Just 18 miles outside of Boston city centre is the town of Danvers. Formally known as Salem village, this town has a lot of history, but we had visited for something in particular.
Atop a steep hill you can find a former mental institution. This was the site of Danvers Lunatic Asylum (also known as Danvers State Hospital) which gave famed horror author HP Lovecraft the idea of Arkham Asylum, found in not only his works, but more recently remembered from the popular Batman comics/games/movies etc.
The hospital opened in 1878 and not only provided care and treatment to the mentally ill, it established a pathology laboratory (something close to my heart) as well as a training centre for nurses. The hospital began to thrive and for years it helped patients. However, in the 1960’s, laws around mental health and institutionalisation began to change. The government wanted to move away from the ‘treatment’ offered by an institution like Danvers and move towards a more therapy-based remedy, which studies had found to be more productive. This was the start of the decline for Danvers State Hospital and by the 1990’s, budget cuts had forced them to close.
This rather grandiose building has now been renovated into apartments for the commuters into Boston, but it still keeps some of the original looks of the place that gave it its fame. As we pulled up the hospital, on what was a beautiful New England day, we couldn’t help but think what sort of things had happened in a building that people now lived in. We have all heard stories about what seemingly happened in these sorts of places in the early to mid 1900s but who knows, maybe it is just fiction to make asylums appeal to the horror enthusiast.
Upon our arrival, we spoke to the concierge of the building who told us a bit about its history and suggested that we should visit the on-site hospital cemetery.
Down past what looked like corn fields and through a gap in some bushes, we found the cemetery, sloping down a hill. Although I’m not a particularly superstitious person something about this place gave me chills. As soon as I walked into the area, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I did not feel comfortable. There was something about this place that felt strange.
We wondered around and looked at the gravestones, thinking how difficult the lives of some of the patients would have been in the hospital. A former patient was buried there, their gravestone labelled as “Nobody’s Child”. They spent and incredible 20 years as a resident of the hospital.
At the entrance to the cemetery, a rock had the “the echoes they left behind” engraved into it, and it some sort of weird way you could feel those echoes inside the cemetery.
I’m pleased we went to see the building, but I left with mixed feelings. I’m glad that such a beautiful building was properly restored and is back in use, but I also felt sorry for those people who lived at the wrong time as I’m sure their issues would have been seen a lot differently with the knowledge of modern medicine, rather than being institutionalised for twenty years like “Nobody’s child”.