View of one of the many dorm areas which comprise the bulk of the Baggage and Dormitory building; during its peak, this area would have held as many beds as could possibly fit into the space.
Note: A selection of prints from "Abandoned Islands of New York City", including several from Ellis Island, are currently on auction through the Kingston Lounge eBay site. Images from North Brother Island and Hart Island, many previously unpublished, are also available.
"The Island of Tears" is a moniker often associated with Ellis Island, the nation's busiest immigration station during its years of operation (1892-1954), and easily its most famous. This name - which refers to those turned away from America for deportation to their countries of origin - seems most closely connected in the public consciousness with the 2% of immigrants deported for medical reasons. Certainly, the notion of a child separated from their family due to the discovery of trachoma behind the eyelid and sent, alone, back to whence they came is horrifying. But disease was not the only reason for denial to passage through the "golden door" that Emma Lazarus wrote about. A variety of other factors - ranging from poverty to belonging to an "undesirable" ethnic or religious group to suspicion of radical political leaning - could lead to detention or deportation. The Baggage and Dormitory building, located on the North side of the island, was the epicenter of detention for non-medical cases for almost half a century. Stabilized and boarded off in 2011, here's a look at the building before it "went dark".
Like much of the Baggage and Dormitory Building, the staircases favored functionality over ornament.
Ellis Island Immigration Station opened in 1892, a replacement for the Castle Garden Immigration Station at the southern tip of Manhattan. The original main reception building, constructed of wood, burned down in 1897; the iconic Beaux Arts building that would replace it opened in 1900. It quickly became apparent that, in addition to the hospital complex that was beginning to rise up on the artificial islands constructed south of the original island, space was needed for non-medical detentions as well. The Main Building simply couldn't accommodate the number of detainees that were landing every day on the island. Under Commissioner Robert Watchorn, such a building was constructed, attached to the kitchen and laundry building in back of the Main Building, and opening in 1909.
This new building was much simpler, architecturally speaking, than most of the other buildings on Ellis Island; this spoke both to the haste with which it was put up and to the intended future use of the building. While the principal use of the building would be the detention of suspected undesirables until a board could convene to decide whether to deport them, a secondary use - at least for the first few years of the building's operation - was the storage of immigrants' luggage while they went through the admissions lines. Thus, the new structure was given the name "Baggage and Dormitory Building", although it could well have been given a title truer to its actual purpose: "Detention Center".
A tiny bathtub was retrofitted into one of the bathrooms in the building. In order to attach the water lines at the height at which they came out of the wall - where presumably a full-sized tub had once stood - a wooden base had to be constructed under the tub. In over half a century of abandonment, this base rotted away.
The communal bathroom areas would allow a single official to oversee goings-on while detainees washed up en masse.
The bathing area had partitions between the bathtubs, but no curtains to shield the detainees from the watchful eyes of the Island's officials - there was no true privacy in the Baggage and Dormitory Building.
A closeup of another tub, ravaged over 50 years of abandonment and the attendant water damage.
Of course, the immigrants processed at Ellis Island were not from the upper classes of the societies from which they emigrated; First-class and Second-class passengers disembarked in Manhattan proper, and allowed into the country unhindered. The Island primarily served steerage-class passengers, who generally packed all they could carry into a couple of suitcases - food included for the month-plus journey, as they were not served meals on the ships for which they often paid most everything they owned for passage - and suffered in cramped communal quarters below deck.
Upon arrival, the procedure for processing immigrants varied somewhat over time, but generally followed this pattern: after standing in a long line, sometimes for many hours on a busy day, each immigrant was given a quick medical examination. They were asked a battery of questions, and from there - in most cases - they were entered into the registry and allowed to meet those waiting for them at the "kissing post" - the part of the island that gave it the other moniker by which it was known, "The Island of Hope". From there, they would board a ferry and enter their new lives in America.
