and maintenance, but some of it is rather enlightening.  There are decades’ worth of doctor’s notes, admission records, and log books detailing the daily activities of individual residents, some describe a patient’s entire life story in a single paragraph. The scale of it is truly overwhelming when you start flipping through the files page by page.

As I’ve mentioned before, many of the patterns of neglect well-documented in the age of institutions have shifted to the criminal justice system today. In New York City, the mentally ill now account for 40% of the prison population. To make matters worse, an epidemic of violence against mentally ill inmates at Rikers Island came to light this summer, causing an uproar. Now, the de Blasio administration is pushing for a major $130 million initiative that strikes at the heart of the problem, aiming to keep repeat low-level offenders out of prison and get them into treatment programs. From the Times article: “The changes include tripling the size of both pretrial diversion programs and the amount of resources devoted to easing the transition from jail back into society. This would represent a significantly different approach to criminal justice in the city, experts said. But they cautioned that nothing of such scale had been tried by a municipality before, and that putting the plan into effect would be difficult.”

As we look forward, it’s worth taking a moment to look back.  What follows is a tiny sampling of the massive amount of records, artifacts, and ephemera left behind in the wards of Essex County Hospital and that moldy file room in the basement. You can read for yourself, just click to enlarge.

Files scattered underground in Essex County Hospital.

Files scattered underground in Essex County Hospital.

Overbrook Found Objects_Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC-12

Overbrook Found Objects_Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC-10-2

 

 

Patient's belongings were left behind in bags, most meticulously arranged by a previous visitor.

Belongings left in a storage room (most likely meticulously arranged by a previous visitor to the abandoned building.)

 

Overbrook Objects_Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC-8

Murals depict the wide world outside the institution.

Wallpaper commonly depicts majestic scenes of the world outside asylum walls.

Overbrook_Card

Overbrook Found Objects_Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC-10

This room doubled as church and synagogue, catering to the resident's religious needs.

This room doubled as church and synagogue, catering to the patients’ religious needs.

 

Overbrook Objects_Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC-7

Overbrook Found Objects_Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC-14

 

 

The file room contained 6 or 7 aisles of shelving piled high with records.

One of six or seven rows of shelving in the file room, stuffed with 50 years’ worth of records.

 

Overbrook Found Objects_Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC-13


 

 


Overbrook Asylum/Essex County Hospital

The chairs in this room were undoubtedly arranged by a previous visitor to the abandoned hospital.

The chairs in this patient room were undoubtedly arranged by a previous visitor to the abandoned hospital.

It seems that everyone in Cedar Grove, New Jersey has a spooky story or two about the Overbrook Asylum. Though it only closed down officially in 2007, the complex has long been home to abandoned buildings, and local lore has been quick to populate them with unexplained voices, vengeful spirits, and mysterious presences. Situated among public parks and residential neighborhoods, the decaying asylum known by many as “the Bin” has become a well-known hangout for teenagers, ghost hunters, scrappers, and other curious parties, much to the consternation of local law enforcement. In 2008, the local sheriff amped up police presence on the property, leading to 34 arrests over the course of 3 days, though it was rented out as a location for the tacky Travel Channel series “Ghost Adventures” the same year.  Rumors of 24/7 surveillance still serve to ward off would-be trespassers, but on the gloomy Sunday morning I set out to explore the aging asylum, not a soul, living or dead, patrolled the 100-acre grounds of the old Essex County Hospital.

A clock stopped in an employee kitchen.

A clock stopped in an employee kitchen.

I won’t rehash the history here that most every American asylum shares. (For a more detailed account, read up on psychiatric treatments at Kings Park Psychiatric Center and the “farm colony” design of Letchworth Village.) Suffice it to say that the good intentions Overbrook was founded on in 1896 couldn’t hold up to the harsh realities of overcrowding and underfunding that characterized mid-20th century institutions. This dark period of neglect ended, for the most part, with the development of new “wonder drugs” for the treatment of serious mental disorders, which led to the abrupt closure of asylums across the country.

Though there’s little to differentiate the history of Overbrook Asylum from the dozens of similar institutions across the northeast, one particularly notorious episode stands out.  On Dec 1st, 1917, the hospital’s heating and lighting plant broke down, sending temperatures plummeting inside the dormitories. As a cold snap hit New Jersey in the following weeks, 24 patients died as a result of or in conjunction with exposure, along with 32 cases of frostbite.  In an act of desperation, the medical superintendent sent out letters to patient’s families in the hope that many would come to retrieve their relatives, who he admitted were living in “far from comfortable” conditions.

Even in the best times, “comfortable” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when describing the way of life of the thousands of mentally ill patients who called Overbrook home. An impressive amount of artifacts remain throughout the maze of interconnected dormitories, offering a look into the individual lives that make up its collectively tragic history. At every turn, large-scale photo murals of nature scenes and wildlife adorn the beige and sea foam walls of the wards.  Elsewhere, holiday decorations clutter the floor. Stockpiled in cabinets are jolly snowmen, grinning halloween skulls, festive scarecrows, and gleaming easter bunnies, anything to distract from the clinical gloom of the wards. Out of the clustered piles of clothing, medical supplies, and craft projects, the terse, impersonal lines of a handwritten card speak volumes on the isolation of the unfortunate men and women who spent their lives forgotten behind asylum walls: “Dear John, I hope you are well and happy. I’m feeling okay. Miss you. Love, Mom.”

One narrow cell was overtaken by moss and mold.

