Monday, August 23, 2010

You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Live Here, But It Helps

From Dave Brigham:

In 1995, when I turned 30, my girlfriend (now wife), Beth, joined members of my family in buying me my first mountain bike. She'd bought one in college, and wanted to share her passion for trail riding with me. She still cracks herself up talking about how the first time I rode in the woods, I wore jeans, instead of bike shorts.

We rode a lot initially at the Middlesex Fells, a large (more than 2,000 acres) reserve that spans the towns of Malden, Medford, Melrose, Stoneham and Winchester, just north of Boston. I had a great time exploring hills, meadows, and old fire roads. Over the next 2 1/2 years we rode in a lot of places in New England, but none more intriguing than the grounds of the old Metropolitan State Hospital straddling Belmont, Waltham and Lexington, Mass.

Opened in 1930, the hospital housed mentally ill patients in at least a dozen large, red-brick buildings. The facility closed in 1992 as part of the national movement to deinstitutionalize such patients and move them into smaller hospitals and group homes. For 15 years, the site sat shuttered and deteriorating, a magnet for urban explorers, adventurous partiers and hikers and mountain bikers. In 2007, most of the buildings were torn down to make room for a 387-unit apartment development. Some of the old buildings were renovated and used within the new community.

Part of old Met State Hospital, Waltham MA

Above is the administration building, the last structure awaiting renovation or demolition. I remember touring past this building and several others just like it, only larger, with Beth and our friend Mike. We didn't go in any of the buildings, but spent a fair amount of time on a few occasions marveling at the buildings and wondering just what sort of things went on behind the closed doors.

For great photos of the inside of some of the Met State buildings, check this out. To read more about the conversion of the site to luxury apartments, read this.

The photo below is from the Gaebler Children's Center, which opened in 1955 on the state hospital's property. This picture is the only one I've taken while knowingly trespassing. I drove right past the "No Trespassing: Police Take Notice" sign, figuring no cop would arrest me as long as I had my two-year-old daughter with me. The folks at Opacity report that in the time since I took this picture, the site "appears to be under development by Testa Construction and Site Dismantlement; demolition or renovation seems imminent."

Abandoned state hospital bldg., Waltham MA

For some cool inside and outside pics of the children's center, check this out.

22 comments:

  1. A very cool but creepy place to visit. If you looked in some of the windows of what must have been an administration building you could see desks with paperwork arranged as if someone just got up and left, never to come back.

    I remember too that most of the patient buildings had very thick gauge mesh wiring over every window conjuring up visions of Cuckoo’s Nest and Nurse Ratched.

    And one of the creepiest things I came across while riding out there was a graveyard tucked away in clearing of the woods. The graves were all marked very simply with a small flat stone and on each stone was a number - nothing else.

    It occurred to me these were graves of patients who must have died while at the hospital and didn't have family to claim the remains. I suppose they used numbers instead of names because they couldn't "publically" identify the patients. This made it even sadder as I envisioned a registry which was stuffed away somewhere, rarely looked at and will undoubtedly be forgotten with time.

    - mike

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  2. Mike -- thanks for sharing those memories. I must admit I don't have the great recall that you have for what we saw on our bike rides. I wish I'd taken pix way back when. Definitely right on with your "Cuckoo's Nest" comparison. It is extremely sad the people who got lost in the system and whose families may have known they died, but didn't claim the remains.

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  3. Thank You for posting the photos.

    I spent a year at Gaebler when I was 12.
    While I never suffered mental illness I was a "difficult" kid and too much for my single mother to handle. The state decided to put me in storage there for a bit.
    The place was a virtual hell on earth. If you want to get a general idea of what a festering pit it was I recommend watching the movie "Midnight Express" and paying close attention to the scenes of the Turkish asylum.
    I was one of the luck few that with Gods help got out of the place more or less intact and have gone on to live a very blessed life. My heart breaks for so many of the other kids I knew there who I know did not fare as well.

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  4. Wow, I'm touched that you would share your story with us here at the Backside. It's so easy to take pictures of these places, rummage through the ruins, and forget that people used to live there. And suffer. I'm glad to hear you're living a blessed life. I hope most of the kids you knew from Gaebler can say the same.

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  5. I also lived there twice for 2 years each time. the place was horrible, like a Nazi camp for kids. I also made it out in one piece. I have seen so many kids that didnt

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  6. Thanks for sharing. I'm glad that these places exist anymore, but unfortunately people who spent time there have memories that will never fade. I'm glad you made it out in one piece.

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  7. Some of my ancestors lived in a house that stood where Met State's superintendent's house was. I believe it once belonged to the Bridge family, who took in my great-great-great-grandmother, Amanda Lane, when her parents died. The house is long gone, but it was accessible by a carriage road that still exists off Trapelo Rd. I've been looking for information and pictures of the house, but have hit a dead end.

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  8. Hi Marshall: Thanks for sharing your story. I wish you good luck on your search for more pics and info. Where is the carriage lane off Trapelo Road?

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  9. It's still there, but overgrown - directly across from where Hobbs Road meets Trapelo. Based on aerial views from Google, it looks like it leads from Trapelo to the old Met State administration building.

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  10. OK, I can see that on Google. Thanks, Marshall.

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  11. Hi can you tell me how to get to the admin building from the cemetery ? is there a way through the woods?

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  12. I don't know where the cemetery is, but the admin building is accessible via Metropolitan Parkway, off Trapelo Road, at the traffic lights with Forest Street. I haven't checked lately, but I think the parkway is still open to traffic. It's very close to the apartment complex on the hill. I'm assuming the building is still there; it's been more than three years since I was there. Good luck!