But just as the medical examination was meant to discern those who might be carrying disease into the New Land, the battery of questions was aimed at discerning whether an immigrant might be undesirable for other reasons. Just like the various diseases which gained greater or lesser prominence over the years, various causes for detention asserted themselves at different times during the island's heyday from 1892-1924. One constant cause for concern was poverty - among the questions asked of prospective immigrants were the amount of money they carried, whether or not they had arranged to stay with family or had other lodging arranged, and whether they were skilled in a trade. Unskilled laborers without a place to stay or money to get started were perceived as likely to wind up on the dole, living in almshouses, and generally a burden on the public. Many were detained and eventually deported for this reason.
Most salvageable artifacts had been removed from the Baggage and Dormitory building, as seen in this view of another dormitory section of the building.
On the first floor - briefly used to store immigrants' baggage while they waited in the lines for admission and registration - a number of remaining artifacts were collected. One was an incredibly heavy Diebold safe. (It would not open.)
Radiators were collected on one half of this dormitory; air ducts on the other.
Perhaps there was some merit to suggestions that the indigent, likely to become a burden on society, ought to be sent back; arguments of this sort are still in play in contemporary discussions of immigration policy. But some of the other grounds for detention and deportation certainly seem more sinister in nature - as early as the first few years of the operation of the Immigration Station, various ethnic or religious groups were singled out, as were those with undesirable political leanings. In the first decade of the 20th century, a memo circulated at the facility mentioned finding reason to detain "Jews, Slavs, Italians, and Socialists".
At various times, other ethnic groups and political ideologies were targeted: Irish and "Oriental"; Radical and Anarchist. Of course, as New York City already had large populations of Jewish, Irish, and Italian immigrants, it would have been unpopular to codify the discrimination into policy. Instead, officials working at the island would selectively over-enforce some of the admissions criteria. A person who might pass through the line as a sane Protestant might be detained as an insane Jew. A minor past criminal offense might not be troubling in a Spaniard, but might be cause for concern in an Italian.
Thousands of prospective immigrants were detained in the Baggage and Dormitory Building between 1909 and 1924, when the Immigration Act of 1924 placed extensive restrictions on immigration. The "Golden Door" slammed shut, and the entire island took on what had previously been the function of the Baggage and Dormitory Building: detention and deportation. Now, this building was only one of many that could be used to house undesirables in preparation for shipping them back to their countries of origin. Immigration to the United States of America was now severely limited among class and ethnic lines.
View of another of this building's many communal dormitory areas.
In addition to the large dormitories, there was a corridor of individual rooms that could each accommodate two detainees.
The interior of one of these rooms, with "clean" mattresses left rolled and ready for the next time the room would be used - a day that never came.
Mattresses were sterilized in bulk in giant autoclaves in a room on the third floor of the building.
The final residential use of the Baggage and Dormitory building is perhaps its darkest. On December 8, 1941 - the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor - the first group of German, Italian, and Japanese who were American citizens or legal aliens were rounded up and brought to this building. Ellis Island was to become an internment camp as well as a detention facility for the usual suspects. When the Baggage and Dormitory building was full to capacity with people who had committed no crime but to belong to a particular ethnic group, the internment camp spread out to much of the rest of the island, including the former hospital complex.
While the history of the internment of Japanese Americans is a well-known tale, and the subject of numerous apologetic gestures by the United States government towards those sent to the camps, it is not as well known that Germans and Italians suffered similar fate. Across the United States, over 10,000 German Americans and 3,000 Italian Americans were interned. Many of these came through Ellis Island, which served as a sort of waystation for processing those under internment and relocating them to the various camps scattered throughout the nation. Approximately 600-800 "enemy aliens" would pass through Ellis Island per month during the height of its use as an internment camp; most would be sent to other facilities, but some remained on the island for years. Because of the ethnic makeup of New York City, most of these were of German or Italian descent.
After the war ended, "enemy aliens" were released from the interment camp, and although the European conflict had ended a year earlier, it was only then that the Italian and German detainees were freed. Internment remained a contentious and polarizing issue for many years; finally, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter created the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians - specifically to study the issue as it pertained to Japanese Americans. Beginning in 1990 under the supervision of the George H. W. Bush administration, payments and official apologies were made to surviving Japanese Americans interned in the United States. To this day, there has been no official recognition of the internment of European Americans labeled as "enemy aliens", and no similar offer of compensation.
