I remember as a teenager my older brother would always try and get me to join him and his friends on late-night adventures to wander through abandoned mental hospitals. Of course, I always declined, despite how “cool” I wanted to look. I just couldn’t bring myself to enter such a place, especially with a bunch of boys who loved to play pranks on each other. I seriously think I would have had a heart attack if I went along with their thrill-seeking escapades.
Over a decade later, I’m still completely terrified of stepping foot into any place with an eerie reputation. And let’s just say that watching American Horror Story: Asylum didn’t help with my dread of walking into a room where ice-pick lobotomies were once performed.
Nevertheless, I am fascinated by the creepy photographs others have captured inside former mental institutions that have fallen into disrepair. These images give us a glimpse into the eerie environments, medical equipment and personal effects left behind. They serve as a decrepit reminder of years of mistreatment and abuse against people put away to lift the burden off ashamed families or prevent a possible disturbance to the surrounding communities.
Photographer Jeremy Harris has spent nearly 10 years exploring and documenting abandoned American mental asylums for “posterity’s sake.”
“There were some very deranged people who lived in some of these places,” he tells Wired. “I saw seclusion rooms that had very obvious signs of scratches and scrawling on the walls, and dents on the doors from people who obviously were not in their right minds. And that’s very somber and humbling, to imagine being locked in a patient room with no access to the outside world.”
The buildings Harris takes photos of are places where a thing called “moral therapy” was being experimented with as a way to foster recovery.
But the majority of asylums are notorious for the appalling living conditions and merciless abuse suffered by those admitted.
Many residents were known to spend their days pacing empty, white padded rooms while drugged up on only God-knows-what. Facilities were also overburdened and known to employ under-qualified staff and megalomaniac doctors who often abused patients mentally, physically and sexually. It isn’t too off-base to say that the true stories behind some of these hospitals are far more chilling than the photographs of their decay.
Obviously, some pretty atrocious things were done to people before modern medicine intervened, including purging, bloodletting, corporal punishment, gagging, hydrotherapy, and electroshock therapy. Some patients were shackled to the wall in pitch-black, cramped cells, inadequately fed, forced to live in their own waste, and many more things too unspeakable to mention.
In a way, you almost feel grateful that some of these asylums are now left in ruins, but you can be sure that there are some tortured spirits still roaming the halls at night.