March 13th, 2012
A DVD of the Worcester State Hospital fire is now available for purchase. You can learn more about it and buy it at D.M. Wenc’s photography website. The DVD has a running time of thirty-eight minutes, the first eight of which are taken up by radio communications from firefighters on scene as the person who filmed the video races to the blaze.
I haven’t seen the DVD myself so I can’t vouch for its quality, though I suspect it’s at least a decent record of that terrible day. There’s low-resolution sample footage available on the DVD information page. And you can check out the photos of the fire also available on the site for an idea of what you’ll see in the video.
March 9th, 2012
Fans of the Electric Pencil—AKA James Edward Deeds, Jr.—will be pleased to learn there’s a documentary film about the artist in the works. There’s also a Kickstarter project looking to raise funds for the film. You can learn all about it and back the project here: The Mystery of the Electric Pencil.
The project’s Kickstarter funding run will go until the afternoon of Tuesday, April 3rd. They’re looking to raise $30,000 by then. Backers who pledge $10 or more will be eligible for various gifts related to the film and the artist.
February 23rd, 2012
An article on the Boston Globe website includes an artist’s rendering of the Worcester State Hospital clock tower replica: Clock Tower: Time Isn’t Up in Worcester. Even though I’m very disappointed in the clock tower replica compromise and don’t think it could ever be a fitting stand-in for the entire building, I have to say it doesn’t look quite as silly as I had feared. What do you think?
February 4th, 2012
According to the Fergus Falls Journal, only one proposal for reuse of the Fergus Falls Kirkbride was submitted in time for the deadline on Wednesday: Only One RTC Proposal Submitted. That’s a little disappointing, but we Kirkbride enthusiasts eat disappointment for breakfast, right? I wouldnt get too upset just yet.
The proposal was submitted by Minneapolis-based Geitso Export Management. The company wants to transform the Kirkbride into what it’s calling The Global XChange Village—using the building for a mix of business, education, retail, and the arts, including an “international boarding school.” The article also suggests that other developers who had planned to but didn’t submit their own proposals may end consolidating their projects within Geitso’s plan. Details of the plan are to be released in mid-February.
In somewhat related news, the Otter Tail County Historical Museum will be hosting an open house this Friday, February 10th from 4:00-7:00PM, unveiling the new exhibition “The State Welcomes: Minnesota’s Third State Hospital. See State Hospital Exhibit Opens at Museum for more details.
January 23rd, 2012
Looks like Massachusetts is planning to proceed with demolition of the entire Worcester State Hospital admin (including the clock tower), and construction of a replica clock tower using material from the original building. See this official report dated Friday, January 20, 2012. It’s a lengthy, wordy document which is painful to read in some respects, but the overall gist is their intent is to completely raze the admin and build a clock tower replica. They acknowledge strong community support for preservation, but say the cost is just too high.
While destruction of the clocktower is tragic and more should have been done to save it, there’s some small comfort in the fact that part of the reason this is happening is because of the new hospital building being built nearby. The advancement of care for the mentally ill should always trump preservation and memorialization, no matter how important the latter two are. While I don’t think that fully excuses the state from responsibility for this tragedy, it’s at least something of a silver lining.
January 9th, 2012
As I’ve mentioned here and on the Kirkbride Buildings Facebook page, time is running out for the Worcester State Hospital clock tower. The entire admin is very likely doomed, but there is still a chance the actual clock tower will be saved. Tomorrow, Tuesday, January 10, 2012 is the last day to register a comment calling for preservation. See this article for details: For Old Times Sake. The state has offered to build a replica of the clock tower after demolishing the original. I think keeping the original is much more preferable to a replica. If you feel the same, please make sure to say so when sending your comment to the state.
Comments can be sent by email to the office of the Secretary of Energy & Environmental Affairs. The address is email@example.com. It couldn’t get much easier.
Please take a few minutes to send them a message calling for preservation of the clock tower. Please spread the word about this too. Thanks.
December 27th, 2011
As a follow up to yesterday’s post about the Worcester Clocktower, I wanted to point out that some of the paperwork for the Clocktower demolition is available on the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs website: Environmental Notification Form (PDF). The document lists the estimated commencement date for demolition as “Spring 2012″ and the estimated completion date as “Summer 2012″. So it’s very likely the Clocktower will be gone within a year.