A rotting pile of mattresses sat in a corner of the Baggage and Dormitory Building from the time of its vacancy until 2011, when the building was cleaned out, stabilized, and boarded off.
After its use as an internment camp, the Baggage and Dormitory building was left largely vacant, although it was still maintained until the island closed for good in 1954 and was completely abandoned. Even as the nearby Main Building was completely renovated to the tune of $150 million, and the Hospital Complex was stabilized and cleaned up some years later, the detention building of Ellis Island remained untouched, slowly taking on more and more water damage, until 2011, when it was stabilized, cleaned out, and boarded off. Perhaps there is a reason for this; while the Main Building saw 98% of prospective immigrants pass into America and thus represents hope, and while the Hospital Complex saw many prospective immigrants convalesce to the point that they were able to enter and thus represents healing, the Baggage and Dormitory Building has no such positive context. It was, always, a building first and foremost for detention.
And perhaps, when more funds are secured, it too should be reopened as part of the Ellis Island National Monument. Classism, racism, and anti-semitism are a part of the American story just as much as the "melting pot" concept we learned a glossy version of in Social Studies classrooms. Internment was a reality of our national conduct during the Second World War. These aren't happy stories, but they are fundamentally American stories, and they deserve to be told. The Baggage and Dormitory Building at Ellis Island would be a wonderful place for the telling of these tales.
Monday, May 20, 2013
Sunday, May 5, 2013
View from Tuberculosis Pavilion in Autumn, Riverside Hospital, North Brother Island, 2008
Available in a signed, numbered limited edition of 5 printed at a whopping 24x36"
Last week, I put one of my limited edition prints of the curved connector hallway from Buffalo State Hospital on sale on eBay to give someone who couldn't afford the full $500 list price a chance at a signed, numbered print. If you're a member of the Kingston Lounge community on Facebook or follow the official Kingston Lounge Twitter you likely already knew this. The response was great - the signed, numbered, limited-edition print sold at well under the list price, giving somebody the opportunity to hang this image for a price they might not have otherwise been able to afford.
But a number of people wrote to me and asked if I would be willing to put up some smaller, unsigned prints that they could likely get for an even smaller investment - and since the community asked, I have answered. I have set up an official Kingston Lounge eBay page to sell a small selection of prints I select through on a rotating basis. So if you've been wanting a smaller, open-edition Kingston Lounge print for less than the list prices they typically sell for, now's your chance! I will make a note in the "Prints" bar to the right to let you know what's currently on offer.
And worry not, Loungers - my next photoessay is in the works, and will be published very soon. I know it's been a long time - but I'll reveal to you all that I've been tapped to work on my first monograph with a printing house in Upstate NY, and this has kept me very busy! More details sure to come, but keep your eyes peeled for a new historic photoblog soon!
Monday, August 13, 2012
Sunrise streaming into the soon-to-be-demolished Clocktower, one of only two structures remaining from the 1877 Kirkbride complex at Worcester State Hospital.
The Kirkbride building at Worcester State Hospital, a once-sprawling complex conceived in 1869, built between 1873 and 1877, and continuously used for well over a century, has suffered an unfortunate fate over the last 21 years. In 1991, a fire tore through the complex, destroying much of the original construction. Of what remained, the state decided to demolish all but the administrative pavilion - known as the Clocktower, due to its distinctive clock tower - and the Hooper turret to its left. With little fanfare, the three remaining wards and Gage turret were torn down along with several other historic structures in 2008. Now, the state plans to destroy the historic Clocktower, leaving only a hollow monument where it stands.
The edge of the Hooper Turret in 2008, with the Clocktower building in the distance, flanked by several buildings demolished later that year.
The State Lunatic Asylum (1833-1877)
The Kirkbride structure wasn't a part of the original State Lunatic Asylum at Worcester, the first public asylum in the state of Massachusetts. Far from it - the cornerstone wasn't even laid until over 40 years after the asylum's founding; two other Kirkbride structures had already been tested in the Commonwealth, at Taunton and Northampton, and the Worcester Kirkbride was built during the same time period as the famous example at Danvers State Hospital.
