Saturday, September 22, 2007

A landmark is gone, and life is a little more mundane

Every morning, my one-hour commute to work down I-95 in Northern Massa-chusetts takes me past Danvers State Hospital. It's the building in the picture above, a creepy, gothic-looking asylum built in the 19th century to house mentally ill patients.

Danvers State has gained plenty of noteriety over the years. Before it shut its doors permanently in 1992, it was known as a house of horrors. Frontal lobotomies were perfected at Danvers State, electric shock and water immersion "treatments" were commonplace, and hundreds of its inmates were buried in unmarked graves. Only recently did a petition by former patients result in the creation of a cemetery to memoralize the forgotten dead.

Danvers State is famous for other reasons, too. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft may know that Danvers State Hospital made appearances in a handful of his short stories, including "Pickman's Model," "Herbert West Reanimator," and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." Then, in 2001, the decaying and dilapidated structures became the site of a film shoot--the low-budget but well-crafted psychological horror/suspense film Session 9. If you haven't seen Session 9, rent it now--you're missing out. The Kirkbride building is the star of the movie, and with good reason--no expensive effects were necessary to infuse the film with horror and dread. Danvers State oozes with it.

It's a feeling I experienced first-hand, in fact. Watching Session 9 prompted me to visit the site one day. Driving past a threatening "No Trespassing--Police Take Notice" gate, I proceeded up an old access road, under a foreboding canopy of trees, and onto the old hospital grounds. Stopping my car on a weed-choked parking lot, I stepped out to take a close look at the old buildings.

It was creepy. I felt a presence there, as if something--the souls of countless inmates who lived a life of isolation and torment, perhaps--were hovering about, watching. An old church was on my right, the rotting steeple casting a long shadow. The silence was complete and deliciously eerie. With my curiosity satisfied (and my heart beating a little faster), I turned and drove away. Little did I know at the time that it would be my one and only visit.

Much to my chagrin, I soon learned that the buildings were slated for demolition in the name of "progress." The local newspaper said that a developer had bought the land to build a sprawing condominium complex. When the demolition finally began, my heart sank. Now, only a single brick facade remains. Uniform grey condos now cover the top of the hill, and an irreplaceable piece of this area's past--and a source of haunted wonder--is gone for good.

Now, I'm no luddite and I realize that progress is inevitable. Our population isn't shrinking and new housing is constantly in need. But it was nevertheless sad to see Danvers State go the way of the wrecking ball. Danvers State was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its my opinion that more should have been done to preserve the site. A half-assed effort by the developer to save the shell of just one building didn't go nearly far enough.

Now, a ghostly relic of New England's past is gone for good, and life in these parts is a little more mundane.

To view more pictures and learn about the history of this great old structure, go to these Web sites:

1 comment:

MojoGM said...

I pondered buying one of the condos once they are completed...that land HAS to be haunted!