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abandoned places

Overbrook 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

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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.)

 

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Murals depict the wide world outside the institution.

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

Overbrook_Card

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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.

 

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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.

 

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