But the State Lunatic Asylum began much earlier, on a scale perhaps less-grand, but certainly noble. In 1829, Horace Mann - charged by the Commonwealth to report on the condition of the insane within its borders - returned with a damning report, accompanied by some progressive recommendations. Insane persons without means - those who could not afford boarding in one of the private asylums spread throughout the United States to ease the burden of insanity in the families of the wealthy - had few options. In some cases, when families could (and wanted to) manage it, the insane would be given care at home. Otherwise, however, they wound up in almshouses or jails. Mann's report echoed the future findings of notable mental healthcare reformer Dorothea Dix, who would not study the state of mental healthcare for another decade.
Mann suggested that the state act quickly to establish a "State Lunatic Asylum", so that the insane might receive care in a setting suitable to recovery or, at least, civil treatment. Virginia and Maryland had erected such public asylums at the end of the 18th century; Kentucky, New York, and South Carolina had joined them in the 1820s. On Mann's strong recommendation, Massachusetts became the sixth state to provide publicly funded care for the insane in an institutional setting - and the site chosen for the new asylum was Worcester.
The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum opened in January, 1833, in a single building constructed to house a superintendent and 120 patients. Governor Levi Lincoln personally showed up to announce its opening. By December of that same year, Dr. Samuel B. Woodward, its first superintendent, announced that it was over capacity and turning away needy patients. While care was tendered civilly and humanely to those at the institution, it was clear that 120 beds were not enough. In 1835, the hospital - now known as the State Lunatic Asylum - was expanding.
In 1841, Dorothea Dix visited her home state of Massachusetts in order to study the conditions of the insane throughout the Commonwealth. Her report echoed Mann's report, spelling out deplorable conditions for the insane throughout most of the state, and concluding that the asylum at Worcester be expanded in order to provide care to more of the insane residents of Massachusetts. Some expansions were made to the hospital, and by the middle of the 1840s, there was room for 360 patients - three times the number the hospital was originally designed for. But instead of continually adding to one asylum, the Commonwealth elected to begin construction on new asylums, in other parts of the state. Asylums would be built in Boston, in Taunton, and in Northampton before Worcester would be significantly expanded.
The Kirkbride Building (1877-1991)
* A public-domain aerial photograph of the completed Kirkbride complex (and Lowell Hall, a nurses' cottage to the right).
In 1869, current superintendent Merrick Bemis proposed moving the State Lunatic Asylum at Worcester to a new locale in the suburbs, and the present hospital site was purchased. Bemis's plan was to have a large central building for chronic cases, and a variety of smaller pavilions for convalescent care - an early proposal for a cottage-plan asylum. Bemis had always been an idealist in his superintendentship; he had appointed the first female physician to the staff, and had run the first incarnation of the Asylum with the edicts of Moral Treatment in mind, although he disagreed with Moral Treatment pioneer Thomas Story Kirkbride on the layout of the ideal asylum.
Bemis's plans were not to be, however - he went into private practice before plans could be made to utilize the land purchased during his tenure. His successor, Bernard D. Eastman, melded his plan for a segregated population with his adherence to the linear plan layout espoused by Kirkbride. In 1873, construction on the Worcester Kirkbride began; it would be completed in four years, with some parts - including the Clocktower - finished by 1876. Chronic patients remained in the original 1830s buildings, while patients who were seen as possessing a chance of leaving the asylum system were moved into the new building in 1877.
In the original post yesterday (8/13/2012), I incorrectly attributed the design of the Kirkbride complex to Ward P. Delano of Fuller &; Delano, a prominent Worcester architectural firm. My friend and fellow photographer Ethan McElroy, of Kirkbride Buildings, sent me a message that he had also initially believed the vast number of online sources that point to Delano, but that the actual architect was George Dutton Rand of Weston & Rand. I reached out to Preservation Worcester, a group which worked hard for many years to save as much as possible of the original construction, and who is responsible for the agreement to save the Hooper turret (as well as to construct the monument). Valerie Ostrander and Susan Ceccacci were kind enough to return my correspondence almost immediately, and to confirm (this time with reliably sourced information) that it was, indeed, Rand's work. Additionally, Rand's next firm, Rand & Taylor, completed some enlargements in 1887. Delano was linked to the hospital in a couple of ways - he designed the farmhouse building, and in 1898 Fuller, Dalano &; Frost enlarged the kitchen of the complex. I would like to personally thank Ethan, Valerie, and Susan for helping clear up this confusion.
