“All is silent in the hall of the dead.
All is forgotten in the stone halls of the dead.
Behold the stairways which stand in darkness;
Behold the rooms of ruin.
These are the halls of the dead where spiders spin
And the great circuits fall quiet, one by one.”
-Stephen King, The Dark Tower: The Waste Lands
Dark, bloated rain clouds hung low in the sky, threatening to gouge open the underbelly of the storm on the barren branches overhead. Our boots squished into soft mud from the morning rain as we navigated through the woods to our destination. The rain had stopped for the time being, but the beasts drifting overhead foreshadowed more to come.
When we broke through the line of trees we both stopped short. Warm mists billowed out with each breath. In the silence of winter the steady rhythm of blood in our ears held the roar of violent rapids. The world was silent around us.
Below us in a scattered maze of broken streets and overgrown weeds lay the dilapidated ruins of a children’s mental asylum. The first buildings were raised in 1926 and continued to expand until it was abandoned in 1991.
This mental hospital was reserved for children with major developmental issues that could not stay in public schools and did not have the money for private schools. Instead, they were sent out of the cities to a center hidden out of sight of any of the major roads. Even today, the expanse of 250 acres is known to few, which is why much of the equipment abandoned over 20 years ago still remains.
Without a word, we started down the embankment and followed the cracked and buckled roads winding through the center.
Stepping within the concrete walls of the building there was an immediate sense of foreboding as I imagined these same slabs of concrete housing innumerable children of varying ages and illnesses. The slate grey walls built a fortress encasing playgrounds and toys, nurseries and classrooms.
Skeletons of rusting metal beds lay in a jumbled mess throughout the building. I tried not to imagine these metal carcasses once being the place where children nestled into blankets and drifted to dreams. Even more, I tried not to think of the same children lying in the dark, fearing the monster lurking within the shadows as distant screams echoed through empty halls.
Tracing the ceilings of each room were stickers of smiling faces charred and blackened from the ashes of fires long forgotten. Murals splashed fading color of crude cartoon characters staring down from the height of the walls somehow adding to the eerie feel of the schoolrooms and nurseries. Cubbies with the scrawling print of children’s names stood at a tired attention against the walls of several rooms.
Time seemed distant and vague as we wandered the halls of the children’s mental asylum. Eventually we stepped back out into the pale light of late morning and the gusting wind of the oncoming storm.
A small building rested in a valley between two other buildings. The brightly colored stained glass identified it immediately. Although it had long since been stripped of its religious icons, the rainbow of colors casting light over the line of empty pews gave it a lingering warmth after the chill of the asylum. Sheet music littered the ground. An old piano sat silent and dusty in the darkness of a back room.
No one sung hymns. These walls had long since heard their last prayer.
We both stopped when we came in view of what must have been the Administrative building. The door slanted on rusted hinges, casting shadows within its gaping maw. Broken glass framed sightless windows lining the faded brick walls of the three-story building. Curtains fluttered in the wind. Nothing else moved but what our eyes might have imagined. Standing under its leering gaze, its energy left us with a feeling of pitiful defenselessness against the echoes of madness within its crumbling walls.
Our boots thudded heavily on the steps leading up to the main entrance. Passing through the doorway was like walking through an invisible wall of time. The air was thick and heavy. The building seemed to sigh with the passing of wind through its halls. All around us doors creaked open and closed with the howling wind. Even as we stood in the darkened, rust colored hallways we could hear the walls deteriorating floors above us adding to the thick layer of dust and debris that littered the halls.
The hallways themselves spanned down toward bright white light spilling in from twin doors at the end of the hall. They both stood open and inviting, almost beckoning us to walk the length of the old halls and see what secrets they had hidden within.
Many of the rooms were empty but for a single chair sitting in slanted sunlight. I imagined sitting in those rotting cushions from another time and staring out of the shattered frames hanging loosely at odd angles to the swaying trees and birds beyond. Shadows of vines crawled over what was left of the windows, their blind fingers searching for new territory to claim. Tattered curtains fluttered on the wind adding an element to the already disturbing vibe of the place.
On the first floor we found a few rooms full of medical records, glass vials, and other equipment and supplies. Further down the hall I found a couple of rooms still set up and ready for their next dental patient. Old chairs leaned back beneath spotlights and trays of what once held the torture weapons of dentists. I can barely stand modern day dentists to begin with. It’s disturbing to imagine how underpaid practitioners working on insane children’s teeth would be.
In another room a large, ashen colored x-ray machine took up the expanse of space. With little effort we were able to slide the machine down and along its tracks. Sitting on a nearby desk was a small drawer full of records of x-rays done on the children over the years. One child, I noticed, had 13 x-rays in a single year. Of course, there were no explanations of the cause of injuries, only the record of an x-ray being performed. I had to stop myself from imagining the normal daily life of the children of the asylum and the treatment they had received within those concrete walls.
We had searched the entire building but for one floor: the basement.
Our steps were quiet in the softness of the thick layer of dust beneath our feet. Down at the bottom of the stairs stretched a long, dark hall with a single bed and dirtied bed sheet hanging limply from its surface.
I knew it was mud. My imagination had already painted it red.
I followed the shadowed hall down and looked at the muddy sheet. Around the corner lie what I had already guessed would be down there: the morgue. Two metal beds were partially slid out of the narrow cells within. Another dirtied sheet was bundled and hung from one of the empty beds. Scattered on the floor were more records of the deceased through the years of Forest Haven’s life. None went into detail, but merely held simple and vague records of those who had occupied the beds.
Turning away we followed our footsteps back up the stairs and out into the open air once again. Suddenly the ominous threat of rain didn’t seem so sinister. I breathed in deep and long, enjoying the fresh air and the wind against my face. The afternoon glow of sunset painted the asylum in gold.
We had spent hours exploring only a couple of buildings. There were still many more memories to hear from the rest of the buildings that stretched within the woods’ edge.
Someone once told me that the only way to truly kill a person is to forget about them. Even after someone dies, their memory lives within those who knew them. After all those who knew them personally pass away, they are still remembered by the graves that mark their lives. It is only once all that marks their life falls into decay and ruin that they are truly lost. The children who walked the halls so many years ago have been forgotten, yet evidence still survives within the walls of the old asylum.
No photograph can capture the true essence of this place.
No words can truly describe the pulse of memories echoing through the halls.