Kirkbride Buildings Blog

February 18th, 2009

Worcester State Hospital Fire

The Worcester State Hospital Kirkbride building on fire
squad546 over at the Asylum Projects Forum scored the biggest asylum-related find of the year (so far) by tracking down video footage of the 1991 Worcester State Hospital fire. The video was taken by a gentleman named Michael Newton, who gave squad546 permission to post it on the web. I’ve included a few screenshots in this post, but you can see a lot more here: Worcester Fire Footage.

squad546 will try to get the actual video uploaded to the web soon. I’ll link to it once it’s available. I’d like to give a big thanks to Mr Newton for sharing this footage. It’s sad to see, but amazing at the same time, and I’m glad it was documented like this. (more…)

December 26th, 2008

Demolition at Taunton State Hospital?

Taunton Asylum
The other day I came across this fiscal year 2009 resource summary for the Massachusetts Office of Health & Human Services. I wanted to save the bad news for after Christmas… One of the items in their budget is “Demolition at Taunton State Hospital.” It has an allocation of 1.3 million dollars. The full description reads, “This funds the demolition of buildings damaged by fire in 2007. The fire damaged buildings are close to or contiguous to an operating DYS facility and represent a severe safety hazard.”

Looks like plans are being made to knock down what’s left of the Taunton Kirkbride soon. The eventual demolition of the Kirkbride has been pretty much a given since the fire, but I think this is the first definite sign that it’s going to happen in the not too distant future. It’ll certainly be a sad day when that building comes down. It really had a unique and understated beauty that I haven’t seen at any other Kirkbrides. I expect most people who’ve seen the building would agree. It’s also a special building to me personally because it was the first Kirkbride I ever saw the inside of.

On a brighter note, the resource summary also allocates $140,000 to fund “a study to preserve the vacant historic Worcester State Hospital Clock Tower building.”

December 15th, 2008

Asylum: A Mid-Century Madhouse

Last week I picked up a copy of Dr. Enoch Callaway’s Asylum: A Mid-Century Madhouse and Its Lessons about Our Mentally Ill Today. In case you’re not aware: Dr. Callaway was a psychiatrist at Worcester State Hospital in the late 1940s and Asylum is a memoir of his time there. I have to say it’s a great read. Each memory is told with intelligence and wit in one short chapter which you can usually breeze through in about two or three minutes. In spite of their brevity, these concise vignettes provide remarkably insightful illustrations of the hidden world of Worcester State Hospital in the mid-twentieth century.

If you’re looking for pictures, Asylum doesn’t have a whole lot unfortunately. The ones it does have are pretty common (except for one medical staff group shot on the hospital lawn). There isn’t much in the way of in-depth descriptions of the Kirkbride either. Dr. Callaway focuses much more on events and people than on architecture. But the Kirkbride building is where most of the story takes place and it gets plenty of references. You can tell Dr. Callaway has a lot of affection for the old building and a sadness over it’s demise—as well as the hospital’s general decline. (more…)

November 28th, 2008

LIFE Magazine at Worcester State Hospital

Patients at Worcester State Hospital

Note: Sadly, the photos linked to in this blog post are no longer online.

Google and LIFE Magazine recently arranged a deal whereby LIFE’s vast photo archive will be placed online. You can find a portal to the collection here. What I really want to draw your attention to though is a handful of images taken by photographer Herbert Gehr at a mental hospital in Worchester [sic], Massachusetts in 1949. One of these photos (reproduced above) leaves no doubt that they were indeed taken at Worcester State Hospital. Anyone that’s been inside the Worcester Kirkbride will recognize the space in which three women create this somewhat surreal scene.
Common Area inside Worcester State Hospital
I don’t think all the photos in this collection were taken inside the Kirkbride, but I believe most of them were. They’re really a pretty fascinating group of images too—some are slightly bizarre, some are disturbing, and others are hauntingly beautiful. It’s weird to see that the basement almost looked creepier in use than it did after it was abandoned. Below are links to all the pictures. (Note that you can view a larger version of each image by clicking the “View full size” link on the image page.) (more…)

September 13th, 2008

Worcester State Hospital Scrapbook

Worcester State HospitalForum member Swansod made a post today about a small treasure trove of newspaper clippings he found while researching Worcester State Hospital. The clippings are from the 1930s, ’60s and ’90s. You can see reproductions on Swansod’s Zenfolio pages: WSH Related. (Hint: click on a thumbnail, then hover your mouse cursor over the larger version to get the download link. Download the file for a more legible version.)

Some high points from the articles include a map identifying each part of the Kirkbride (pictured above), mention of some films made by superintendent Dr William Bryan (which I’m trying to find more about), descriptions of various renovations over the years, LSD experiments, pictures of the hospital’s operating room, and information about the first phase of demolition which happened shortly after the Kirkbride fire in 1991.

May 28th, 2008

Worcester State Hospital Update

Worcester State Hospital
Over the weekend I stopped off at Worcester State Hospital to check out the demolition work. There’s still a good portion of the wing standing, but I was surprised at how much is gone. Gage Hall (the non-freestanding rotunda) and the section I believe was named Lincoln are mostly rubble.

Oddly, the building seems much bigger with those pieces gone. I guess it has to do with how those parts blocked the view of the rest of the building from certain angles. Anyway, it won’t be long before the whole thing is gone. See it while you can. (more…)

May 6th, 2008

More Historical Photo Goodness

Fergus Falls State HospitalThings have been a little slow in the Kirkbride newsroom lately. Aside from last week’s excitement over the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, there haven’t been many new developments in the world of Kirkbrides—just some rehashing of the same old news.

So here’s a post about more old Kirkbride photos on the web that people might not be aware of. In a previous post on the same topic, I mentioned that I couldn’t find some photos of Worcester State Hospital which I had come across earlier in the American Memory Collection. I found them again fortunately. As stated before though, the quality isn’t so hot. Maybe the originals are good (it might be worth getting copies), but the electronic versions available on the web site aren’t. That said, here are the links. (more…)

April 16th, 2008

It’s Coming Down

Worcester State Hospital
The abandoned buildings at Worcester State Hospital could start coming down as soon as this week according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Reporter Lee Hammel writes about the possible scaling back of the proposed new hospital facility, and mentions a few facts about demolition and the unclear fate of the Clocktower. (more…)

March 25th, 2008

Signs of Life/Death at Worcester

Worcester State Hospital
Yesterday, Wormtown Taxi posted photos of the new fence at Worcester. Signs of the imminent destruction are beginning to appear more ominous.

I was at Worcester State Hospital this past Saturday and the fence was already up then. It must have been put up last week. My heart sank as I approached. You can see the chain link shining in the sun all the way down from Route 9. It runs all along the edge of the property, almost right up to the street in some parts. The road behind the wards is basically closed too. (more…)

March 22nd, 2008

Wormtown Means Worcester

The blogging Worcester taxi driver at Wormtown Taxi promises to post pictures of Worcester State Hospital demo work as it unfolds. This might be a good resource for those of you outside Massachusetts.

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