The "Clocktower" Administrative Building (Constructed 1873-1876)
The Worcester Clocktower was the administrative pavilion for the new Kirkbride complex; elegantly appointed in the High Victorian Gothic style of the entire campus, it is one of only two portions that still remain, and is now slated for demolition.
According to the Kirkbride prescription, the seat of power for the linear-plan asylum was to be an administrative pavilion set in the center of two wings, one each for male and female patients. Delano envisioned a clock tower reaching into the sky as a representative symbol of this seat. Around the tower, he built the administrative pavilion, a five-story structure utilizing the High Victorian Gothic architectural modality of the rest of the complex. Sitting atop what was known as "Hospital Hill", the structure was visible from far away, and left no illusions as to where the decisionmakers in the hospital resided.
Like any Admin in a Kirkbride building, the Clocktower provided not only administrative functions, but also a residence for the hospital superintendent. As was usually the case in these sorts of buildings, the Worcester Clocktower was much grander than the two wings radiating from its sides. It was thought that the ideal for patients to strive for would be that central point in the building, and so the most convalescent wards - those for patients likely to be released soon - were placed adjacent to this imposing building. Farthest away would be the wards for the violent patients.
The interior of the Clocktower has recently been determined to be beyond salvage by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who is set to demolish the 135-year-old structure. Here is a glimpse at the interior, which features a unique floating staircase that winds up to the top floor of the building, as well as asymmetrical octagonal atria on each floor with grand arches allowing passage in eight directions.
First-floor landing of floating staircase. The first floor was by far the hardest-hit by the fire in 1991 that destroyed most of the complex; soot still covers much of the walls here.
• Massively damaged by the fire in 1991, the first and second floors have merged here through the loss of the floor, although a fireplace still clings to the wall. This level of damage is atypical of the structure on the whole; most of the floors are surprisingly sound.
The second-floor landing of the floating staircase.
The second-floor atrium directly after sunrise; the outlines of the original arches that radiated in every direction can be seen, as well as the orange light of the rising sun through a kitchen to the left.
A corridor off the second-floor atrium is illuminated by the orange glow of the sunrise.
A second-floor parlor, although damaged by decades of neglect, still shows its grandeur first thing in the morning.
The third-floor landing of the floating staircase.
Even with boards over the windows, enough light gets in to the old library during an 8-minute exposure to show off the elegant construction.
The fourth-floor landing of the floating staircase, during civil twilight, demonstrates the main use of the Clocktower for the past couple of decades - as a roosting area for pigeons.
A view into the fourth-floor atrium shortly after sunrise.
A standard room on the fourth floor of the Clocktower building, which would have served as a residence for the superintendent of the asylum.
One of the bathrooms in the superintendent's residence still has a claw-foot bathtub intact. The high window was designed to allow for light to access the interior of the building without sacrificing privacy in the days before electrical lighting.
The fifth-floor landing of the floating staircase reveals the source of the light that shines down five floors - a large skylight, which was probably modified at some point in the 20th century.
Climbing up into the clock tower proper, this landing contains the bell, which was originally rung by the clock tower mechanisms. Unfortunately, the ladder leading up to the clock face itself seemed in dodgy enough condition that it did not seem safe to climb.
The Wards (Constructed 1873-1877, Destroyed 1991 & 2008)
• The rear of the Lincoln ward as it was about to be prepped for demolition in 2008, with a view to the Clocktower at right.
