Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Middletown State Hospital

Revisiting a trip that took place in late fall one year, where the last warm rays of sun struggle against the oncoming cold light that winter produces. I love both types of light for photography- they both produce such dynamically different results.

These New York winters are fairly dismal and cold though, and it's always refreshing to get some warming light flooding the halls of these old psychiatric buildings. It becomes easier to remember the human element, to recall the hundreds of lives affected by these institutions, both the good and the bad.

Far too often I'm repulsed by seeing these beautiful historic places turned into cliche subjects of B-movies. Flaunted as haunted, wards for psycho-killers (Qu'est-ce que c'est?), the images become those of electroshock machines, botched lobotomies, straightjackets and padded walls. I understand the macabre fascination here- most institution conditions were horrible. I just don't see how making movies like "Death Tunnel" and "Madhouse" do even the sheerly exploitative fascination with insane asylums any justice.

I have my own aesthetic loves in hospitals. I love lonely chairs, rotary phones, and solariums. And keys.

I  couldn't begin to shake a stick at the number of wheelchairs I've seen in the past few years, but seeing a neglected storage room full of them still inspires great emotion. From the tiny chairs for children, to the potty chairs for the incontinent, to every conceivable style of reclining, stationary, restraint-laden, angled, metal, wood, PVC and everything between- to know each of these was used by a disabled person to grant them mobility, often in an enclosed, closely supervised environment is still a testament to their human qualities.

But I digress- back to my late autumn hospital. Middletown State Hospital is located in New York state, several hours' drive north of the City, I found it to exude warmth. A  reasonably small psychiatric building as compared to some I've seen, the luminosity of its walls, the lack of vandalism, the sprawling day rooms all brought a sense of community to the building.

Late afternoon light through an empty room.

A wooden seclusion room door with an inset 1" thick piece of circular glass. The shadows are cast from the barred window within the room.

A green day room.

Warm corridor looking down on multiple seclusion rooms.

Multi-colored connector hallway. Long exposure shot using the last 10 minutes of light streaming through the hospital.

Dark hallway as the sun has nearly set.

Collapsed floor- a lot of the building is suffering from severe structural decay and multiple floors have collapsed, some on top of one another.

Old hairdryer, moved into the collapsed cafeteria on the bottom floor of the building at some point when the building was being vacated.

Small a building as it was, Middletown is among my favorite state hospitals.


redrawblak said...

as always, a stunning collection of photos. it seems like you can somehow capture the history of the place in its scarred walls and collapsing ceilings. the glow of the dimming light in the two hallway/setting sun shots makes them look primal, as if someone has lit a bonfire just around the corner.

ever given any thought to exploring the old breweries in brooklyn? i know of a couple in crow hill that are slated for development, but that (as yet) are probably still worth looking at. not sure about how to get inside of them, but you seem to have a knack for getting inside these old buildings...

cheers! i'll look forward to the next post--

Kelila said...

People should read this.

richard said...

did you read this and the menu? this is reminiscent of freeman's underwear at magnification 220x

Linda A. Metzger said...

Your photos are brilliant and your article is nicely written. Glad I found you. My husband's 2nd Great Grandfather stayed in that hospital in 1920 at the age of 81.

Anonymous said...
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Meeeeeeeeri said...

Where in new york was that?

Barbara D. Holtzman said...

I had the weird occasion to visit the hospital again today, to show my daughter the house I grew up in. Abandoned now, like most of the rest of the buildings, the floors stripped of hardwood, walls crumbling; the cherry and maple trees my father planted in desperate need of pruning. My father was doctor, they gave us reduced rent housing - it makes a unique comment at cocktail parties, to mention I grew up in a psych center.

Middletown is a bit more than an hour from Manhattan, if the traffic is light. The building you think is smaller than most is a fraction of what was there when I was. The main building has been mostly torn down, what's left barely keeps out the cold in the winter, hence the lack of anyone bothering to visit it, even to vandalize. It's also, as you point out, falling apart, and besides, the local homeless shelter is across the street. No point to hanging out in a grungy place that just might be haunted.

Which is how I came upon your blog, looking to see, for my daughter, if there was any mention anywhere of ghosts at the hospital. Probably not for anyone but me, and the couple dozen or so otherwise normal children who grew up there with me.

Marisel said...

Great pictures. My husband's relative Harlan Walston worked there in 1939. I don't know what his role was. He was the Vice President of the Middletown State Hospital Employees' Association.