My journey through the halls of the lost but not forgotten. Abandoned buildings hold the secrets within history. Tales unfold as stories are told. Photography captures the visual of what once might have been.
Built in 1858 with good intentions through the Kirkbride Plan to treat the mentally ill humanly, the Trans-Allegheny Asylum was closed in 1994 due to many years of poor treatment and patient abuse.
Not knowing exactly what to expect, as I pulled up to the building the architecture was breathtaking.
The asylum, now a National Historic Landmark, was designed in the Gothic Revival and Tudor Revival styles. It is the largest hand cut stone build buildings in the US and the second largest in the world with only the Kremlin being slightly larger.
The clock tower was constructed in 1871 with three sides to tell time and the rear one left intentionally faceless.
As I entered the building the first room to the left held the history of Dorothea Lynde Dix 1802–87, educator and social reformer, pioneer in the movement for humane treatment of the mentally ill and insane. Her devotion led to widespread international reforms. Her inspiration along with Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride’s vision led to the construction of this building. With a belief that regardless of mental capacity, everyone should be treated as human beings Kirkbride came up with a plan. “moving patients to a rural environment with grounds that were “tastefully ornamented” and buildings arranged “en echelon” resembling a shallow V if viewed from above. This design called for long, rambling wings, that provided therapeutic sunlight and air to comfortable living quarters so that the building itself promoted a curative effect, or as Kirkbride put it, “a special apparatus for lunacy.” These facilities were designed to be entirely self-sufficient providing the patients with a variety of outlets for stimulating mental and physical activities.” http://www.trans-alleghenylunaticasylum.com/main/history3.html
from the balcony a view of the nurses station balcony and above
As the story unfolds sometimes the best laid plans are changed beyond anyone’s control. Originally designed to house 250 souls it reached its peak in the 1950’s with 2,400 patients in overcrowded and generally poor conditions. It was no longer just a place to house the mentally ill or “insane”, it was now a place for any man to drop off a woman or children as he saw fit with reasons ranging from him no longer wanting to be married and wanting to start a new life to his perception of her being lazy or to him finding her reading a novel. If he deemed her “insane” then the children would also be considered insane. With this thought process it’s no wonder conditions got out of control.
Out of this wing came the most horrifying story of the buildings history. One of the patients was murdered by gruesome detail by two other patients because they were upset with his snoring as the story is told. His death started by hanging using this metal bar and bed sheets and continued from there.
This was quite the interesting plate at the outer corner of one of this doors in this wing.
Through this window men crawled along the edge to find their way to the nurses who worked there. Forbidden to have relationships with patients, the men always seemed to find a way.
Even through all the decay I can see the ornate beauty that was meant to be cared for.
moving from the main house to the farm and the Medical Building:
which also housed the hair salon and morgue next to the nurses break room designed to keep the nurses from taking too long of a break
Outside the back door of the Medical building is detailed architecture. Stone masons were hired from Germany and Ireland. The Irish masons built faces above the entrance to keep evil out. If evil were to enter, they believed it would enter through the back door,
A sight of what once was.
I was left with a sense of how one building could hold stories within stories, the positive and the negative, that was not singular to one building alone. Human rights are not something that should be debated. Sadly it is a subject that stretches far beyond this story.
With care and compassion we can change the way things are. If you have even the slightest way of making a difference, believe you can, no matter what doubts you may have. And no matter how difficult the task may be if you have a vision it should never stop you.