Painted upon the cold tile walls of a stagnate morgue, located in the dark recesses which form the under-structure of an abandoned asylum,
can be found a Latin proverb just barely legible through the damage and filth of ages.
“Let conversation cease. Let laughter flee. This is the place where death delights to help the living.“
Across the property a lavender curtain billows as wind enters in over jagged edges of shattered glass which once comprised a large bay window.
Overlooking a landing no one uses. Above a lobby no one is in. Abutted by hallways echoing the sounds of nothing.
This is Pilgrim State Hospital in Long Island, NY. What was at one time the largest psychiatric hospital on the globe, with a peak patient population of almost 14,000, is now little more than
a broken collection of buildings. Dotting the grounds of what is still a partially-operational facility, can be found the many shells of long-unused structures.
Undone by modern medicine and overrun by nature, these massive brick corpses serve as eerie reminders to medicine's darker times. Like so many of the patients who traversed their now empty corridors,
these buildings were given numbers to serve as their names. Of all the numbers on these grounds, none holds a history so dark, and so tragic, as the looming edifice named “23”.
It was here, on the uppermost floor, in an operating room overlooking the whole of the campus, that prefrontal lobotomies were preformed.
Altering the lives of over 1,500 patients from the 1940's through the 1950's.
The operating room has since been stripped by scrappers, and weathered by years of disuse. Its barren and blackened walls enclose an operating room floor which has come to be flooded
with rainwater entering in through a decaying roof. Fogged windows cast a mirror image across the wet surface of the floor, the reflection periodically disturbed by small ripples as water drips
off ceiling beams. It's as if this place has finally taken its true form, many years after it has been of any use. While operational it was an abomination to medical science and human nature,
and through the unrelenting forces of time it has finally come to reflect so physically...
The construction of Pilgrim began in 1929, due primarily to severe overcrowding in city asylums. It's design was one of a “farm colony”, an institution based around the ideals of living and working
in the open space of what was then rural Long Island. As the title implies; patients were to farm crops and work the land as part of their treatment. Opening October 1, 1931 on some 1,000 acres,
Pilgrim housed it's own power plant, post office, police station, fire department, cemetery, water source, and a neighborhood of housing for the doctors and administrative personnel.
Most all of which were connected under the sprawl via an intricate system of tunnels and passageways.
As the population grew at Pilgrim, the campus itself began to spread out. In the end the massive property was reaching into four separate townships of Suffolk county; Babylon, Huntington, Islip,
and Smithtown. WWII saw several buildings taken for use by the War Department and utilized to aid traumatized soldiers. After the war the population surged at Pilgrim State Hospital,
at its highest point the campus saw use by almost 18,000 people; 13,875 of them patients, and approximately 4,000 employees. This massive populous heralded the end of the farm-colony concept,
as it withered away in lieu of the practices of “modern medicine”, such as electroshock treatments and the previously mentioned prefrontal lobotomies.
Even during the most affluent years for the use of lobotomies, the practice was seen as controversial at best. In some documented cases, typically with patients who were severely violent or erratic,
the operation had a “calming effect”, making the post-operation patient “quieter”. However in countless other situations it removed the very essence of the individual who received treatment,
in effect dehumanizing them. Of course when we look back with generations of medical advancement between us and them, we see this practice as primitive in form and barbaric in concept.
To be in the shoes of a doctor in that time though, would reveal a completely different story. You would see thousands of people incapable of keeping from harming themselves and others.
You would look to medicine for the answers, only to be greeted with a complete lack of understanding as to the cause and cure for their condition. You hear that a simple operation, hailing from Europe,
has the ability to calm those who are unreachable by any other means. The answer would seem clear to you, almost as a miracle from the hands of modern science.
Time goes on. As the practice becomes mainstream in the United States, and is instated in hospitals nationwide, it becomes more and more typical to use as a crutch than as a cure.
Situations obviously vary dramatically from case to case, but somewhere along the line doctors must have seen all the wrong contained in this method of treatment.
Perhaps the doctors were doing the best they could given the tools at hand, but at the same time surely they knew, if only at a base level, that what they were doing was fundamentally wrong.
Pilgrim State Hospital still stands today, though it has a much different anatomy than it once had. It operates out of about a third of the campus, The farm-colony was sold off years ago,
renovated, and as of 1974 became the Suffolk County Community College's Western Campus. A large portion of the land was also secured by a developer, who has razed several of the buildings,
but has yet to begin construction on the property. Many abandoned buildings endure as well, including the administration building, massive power plant, and the infamous building 23.
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