Each wing of the Kirkbride complex originally consisted of five flagstone-and-brick wards, along with an elegant turret reminiscent of Vienna's Narrenturm - itself one of the world's notable insane asylums. From the back of the Clocktower, some other connected buildings sprang, designed to match the complex, including a massive chapel with a grand pipe organ, a kitchen, bakery, dining hall, etc. In 1991, a devastating five-alarm fire ripped through the complex, destroying most of the original Kirkbride; the Clocktower was saved, as was the Hooper turret to its left.
On the right wing, three wards were saved by the diligence and swift response of the Worcester Fire Department. Quimby, originally the violent ward at the end, connected to Salisbury, and Salisbury to Lincoln. Lincoln connected to the Gage turret, which was also saved. This complex, often referred to as "The Wards" in the time between the fire and their demolition in 2008, was a good representative piece of the asylum, even if most of the structure was lost. Where these wards would have connected with other parts of the complex, salvaged stone from the parts that had to be demolished following the fire capped off the buildings. What follows are a number of photographs from this section of the building, taken over the course of a couple of years leading up to their complete demolition.
The Ward Basements
As a personal note, I almost never find the historic locations I photograph to be "creepy" or "unsettling". They are places where history, good and bad, occurred; I attempt to capture that history to the best of my abilities. That said, every time I visited the basements under the wards at Worcester State Hospital, I decidedly found them unsettling. There were features built into the basements that were unlike anything I've seen in dozens of other asylums, and it took a good amount of digging to figure out what some of these things were - and then the reason for my unsettlement became clear.
The basements under these wards were renovated in the 30s and 40s so that a team of doctors working at the asylum could test out experimental therapies, especially new forms of hydrotherapy. Institutional tile was added to the basement walls in order to make the walls easy to clean and more resilient to the damage from the water. These experimental therapies were dubious at best, but what the basements were later used for, during the 50s and 60s when the hospital was at its most overcrowded, was even worse. An experimental mass-shower room was turned into a punitive "hose-down" room - the showerheads were removed, and a protective cage was installed around the operator's booth to minimize the risk to the orderly manning the controls. At the height of overcrowding, some windowless basement rooms were even used to house patients.
• A basement corridor, into which a bedframe had been placed. The benches at right date to the era when this entire section of the basement was given over to experimental water therapies.
The group-shower turned hose-down-room under the Lincoln ward.
Temperature gauges in control booth of same room.
* At first glance this was similar to a mortician's table typically seen in a hospital's morgue, but placement under the Lincoln ward didn't make sense. As it turned out, this was a table used for resting hydrotherapy.
These mannequin legs sat at the base of one of the staircases for several years; in 2008, they had disappeared from the hospital basement.
* A scale found under the Gage turret. In 1949, lensman Herbert Gehr photographed a patient being weighed on this same scale in this room during an experiment, for LIFE magazine: click here to see it.
* The Gage turret, under which the temperature-sealed experimental chamber portrayed in the previous photograph was housed. Demolished in 2008.
The Wards Proper
Unlike the unsettling basements beneath, the three wards of Worcester State Hospital that survived the fire of 1991 were beautiful and optimistic, in the style of any Kirkbride building. With high ceilings, wide corridors, spacious patient rooms, and large dayrooms, it is pretty hard to argue that this would not have been a comparatively good place for the insane to receive treatment before it became overcrowded. Although nearly pitch-black inside - the Commonwealth boarded off the windows after abandoning the structure in the wake of the fire - it is pretty clear from the size and placement of the windows that this would have been a bright and pleasant atmosphere.
* View from a dayroom into a ward corridor. This exposure was over 10 minutes in length, a testament to how little light made it into the hospital after it was boarded up.
* A wheelchair in the corridor of the Salisbury ward.
A dormitory for several patients, demonstrating the tall windows found throughout the wards.
The junction between wards, partially artificially lit with LED lanterns.
Strange to find inside the closet of a patient bedroom, this collection of biological specimen containers appears (from dating on one of the canisters) to have been here since the 1960s. The stopper remained in place on the test tube for nearly half a century.
Part of the Quimby violent ward was converted for use by children some time between the 1960s and the hospital's abandonment. There were toys strewn about in this section, and someone had set up a tricycle in the middle of the hallway.