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  13. The admin building is far from the cemetery. If you leave the grounds from the old Gaebler sight and turn left, about ½ mile down on the right is the old met state entrance. The building is in there

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  14. Let me set the record straight. First of all, Gaebler is a single huge building, there are no separate buildings for admin or anything else, that was Met State down the street from Gaebler and also the Fernald down the other end of the street from Gaebler. I was a patient there for 2 years, it was horrible to say the least, what I went through, experienced and saw was the scariest thing I have ever gone through in my life. The staff were, verbally,mentally and physically abusive to us children. I was in the building dozens and dozens of times after it closed in 1992, I drove right up the no trespassing sign, I didn't care, I needed to confront my fears and to try and get closure, but, I never got the closure I needed, and I also was there when they were demolitioning the building down, took tons of picks, inside and out and video's. I also know Dennis Bunting and he is a great guy and the two of us had gone in the building together several times since 2010 and 2011 before they started to tear it down and even after they were tearing it down, I was there. The place is now just an emply overgrown grass field on a huge hill. The Met Fern Cemetery is people from the Met State Hosp and Fernald School, no one was ever murdered at Gaebler, and the reason there are only names on 3 of the 312 gravesides is because the families never bothered with their loved ones after they were admitted to those 2 places and also they were covering up the murders, not to mention that the bodies were never whole in the ground, they had an incinerator in the woods down from the cemetery and burned the bodies and then buried their ashes. No family has ever come forward to say hey where is so and so, what happened to so and so, once you went to Met State or Fernald back in the day, you were forgotten about, So, with all that being said, I hope I was able to help anyone out who had questions.....

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  15. Mich -- thanks for the info. Have you posted your pics or videos online anywhere? I'd love to see them. The whole experience of being at any of those places sounds so nightmarish, I wish it weren't true but knowing what little I know about the history of treatment of mentally ill, or "troubled" children or others with issues that society didn't know how to deal with, or chose not to deal with, I know that the horror is all too real. Thanks for sharing your story. I'm honored that people have chosen to share their stories on this web site.

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  16. Not sure how this will be taken, and if first names are OK to use, but this is my story about Gaebler's..
    I was a "counselor" in 88/89, I was only 19 at the time. My heart went out to all the kids that were there. Yes, some/most of the senior staff were at times abusive. I would fight for these kids, I was not on the adolescent ward, I was with the 5-11 age group. What some of these kids went through before ending up there was horrific to say the least and then what they had to ensure being there would make anyone with a heart cry. When the staff/counselors would have meetings with the doctors and nurses, they would discuss putting which kids on which meds, I would get so furious and fight for these kids, that if time was spend with them, they (the doctors) would see that meds were not the answer. Then they would throw me out of the meeting. Once I even got put in a restraint bed, tied down until I calmed down. I left that job shortly afterwards, I have NEVER forgotten those kids that touched my heart.. Frankie, Scott, Ricky, Roman, and Justin all still have a special place in my heart. On the occasion that I did help out on the adolescent ward, it was usually for a 1 on 1 with a female patient. My favorite was Alice, she was a great kid. I wish I could have done more to help them. I was so happy when they would get out and go to another facility, knowing they would be better off, unfortunately none of them went home, most of them had no family come to visit, or just had no family. Gaeblers was the "bottom of the barrel"

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    1. Man, that is just so heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing this information with us. I know that there are kids suffering in situations like this every day, but my hope is that with facilities like Gaebler closed, these types of kids are getting better treatment wherever they are.

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  17. I was there 68-69. I had been dumped in an abusive foster home in Scituate in 1964. The abuse was horrible, physical, verbal, neglect, and so on. I acted out and fought all the time. By the age of 8 they finally sent me to Wellington Hall on the back side of Metro State after I stabbed a girl in the face with a pencil. I went in there at 8, having been abused since the age of 3. All I knew for communication was violence. I never knew the love of a father, mother, or siblings. In fact I had no real concept of family until my mid teenage years. I was alone in the world. The people from the state hospital side used to come and take me. They would strap me to a bed, several nurses and doctors present, and do what I would come to know as shock therapy. I sometimes wonder if they also tested drugs on me. They would put an IV in my arm and shoot things in it. I was never sick before that, but became a sickly kid afterwards. By late 69 a religious family took me in as a foster kid. I had gone to that place violent and full of piss and vinagre. I came out afraid of my own shadow. Luckily I have eked out a normal life; I have 2 sons and a grandson I spoil rotten. They will never know the hell I lived through. A state counselor in the early 70s said that I had she'll shock. A term they were using then for returning Vietnam vets. It's now called ptsd. I also remember very little supervision there, especially at night. Kids ran wild, there were rapes going on, and lots of violence. Some counselors cared. They were like hippies. Others did not and were extremely mean. I remember being smacked around a few times by them, then being locked all day in a solitary room with only a little window.

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  18. Baldwin -- I don't even know what to say. I'm happy you've been able to have a normal life in the years since your torture and abuse, and that you have family who loves you, and who you love. I'm truly touched by your story, and the stories of others who have shared here. Thank you for sharing, so that others can learn about these horrors, and so that we all may work to ensure they aren't repeated.

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  19. Baldwin -- I don't even know what to say. I'm happy you've been able to have a normal life in the years since your torture and abuse, and that you have family who loves you, and who you love. I'm truly touched by your story, and the stories of others who have shared here. Thank you for sharing, so that others can learn about these horrors, and so that we all may work to ensure they aren't repeated.

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