American Horror Story Returns

Have to say I have been looking forward to this since the first sick season ended months ago. I am not much of a horror flick fan, but the excellent writing and cast made this show such a standout (17 Emmy nominations). This year the season shifts from last year’s murder house in LA to an abandoned asylum in Massachusetts. Complete with twisted nuns running the place. I have to admit one of my stranger likes is pictures of dilapidated abandoned structures. Especially mental hospitals. I know, a bit weird. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful the decay and rot of a structure can be. There are a number of excellent photographers that specialize in urban decay, and architecture as nature reclaims it. I follow a couple on FB. They post quite a bit as they travel the country. It is remarkable how many of these vast behemoths are left empty. Most built in the late 1800’s. They are each as unique as a fingerprint. All rambling, as wards and buildings were built to house the steadily growing number of mental patients in this country. Some started out quite ambitious in their goals. The rehabilitation of a population widely ignored and shunned by society. These institutions had gardens and day rooms and some even farms. The belief was if you gave the patients a sense of purpose and a job they would improve. This may well have been true, but none of these facilities could keep up this the number of patients being admitted. The same poor marginalized souls that were once chained in basements and hidden away, were now held behind the brick walls and steep roof lines. There may well have been a short window when the idealism and promise of these places as they were built reigned, but it soon deteriorated. They were now swiftly becoming warehouses. Overcrowding became the norm. The institutions grew, many soon becoming small cities unto themselves. Completely self-sufficient. They had the ability to power themselves, feed themselves and most of all contain their populations. Both staff and patients. In this private world some of the most extreme methods were used in the management and treatment of the patients. In a world before Thorazine, there were few if any methods that could safely treat. Instead, everything from Freeman’s lobotomies to insulin comas. Icebath/ hydrotherapy to electroconvulsive therapy. In the most crude of ways, these treatments maimed as much as they helped. Harmed far too many. All in the name of treatment. It was a far cry from the gardening and sunrooms of the late 1800’s. I guess what I see in these photos of rotting old asylums is the full cycle. From the most optimistic of the beginnings to the phasing out of these hospitals as budget cuts sounded their death knoll. They became too big, too costly, too outdated. Their soaring architecture and beautiful details were meaningless now. They were dinosaurs of the era bygone. As the decades pass they fall in pieces to the dirt they once rose so majestically above. There is something so interesting in the people who seek to document this collapse. Many return to these buildings over the course of years to photograph them.

Here by us is the Middletown State Homeopathic Asylum. An enormous group of structures at one time.  It is very typical of the hospitals built during the time period. It opened in 1874. It pushed for a more humane treatment of the mentally ill. Even including sports and diet as therapeutic interventions. initially less than 100 patients lived in the hospital. In the early 1900s the hospital grew to more than 100 buildings and 2500+ patients. At its largest it housed more than 3500 patients. It slowly started to fall apart. Buildings were closed off as they became too difficult to maintain. The hospital officially closed in 2006. All that remains are some brick buildings. None of the grand old structures remain. Most were vandalized, burned or demolished by the city. I have found no photos of the decay. Only these early photos. Sadly, it is like so many others. No hope of anyone repurposing them. Those that fall out of use are soon destroyed by the elements and vandals. To think of all the effort that went into the building of these super structures. Artisans carefully laid the terrazo floors, or pulled the plaster crown mouldings. These details are rarely if ever seen in today’s architecture. As these decompose the remnants of these arts fall with them. There is something sad about that.

I do feel it is a fitting end to these buildings. They were nothing more than warehouses. Places of sadness and suffering for hundreds of thousands of people. People walled off and hidden from society. Hidden within these beautiful stately structures.

So that was quite a departure from American Horror Story. It is a great start to the season. Jessica Lange is just unbelievably good. Can’t wait for the next episode….

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