At a junction in between wards, a couch slowly gathered dust - and was torn apart by some sort of animal, as evidenced from the scraps of cushion on the floor around it.
A geriatric chair sits in a beam of light from a partially-unboarded window under an arch between hallways in the Lincoln ward.
A pram sits on the landing of a stairwell in the Lincoln ward.
The top floors of the wards featured dormer windows, and were about the only part of the remaining wards to catch some natural light - there were several boards pulled loose from windows. Here, a patient bedframe sits in a dormitory.
The strike plate on the door in the same dormitory.
A saw leaning against the wall in the same dormitory.
Bedframes were piled up in a single-occupancy room on the top floor.
This staff room, on the top floor of the asylum, contained an "Important Notice" stenciled onto the wall.
Detail of the same.
Later Years & Recent History
After the fire in 1991 leveled most of the Kirkbride complex, the rest was boarded up and left to fall apart. Some of it had not been used for a very long time already; some had been in use up until the fire. In the more-than-a-century that the asylum was in use, it went through a number of phases, as did many asylums in America, Kirkbride plan and otherwise. The 19th century saw optimism, Moral Treatment, patients housed humanely in a place that provided them the best treatments available at a time when there was no such thing as a cure. The early 20th century saw those same asylums filling up, and the beginning of what Erving Goffman termed the "Total Institution", with the mindset that accompanies this - high patient-to-staff ratios and an institutional environment that contributed to the dehumanization of those that were supposed to be under care. Sometimes guinea pigs, sometimes the victims of abuse, the patients were no longer finding the respite that the word "asylum" entails. The peak of overcrowding occurred in the 1950s and 60s, right before the asylums began to empty with the advent of chlorpromazine. The name of the institution changed over the years as well; the "Bloomingdale Insane Asylum" was gone before the Kirkbride building was ever erected, and not long into the 20th century, the "State Lunatic Asylum" became Worcester State Hospital.
In the early 21st century, it was proposed that the hospital again be expanded, and it was decided that most of the remaining portions of the 1877 complex - mostly destroyed by fire - would be leveled. In 2008, this task was accomplished, leaving only the Clocktower and the Hooper turret. A new building was built to continue the tradition of public mental health care in Worcester, right on top of those wards that were demolished to little public outcry. It probably would have been impossible to save the wards, given the fire damage, and the following period of abandonment; although surprisingly intact for buildings mothballed for decades, they would have needed gut renovation. Still, the Worcester Asylum represented an important chapter in the histories of both psychiatric care in America and in the progressive history of Massachusetts, an early adopter of such care. And it cannot be argued that there was not still some beauty in the wards.
A few months before the wrecking balls destroyed the wards of Worcester State Hospital once and for all, snow from a long winter drifted through a small hole in the ceiling of this top-floor room and accumulated in a pile through a bedframe left in the empty shell.
Now it appears as if the Clocktower will meet the wrecking ball as well. As of early 2012, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has been working on a plan to demolish the historic structure - a symbol of mental healthcare in Worcester for 135 years - and to replace it with an empty reconstruction of just the clock tower itself. For those that value historic preservation, and the continued examination of our own national history through an examination of our historic buildings, this seems to be as hollow a compromise as the proposed monument, which will not have any internal substance.
The Commonwealth appears ready to spend $7-8 million dollars to demolish the historic structure and to build this monument, whereas studies have shown that renovation of the building in order to put it back into use - as more than a hollow reminder - would only cost about five times this sum. But Massachusetts has a rather dismal record regarding the preservation of its Kirkbride buildings - the structures at Northampton and Taunton were destroyed to little fanfare (and, to all appearances, for no good reason - both spaces are still currently undeveloped) in 2007 and 2009 respectively. First to go was Danvers State Hospital in 2006; to call what was saved by developer Avalon Bay "preservation" would be disingenous.
While it is never over until it's over, the Clocktower is currently surrounded by three fences, and an army of construction equipment - and it appears likely that the sun will set on this beautiful architectural treasure for the last time in the very near future.
The Worcester State Hospital Clocktower at sunset, 2008.