Friday, December 8, 2017

Return Visit: North Brother Island in the Summer

The small transformer room and storage building located right off the gantry crane is almost entirely obscured by the swells of kudzu and other climbing vines that have invaded the island. [Print]

A Return to the Island - and a Return to the Lounge

My longtime readers have probably noticed, and perhaps been frustrated by, the fact that this blog has been on hiatus for over 3 years.  In a sense, The Kingston Lounge (the blog) has been abandoned in much the same manner as the Kingston Lounge (the historic jazz club in Brooklyn) was abandoned decades ago.  These things happen; places are vacated for a variety of reasons, and life was the main reason in this case.  In the interim period, I:
  - Moved down to North Carolina for a year to study abandoned mills, schools, and Southern culture in general
  - Then moved to Upstate New York for a spell, to work on my book on Buffalo State Hospital, planning to return to Brooklyn in early 2015
  - Planned and executed a TEDx Talk on stigma and misconceptions in the study of the American asylum, as well as on my own entry into the world of urban archaeology
  - Fell in love, got engaged, finally returned to Brooklyn, set up a wonderful household, and got married

Basically, I got busy, and the Lounge was temporarily boarded up.  But unlike the building for which it was named, the Lounge has not been abandoned for decades, and now the Lounge is reopening, with only minor water damage to the ceilings, and minimal peeling paint on the walls!  Expect regular postings once again, starting with this one - a return visit to North Brother Island in summer, featuring new photographs taken after the publication of the original article from 2011.

A Summer Return to North Brother Island

It is quite difficult to gain access to North Brother Island.  More so during the summer months, which are generally considered nesting season for the black-crowned night herons that (sometimes) call the island "home".  Even employees of the NYC Parks Department are forbidden from setting foot on the island during this time, so it is rare to experience Riverside Hospital when it is at its most verdant - and also, its most overgrown.  However, I was lucky enough to gain access once - and so here's a look around the island over the course of a single hot summer day.  As there's already a detailed history of the quarantine hospital on the main blog post for North Brother Island, this companion piece will be narrated more as a sort of travelogue, as I dictate my movements, missteps, and mosquito bites over the course of the exhilarating trip.

Foliage was creeping into the first-floor hallway of the Morgue and Pathology Lab building, as bright morning sun shone in from the eastern door. [Print]

The pathology building, originally a small masonry chapel, had changed little over the years; the stairwell - pictured above - was a little more rusted out and treacherous than it had been, and there was more fallen plaster, as one would expect, but it was the same as I remembered it.  I quickly moved on to the path outside of the eastern door, eager to return to the ruins of the final, wooden chapel.

This is all that remains of the chapel - a pile of wood, the wall of the front facade, and a tiny little alcove leading to the front door of the building. [Print]

The final chapel constructed on the island was a primarily wooden structure meant to accommodate the increased number of people requiring its services; it was either the second or third building dedicated to worship constructed on the quarantine island.  Contradictory reports and obscured, inaccessible (or lost) records make it most difficult to discern the actuality of the number.  After 50 years of abandonment it was a shambles, and also apparently a mosquito breeding ground - which struck me as odd, given that there are barely any mammalian life forms on the Island.  In any case, in the early morning light hit the last standing facade quite beautifully from the east, accentuating the climbing vines that had already reached the space where the roof should be attached.

The tiny atrium at the front of the chapel, with the morning sun coming in from the East. [Print]

After walking around the structure a few times with my traveling companion, and swatting away a few more flying pests, it was time to move on.

The path to the coal house and physical plant from the chapel was completely overgrown. [Print]

Fighting one's way through a rough mix - mostly kudzu with a smattering of flowering plants, thorny vines, and the occasional poison ivy patch - isn't a whole lot of fun.  However the sight of the former building, alongside the smokestack of the latter, was quite breathtaking.  One can almost imagine that, at some future date when the human race is extinct, everything will look a lot like this - crumbling ruins, slowly being overtaken by vines.  After a spell, I fought my way back to one of my favorite parts of Riverside Hospital - the physical plant.

The two-story-tall western boiler hall in the physical plant. [Print]

The eastern coal ovens and pipeworks. [Print]

What struck me immediately about the main building of the steam plant was how much more vibrant it seemed when full of ferns, vines, red brick, and asbestos-and-algae-covered pipes reflecting the blue of the skies.  I always enjoy industrial sites; I don't always find them beautiful.  On this day, they were quite beautiful.

A wooden shadowboard has somehow survived over half a century of exposure to the elements. [Print]

While poking around the physical plant looking for interesting things that I had not previously photographed, or which looked better in this light, something struck me - having observed the physical presence of the plant from the outside, as well as the presence of a door from the outside which appeared to lead to a collapsed stairwell, might I have missed something on over a dozen previous trips out to the Island?  Something was nagging me.  I noticed that the roof had fallen in part of the hallway between the main chamber of the plant and the refrigeration room, and realized that it led into an upstairs hallway - an area of the building I had not yet seen!  Carefully climbing up using a series of pipes, conduits, and so-on affixed to the wall, I managed to squeeze myself through the gap in the ceiling...

