Most people are familiar with the old axiom that real life is stranger than fiction. This is absolutely true in old mental health facilities around the United States.
The public mental health system was a corrupt and overcrowded nightmare before the modern era of mostly privatized mental health facilities. These five facilities did some amazing work in their prime. However, when budgets dropped and patient loads increased, they became terrifying spectacles of human pain and suffering.
Hollywood horror films have nothing on these places.
1.) Danvers State Hospital.
This hospital was built in Danvers, Massachusetts in 1887 with the intention of delivering compassionate care and treatment to the mentally ill. However, that focus on compassion caused the number of patients within Danvers to increase. The structure was designed to accommodate just 600 patients, but by 1939, more than 2,000 patients were packed into the building.
As you might imagine, this lead to severe overcrowding and patient neglect. Danvers was also the birthplace of the ever-popular lobotomy. The procedure was used liberally on scores of patients crowding the facility. That’s almost too horrifying to even imagine.
2.) Topeka State Hospital.
Topeka State Hospital became better as time went on, but when it was bad, oh boy was it bad. The story that made this hospital infamous happened when a journalist when to visit the facility during the early 1900s. The first thing he saw was a patient strapped to a bed. The patient was there for so long that his skin had started to grow over the restraints. Among the other horrors at the facility during that time were patients chained up naked for months at a time.
The state of Kansas ordered a panel to study and fix the problems at the facility in 1948. Things surprisingly got better after this. By the time the facility shut down in 1997, Topeka State Hospital was one of the leading psychiatric facilities in the country. It’s still pretty horrifying that they used to chain up their patients like that.
3.) Fernald State School.
This facility originally served as a home for troubled and disabled young boys. For many of the children there, it was actually more like a prison camp. The boys received an extreme level of abuse from both their fellow children and the facility leaders. They also received a sub par education. The worst thing that happened to these boys was definitely the Quaker Oats radiation experiment.
In the 1950s, researchers at MIT fed members of the Fernald science club irradiated Quaker Oats as a way to study how the body absorbs radiation. Though the dose of radiation was not fatal, Quaker Oats and MIT still paid out a huge settlement to members of the science club. Parts of the Fernald facility are still in operation today, and serves as home for mentally disabled adults.
4.) Trenton State Hospital.
The Trenton State Hospital, like so many on this list, began its life with the best of intentions. All this changed when Dr. Henry Cotton became the hospital director in 1907. While Cotton did some good things for the facility, his unique theory on mental illness would doom many patients.
Cotton believed that all mental illness was caused by infections, and began to perform invasive surgery on patients in an attempt to cure their illness. He boasted a success rate of 85 percent, but that’s only because many patients did not survive these operations. Most of these surgeries were also performed against the patient’s will. Cotton remained at Trenton until 1930. The facility is still in operation today, but parts of the campus are abandoned.
5.) Metropolitan State Hospital.
Metropolitan suffered from many of the same problems as the other hospitals on this list. However, it’s well known for the death of Anna Marie Davee. Davee was a patient at Metropolitan, who suddenly disappeared in 1978. In 1980, her killer was discovered as a fellow patient, Melvin Wilson.
Wilson took police to the two graves that he buried Davee in. If that wasn’t creepy enough, Wilson kept 7 of Davee’s teeth with him as a memento after he killed her. The facility was completely closed down in 1992.
Jeez, these are creepy. Why doesn’t Hollywood draw from any of these real life stories for their new horror films? They’d be so much better than what’s out there right now. The story behind Trenton State Hospital is still sending shivers down my spine.