The decrepit hospital closed down in 2007 when a new state of the art facility opened up nearby, which still operates today. By that time much of the property had already been long abandoned, with a dwindling patient population due in large part to the effective treatments developed in the 60s and 70s, as well as the pressure to discharge anyone who wasn’t a threat to themselves or others, no matter how unprepared they were to get by on their own in the outside world. Contrary to a few adamant commenters in online forums, most of the Overbrook campus is still standing on the east side of Fairview Avenue.  A development plan to demolish the complex soon after it closed in 2007 would have brought 78 luxury single family homes to the area, but it never panned out.  Today, the property is county-owned.  Though plans were put in place to convert the land to a public park in 2008, little progress has been made in that regard.

As Overbrook continues to crumble, the treatment of the mentally ill has been making headlines in recent months, and it’s troubling to see the same familiar patterns play out in an even more brutal setting—the prisons cells and solitary confinement units where many of today’s mentally ill end up. A recent article in the New York Times outlines a harrowing study of an epidemic of violence toward mentally ill inmates at Rikers Island which rivals the worst cases of abuse in the age of institutions. Earlier this week, a positive step was made on the West Coast, where the California Department of Corrections has introduced new standards for the treatment of the mentally ill living in the prison system.  Here’s hoping this results in legitimate changes that can be instituted across the country.



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Pictured here: A foggy morning under the Verrazano Bridge at Fort Wadsworth.
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#arthurkillroad #nyc #statenisland #abandonednyc #somewheremagazine #explore #verrazanobridge #fortwadsworth #outerboroughs Another view of the Kreischer Street worker's houses through the seasons.
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#abandonednyc #abandoned #abandonedplaces #oldhouse #nyclandmarks #statenisland #outerboroughs #anotherplace #somewheremagazine #newyorkcity #seasons #timelapse #snow Kreischer Street, Staten Island.
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A row of landmarked workers' houses stand frozen in time on Kreischer Street, in view of the famous (and haunted) Kreischer Mansion in Charleston, SI. They were provided to employees of the Kreischer Brick Works, which operated on the waterfront here in the late 19th century.
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Check out the blog for more on the history of "Kreischerville." (link in profile)
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#arthurkillroad #arthurkill #nyc #outerboroughs #somewheremagazine  #picketfence #abandonednyc #oldhouses #oldhouse #oldhouselove #nylandmarks #nyclandmark (2/2) Enterprising beachcombers can still find colorful Atlantic tiles if they hunt long enough, but regular bricks are more common.  Strangely, their manufacturer's marks point to a wide range of origins, some from as far away as Texas and Missouri.
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#brickcollecting #brickhunting #beachcombing #tottenville #arthurkill #abandonednyc #abandonedplaces #statenisland #urbanexpliration #abandoned #nychistory #nyhistory (1/2) This unassuming patch of waterfront in Tottenville holds the remains of the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company, which made colorful architectural ornaments for many notable NYC buildings, including the Woolworth and the Flatiron.  The rubble was piled up on the edge of the Arthur Kill after the factory was demolished in the 1940s.
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#brickcollecting #brickhunting #beachcombing #tottenville #arthurkill #abandonednyc #abandonedplaces #statenisland #urbanexpliration #abandoned #nychistory #nyhistory A view of the Arthur Kill at dusk, with Outerbridge on the horizon.
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The name of the waterway is an anglicized version of the Dutch "achter kill" meaning back river or channel, referring to its position at the "back" of Staten Island.
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In an area rife with supposed hauntings, the Arthur Kill is itself a kind of ghost. The route was formed by an ancestral iteration of the Hudson River.
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Glacial activity altered the course to its current position but the vestigial strait remained, isolating a sneaker-shaped landmass. Staten Island was born.
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The Arthur Kill is home to several lesser-known "boat graveyards" in addition to the world-famous ship graveyard in Rossville.  This one sits off the Charleston waterfront.
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More photos and history on the blog (link in profile)
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#abandoned #abandonednyc #abandonedplaces #shipgraveyard #lostplaces #urbanexploration #urbex #outerboroughs #statenisland #silive #shipwreck #boatgraveyard #originstory #arthurkill #arthurkillroad #nycprimeshot #nyhistory #nyhistoricalsociety #nyc #newyork Outerbridge Crossing happens to be the outermost bridge in NYC, but it's named for Eugenius Outerbridge, first chairman of the Port of New York Authority, now the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. "Outerbridge Bridge" wouldn't do, so they deemed it a crossing.
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See more in my latest post on the blog outlining the remote edges of Tottenville and Charleston, the "South Pole" of New York State. (Link in profile)
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#urbanexploration #bridges #nycbridges #bridgesofinstagram #arthurkill #tottenville #urbanwilderness #nyc #newyorkcity #silive #urbex #underthebridge #longexposure #daylightlongexposure #topnewyorkphoto #statenisland #outerboroughs #newyork_ig New post up on the blog today highlights a few areas of interest near the "South Pole" of New York, including this little-known bus graveyard. 🏚🚌 (link in profile)
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I might not have been the first to discover this place, but it was new to me when I stumbled across it in May 2015.  I revisited a few times to capture it in different seasons, it's a beautiful scene any time of year.
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Country roads meandered through sweeping forests, quiet beach communities, and open expanses of farmland crawling with nanny goats.
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The nature of the island was permanently altered as the bridge prompted a mass migration of newcomers from overpopulated Brooklyn.
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#newyork_ig #nycprimeshot #newyorknewyork #nyhistory #nyc #statenisland #bridgeporn #verrazanobridge #newyork #topnewyorkphoto #fiveboroughs #bridgestagram #underthebridge The city of New York took over the Staten Island Ferry in 1905 after a series of deadly disasters on privately-run lines. 🌊💀🔥 The 1871 "Westfield" disaster was the worst of them.  Nearly 100 passengers lost their lives when a boat's boiler exploded in its slip at Whitehall.  Jacob Vanderbilt, head of SI Railway at the time, was charged with murder, but never convicted.

More history up on the blog (🔗 in profile)

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