The second-story workers' break room, with a pillow and some personal effects shelves and lockers. [Print]

...and I found myself at the entrance to a workers' break room, with walls and floors tilting and bending in various directions, as if concocted by the designers of a 1930s Coney Island funhouse.  A pillow on the ground suggests that workers might have napped in here; large cupboards held supplies, and smaller shelves and lockers could store personal effects.  A corner closet had a bar for hanging clothes.  It's always interesting to find areas like this - focused on the people who worked at the hospital, rather than on the patients or the medical care given there.  But it was time to press on.

The cistern behind the physical plant, filled with water from recent rains, with the boys' dormitory in the background almost obscured by flora. [Print]

I climbed back down through the opening and found my way out through the rear door of the plant, finally catching an interesting shot of the water collection cistern in the rear of the facility.  While Riverside Hospital had two water mains coming in from the mainland, this cistern could be relied upon as a quick water source both for steam generation and for fire prevention in the event of emergency.  The boys' dormitory was behind the cistern, and I took a quick poke into there.

Library in the repurposed boys' dormitory in 1953, when Riverside Hospital was converted into a drug rehabilitation center for juvenile offenders. [Print]

The green leaves outside painted the light green as it shone into the library in the boys' dormitory, creating a wonderful color cast on the long-mouldering books donated to the hospital by the Queensboro Public Library.  As usual, this room was the only real attraction in this building, and I moved onward.

Tennis court in summer. [Print]

The tennis court was almost unrecognizable as such; only the poles that once held the nets gave any indication of what it had been many years prior.  Across the ivy-shrouded street was the doctors' cottage - I took a quick look around inside.

Central staircase, doctors' cottage. [Print]

Ironically, on previous visits to the island I was unable to get a clean shot of the central staircase in this building because it hadn't disintegrated enough - the floor was gone where I stood to take this photo, and a bunch of junk hung from a ceiling above that was ready to collapse.  On this visit, however, the ceiling had collapsed - which effectively created a few 2x4s that I could place across the gap to get a good angle on the staircase and front door.  The rest of the building, same as it ever was, didn't warrant much more consideration, and I moved on to the school and services building.

What remains of what was labeled on some recovered blueprints as the "science classroom". [Print]

One of the bizarrely narrow corridors on the second story of the school, converted through the addition of cheap panel walls from the original services building. [Print]

The school / services building was more or less the same as it ever was, much like the doctors' cottage.  However, the yellow-green cast that the foliage provided to the window light added some interesting effects; I stopped for a handful of photographs, and then moved on to traipse about the woods for a bit.

The crumbling remains of the garage. [Print]

One building I omitted from my original blog post, both because the article was already getting overly long and because I find it ugly and hard to photograph, is the remains of the garage structure.  This small wooden facade and one brick wall are all that remain of it; whether it fell in upon itself or was demolished is anybody's guess.  On this particular day, the vibrant contrast of the greens of the building and woods surrounding and the orange-reds of the remaining brick and deadfall made for a more interesting take.  This building was, as one would expect, used to store the two utility vehicles which could transport passengers along the roads on the island.  I got my penultimate mosquito bite here, and then headed on over to my favorite building on what would be the last stop of the day - the nurses' building.

The lobby of the nurses' building, with the fireplace removed and most of the plasterwork having fallen. [Print]

There was little new to note in this building - because most of it was boarded off, as it was the first building abandoned, little of the "summer light" came through, and most of it looked just as it always had.  Still, I wandered the length and breadth of the place, finding a few new things here and there.

A pitch-black room showed some "interesting" decorating choices (that is to say, pink drywall) when artificially lit by a series of LED panels. [Print]

More of the ceiling had collapsed in this top-floor room, leading to significant plant growth on the floor. [Print]

I received my fifth (and final) mosquito bite in the room pictured above, which once again caused the thought to pass through my brain - why mosquitos on an island that seems entirely lacking in mammals for them to pray upon?  Whose blood are they sucking (besides mine)?  After this needless pondering, I realized that it was almost time to pack up and meet at the rendezvous point near the gantry, so I ended my travels at my personal favorite place on the island - the iron spiral staircase at the southeast corner of the building, second floor.

With the yellow-green light filtering in from the windows with boards that had thankfully vanished somehow, the rotted-out iron staircase took on a whole new character than that seen on previous visits. [Print]

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ellis Island - Baggage and Dormitory Building

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.

"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, August 13, 2012

Worcester State Hospital

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.

ADDENDUM 8/14/2012

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.