One of the things I love most about writing is weaving bits of history, folklore, legends, and mysteries into my work. I think it brings a feel of authenticity to my writing and it always provides me with a lot of entertainment. For pure color there is no setting more rich and mysterious than The Danvers State Insane Asylum in Hathorne, Massachusetts, a section of Danvers.
|The Danvers State Hospital Main Building|
At the time of its construction the understanding of treatment for the mentally ill was fairly primitive. Doctors talked about balancing the senses but some of the treatments were mystifying by today's standards. Danvers proved to be an above average treatment center. In 1889 a training program for nurses was added and in 1895 a pathological research laboratory opened.
|Abandoned Private Room|
The hospital evolved over the years and finally closed in 1994. It quickly became a mecca for urban explorers and photographers. In 2007 it burned to the ground in a fire so enormous that it could be seen 17 miles away in Boston.
|One of the many Common Rooms. |
Glass blocks provided light without a view.
In 1988, newly arrived in Massachusetts, I took a temporary job in the hospital, at that time called Danvers State. I worked in one of the outbuildings in a ward for adolescent men teaching history and literature. It was always an experience to drive up that long, winding drive through the trees, into the shadow of the great main building, most of which was closed by then. Since my shift began in the early afternoon and ran into evening, it was usually dark when I left. I will never forget the sense of mystery and a little bit of terror that accompanied those rides. On the rare occasions when I had to go to the main building for a meeting or to pick up paperwork, my knees never seemed to work exactly right.
|Locked rooms for solitary confinement|
In my novel, Depraved Heart, one of the scenes is set in a dayroom in the main building. As a girl Rachel visited her mother—the beautiful but mad Rosalind. I found writing those scenes to be very evocative and, because I had not only a sense of the setting, but of the people who once inhabited it, words seemed to spill onto the page without my agency—but the scene turned out great.
|Windows overlooking windows|
In my soon-to-be-released, Ghost of a Dancer By Moonlight, Cleo meets her love interest, a photographer when he hires her to write the narrative to a book of photographs of the abandoned hospital.
|Entrance to the main lobby|
Much of the mystery of old hospitals like this is letting our imaginations run amok wondering about the people who were once confined there. The scariest place in all the world is the inside of the human head and people who are tormented by demons cannot help but terrify us. There but for the grace of God and all that.
|Abandoned ward room|
When I look at pictures like these, part of me just sees the sadness of a beautiful building left to ruin. But another part sees terror and torment, hears screams buried in the walls. I am glad I got to see the Danvers State Hospital before it burned and I hope I never have to go into a place like that again.
|One of several cemeteries|
Thanks for reading.