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Eerie Photos of America’s Abandoned Asylums

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8ward-for-the-chronic-insane

For his book and project Abandoned Asylums, Ottawa, Canada-based photographer Matt Van der Velde took his camera into abandoned state hospitals, asylums, and psychiatric facilities across the United States.

The haunting photos show run-down locations “where countless stories and personal dramas played out behind locked doors and out of public sight,” Van der Velde says.

His series includes the autopsy theater where some of America’s first lobotomy procedures were conducted, a private mental hospital that once treated Marilyn Monroe and other celebrities, and the cells of an asylum that once held murderer Charles Manson.

Van der Velde’s personal interest in the history and evolution of mental health treatment comes from his own struggles with depression and PTSD after serving as an infantry soldier in the Canadian Forces.

Here are a selection of photos from Abandoned Asylums:

The infamous Pennhurst State School & Hospital for the 'Feeble Minded' – closed after a century of abuses, inhumane conditions and patient neglect.
The infamous Pennhurst State School & Hospital for the ‘Feeble Minded’ – closed after a century of abuses, inhumane conditions and patient neglect.
A luxurious private mental hospital for the affluent where Marilyn Monroe, Zelda Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, and Rosemary Kennedy sought treatment.
A luxurious private mental hospital for the affluent where Marilyn Monroe, Zelda Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, and Rosemary Kennedy sought treatment.
The exterior of a former 'Asylum for the Chronic Insane'
The exterior of a former ‘Asylum for the Chronic Insane’
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, WV
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, WV
New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica (Utica State Hospital), 1943 – one of the first institutions of it's kind in the United States.
New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica (Utica State Hospital), 1943 – one of the first institutions of it’s kind in the United States.
The autopsy theater and morgue of Dr.Walter Freeman, the 'Father of the Lobotomy'.
The autopsy theater and morgue of Dr.Walter Freeman, the ‘Father of the Lobotomy’.
A typical ward and activity area – patients were discouraged from staying in their rooms during the day; living by regimented schedule they were encouraged to socialize in activity rooms, patient porches and day areas.
A typical ward and activity area – patients were discouraged from staying in their rooms during the day; living by regimented schedule they were encouraged to socialize in activity rooms, patient porches and day areas.
An abandoned bowling alley in a Psychiatric Hospital. Most insitutions had recreation buildings with theaters, bowling alleys, game rooms, pools, etc.
An abandoned bowling alley in a Psychiatric Hospital. Most insitutions had recreation buildings with theaters, bowling alleys, game rooms, pools, etc.
Hydrotherapy tubs – contrary to their display in the popular “American Horror Story” series, these tubs were in reality an incredibly humane form of treatment with widespread use. Patients would be restrained inside the canvas-covered tubs whereby attendant monitored water (at prescribed temperatures and durations based on a patient's diagnosis) would be continually passed through.
Hydrotherapy tubs – contrary to their display in the popular “American Horror Story” series, these tubs were in reality an incredibly humane form of treatment with widespread use. Patients would be restrained inside the canvas-covered tubs whereby attendant monitored water (at prescribed temperatures and durations based on a patient’s diagnosis) would be continually passed through.
A neglected and unmaintained 'Asylum for the Chronic Insane' cemetery where 5776 patients are buried in anonymity.
A neglected and unmaintained ‘Asylum for the Chronic Insane’ cemetery where 5776 patients are buried in anonymity.
Patient luggage stacked in a top-floor room of an intake administration building. Patients would arrive with personal belongings in the hopes they could enjoy a piece of 'home' while institutionalized; however these belongings would simply be placed into storage.
Patient luggage stacked in a top-floor room of an intake administration building. Patients would arrive with personal belongings in the hopes they could enjoy a piece of ‘home’ while institutionalized; however these belongings would simply be placed into storage.
A scene found in a former institution that treated children and young adults with severe intellectual, mental, and physical disabilities.  From 1946 to 1953 Harvard University & MIT secretly tested and experimented the absortion of minerals with radioactive tracers by compromising the children's breakfast oatmeal. A court settlement in 1998 'awarded' the victims almost $2million in compensation.
A scene found in a former institution that treated children and young adults with severe intellectual, mental, and physical disabilities. From 1946 to 1953 Harvard University & MIT secretly tested and experimented the absortion of minerals with radioactive tracers by compromising the children’s breakfast oatmeal. A court settlement in 1998 ‘awarded’ the victims almost $2million in compensation.
An antique wooden morgue fridge
An antique wooden morgue fridge
A theater at a former 'Hospital for the Insane'
A theater at a former ‘Hospital for the Insane’
Dental unit at a former institution for children forced closed by government order.
Dental unit at a former institution for children forced closed by government order.
Patient dinnerware in a cafeteria storage area
Patient dinnerware in a cafeteria storage area
Typical grave marker – for privacy concerns and stigma surrounding mental health, all patients were buried in anonymity.
Typical grave marker – for privacy concerns and stigma surrounding mental health, all patients were buried in anonymity.
Pathologist's chalkboard in an autopsy room / morgue
Pathologist’s chalkboard in an autopsy room / morgue
Typical high security ward hallway
Typical high security ward hallway

You can find more info and images from the project on the website. The 240-page hardcover book will be available in mid-November for $30.


Image credits: Photographs by Matt Van der Velde and used with permission

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