The document also explains in more detail why the building is ineligible for national landmark status:
“In response to a Part 1 Historic Preservation Certification Application for the Clock Tower, the National Park Service determined that the Clock Tower does not qualify as a ‘certified historic structure’ for the purposes of the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Citing the demolition activities that occurred following the 1991 fire, and those associated with the development of the new hospital facility, the NPS concluded that the Clock Tower, and the Worcester State Hospital campus as listed in the National Register in 1980, no longer retains architectural integrity.”
The only good news in the document is that some effort will be made to salvage material from demolition for an on-site installation commemorating the Kirkbride:
“As part of the on-going MHC consultation process, measures to mitigate the demolition of the Clock Tower are being explored. One such measure includes the salvage of architectural elements of the Clock Tower for possible future incorporation in an on-site installation commemorating the historic and architectural significance of the former Worcester State Hospital.”
December 26th, 2011
Massachusetts’ Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) and Department of Mental Health filed paperwork with this month in preparation for tearing down the final remains of the Worcester State Hospital Kirkbride building. It’s been determined that reusing the structure would be too expensive.
The bulk of the building’s remains consists of the Kirkbride’s administration section, and is loosely referred to as “The Clocktower.” However, the actual clock tower is a separate substructure of the admin. It’s been proposed that a compromise between preserving the admin and tearing it down completely would be to keep the clock tower substructure standing while destroying the rest. The tower would remain as a “long needle” with the clock at the top. You can find out a bit more: Group Hopes to Save Clocktower.
It would be sad if that’s all that could be saved, but the phrase “better than nothing” comes to mind. If it happens, I hope the tower will be open to the public. It would be a better memorial if people could interact with it (i.e. go inside, climb to the top, and see the view) rather than just look at it.
December 21st, 2011
The Herald News of Alabama published an article today about the history of Christmas at Bryce Hospital: The History of Christmas Celebrations at Bryce Hospital. Although I’m sure things weren’t quite as rosy as the writer suggests, it’s an accurate series of vignettes revealing some of state hospital life’s more positive aspects. I think it’s safe to say those positive aspects came to the fore during the holiday season at every other Kirkbride hospital in the country too. I get the feeling though that earlier times were more truly festive, and things got less joyful when hospitals became severely overcrowded.
It’s too bad the article doesn’t include any pictures. It’d be nice to see some of the decorations and activities it describes.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Not to be a downer, but don’t forget there are people less fortunate than you, who won’t be spending the holidays at home this year.
December 16th, 2011
I found a whole slew of photos taken during the infamous Worcester State Hospital Kirkbride fire today. The pictures are part of D. M. Wenc’s portfolio which is available here: Worcester State Hospital Fire. They’re part of a series of Massachusetts fire photos Mr. Wenc and his father took in the 1990s. They also have video footage of the conflagration that’s being made into a DVD. The DVD will be for sale at a later date.
There are lots of great photos in this collection. Here are some of my favorites:
- A lone firefighter watches the Kirkbride burn
- Billowing smoke pours out from a ward’s attic
- The rear of the Kirkbride in flames with the Clocktower visible in the distance
- Flames engulf the Kirkbride attic
- Firefighters drenching the building with water
- Dousing the flames
- Flames leap from a turret
- Firefighters continue to drench the building after the fire is mostly extinguished
- Firefighters climb up to the roof
I was particularly struck by that last photo, mainly because I’d never seen that structure before. It looks like a group of enclosed porches with some unusual windows. Those were long gone by the time I visited the building for the first time back in 2001. I’ve never seen them in older photos before either.
I was also a little taken aback by the indifferent and nonchalant expressions on many of the people’s faces. It looks like a lot of them thought the fire wasn’t a big deal. It probably wasn’t to many people. I suppose many thought the building was just an old eyesore. But then again, just because someone’s smiling in a photograph doesn’t mean they were having the time of their lives the entire day.
As beautiful as the photos are, it’s depressing to see these pictures and think about what might have been. If it wasn’t for the fire, the entire Kirkbride might still be perched up there on the hill today.
You can find more photography by D. M. Wenc on his blog: Photography by D. M. Wenc. You can also follow him on Twitter. (Speaking of Twitter, did you know Kirkbride Buildings tweets? As do I, if you’re interested in following me.)