Some people are easily scared, while others are not. I fall someplace in between. I’m a New York-based photographer/actor/writer who has been investigating electricity and electroshock therapy for my new play, AMP. I chose to accompany my director, Emma Rosa Went, to these asylums in New York and Massachusetts. What we discovered in these abandoned locations was both beautiful and terrifying. Fortunately, I brought my camera and have decided to utilize some of the images in the exhibition.
Letchworth Village, named for William Pryor Letchworth, who advocated for change in the treatment and care of the crazy, epileptics, and underprivileged children, has a brief history. The “village” in Rockland County, New York, comprised 130 spacious neoclassic structures on a 200-acre tract, including modest dormitories, a hospital, dining halls, basketball courts, and a graveyard with around 900 unmarked graves of mental treatment patients. Reports of limited financing and poor resident care stretch back to the 1920s. There have been reports of people being discovered naked, unbathed, and horribly mistreated. In addition to widespread abuse among the institution’s inhabitants, staff members suffered at the hands of coworkers, including rape. The hospital rose to prominence in 1950 after performing one of the first human trials of a still-experimental polio vaccine. Children, unable to give or decline consent, unintentionally become test subjects for medical research. Brain specimens were taken from deceased people and displayed in formaldehyde jars. The mental facility was permanently closed down in 1996. The bad aura in this terrifying abandoned site is apparent; a community of deafeningly quiet graves reclaimed by nature.
Craig House, erected in 1859 in Peekskill, New York, for Civil War Officer General Joseph Howland, became America’s first privately licensed upscale mental health institution in 1915. In 1934, Zelda Fitzgerald was treated here for $750 a month. She was eventually sent to the Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, where she perished in a fire while awaiting electroshock therapy. Jane Fonda’s mother, Frances Seymour, slashed her own neck in one of Craig House’s high turrets, and Rosemary Kennedy wound herself in this luxury loony institution following her lobotomy. As with many of these terrifying locations, there is a subtle sense of despair and inevitability.
Tewksbury Hospital- The Public Health Museum and Tewksbury Hospital have taken over what was once the Tewksbury Alms House. An 800+ acre complex on campus in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, designated on the National Register of Historic Places. According to historian and sociologist David Wagner, one-third of the initial population were children, while 64% of the remaining adult population were male. The vast majority of detainees were immigrants, primarily from Ireland. Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s legendary teacher, was sheltered here from the age of 10 to 14 years.
In 1883, Massachusetts Governor Benjamin F. Butler accused the Tewksbury administration and employees of “trading in bodies of deceased paupers and transferring them for a profit to medical institutions,” as well as benefitting from “tanned human flesh transformed to shoes or other Tewksbury paupers.” They know of ten thousand patients buried here; they think 20,000 died. Vintage electroshock therapy equipment, which employed a voltage powerful enough to power heavy machinery to sedate patients before lobotomies, is still preserved in the basement.
(all photos by Jody Christopherson)
More info: jodychristopherson.wixsite.com
#1 Letchworth Village in Thiells, New York
#2 Letchworth Village, Thiells, NY, Ramps Like Arms
#3 Letchworth Village, Thiells, NY, Welded Door with Rust
#4 Letchworth Village Patient Housing, Thiells, New York
#5 Letchworth Village Basketball Court, Thiells, New York
#6 Letchworth Village Patient Housing, Thiells, New York
#7 Letchworth Village Interior Staircase, Thiells, New York
#8 Rusted Iron Window, Letchworth Village, Thiells, New York
#9 Letchworth Village Patient Housing, Thiells, New York
#10 Broken phone on the stairwell, Letchworth Village, Thiells, New York
#11 Letchworth Village Administration Building, Thiells, New York
#12 Letchworth Village, Thiells, New York
#13 Craig House, Peekskill, New York, front view
#14 Craig House, Peekskill, New York, has high turrets
#15 Craig House, Side Staircase, Peekskill, New York
#16 Craig House’s Great Room in Peekskill, New York
#17 Craig House Courtyard, