Haunted History: Exploring Abandoned Asylums and Institutions

By Sophia Maddox | January 9, 2024

Renwick Smallpox Hospital, Roosevelt Island

If you listen closely to the sound of history, the echoes of despair reverberate through the forsaken corridors of abandoned institutions, where debt-laden souls were callously cast into frigid confinement. The grim legacy persisted as the shadows of mental illnesses seized others, drawing them into the desolate embrace of institutional walls. Within these cold confines, the weight of cognitive disorders became a silent torment, an indomitable force driving inhabitants into bleak isolation. Afflicted by specific contagious maladies, some were marooned, left to wither in the solitude of abandonment. Today, these spectral structures stand as poignant monuments to human suffering, lonely sentinels scattered across desolate landscapes, silent witnesses to the forgotten and discarded chapters of our shared past.

Let's explore the desolate remnants of these forsaken institutions and asylums, where the haunting solitude and abandonment permeate every crumbling brick and echoing corridor.



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In 1850, New York City officials were on a roll, dreaming big dreams that came to life in the form of the Smallpox Hospital on Blackwell's Island, now Roosevelt Island. They tapped the one and only James Renwick, the architectural maestro behind Saint Patrick's Cathedral, to work his magic. So, there it stood, this architectural marvel, lovingly crafted by chain-gang prison labor because nothing says grand design like a touch of convict craftsmanship.

But, alas, time is a relentless beast, and it took its toll on this once-shining beacon of architecture. Despite a generous bequest to the National Park Service in 1973, restoration efforts stumbled like someone trying to walk in high heels for the first time. The glorious past of this place started fading away faster than your favorite pair of jeans.


Kings Park Psychiatric Center, Kings Park, New York

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The New York Times

Kings Park Psychiatric Center emerged in 1885 as a solution to the overcrowded turmoil of Brooklyn hospitals. Yet, an unforgiving 1893 report laid bare the dreadful truth: "unsuitable and unhygienic buildings, inadequate facilities, insufficient and poor-quality clothing, and often food unfit for human consumption." The solitude within those walls became an oppressive force, engulfing all who walked through its gates. Officials cast individuals into the asylum for offenses as trivial as lacking the means to care for themselves or bearing a child out of wedlock. 

Within the sinister embrace of Kings Park, doctors engaged in macabre practices masked as treatments. Hostility extended to orderlies using pillowcases as instruments of suffocation, snuffing out the feeble flicker of life in their tormented victims. The facility reached a haunting peak, imprisoning up to 9,300 souls simultaneously. The chilling legacy of Kings Park Psychiatric Center finally came to an end in the 1950s. Yet, the building remains standing as a testament to the individuals who lived there.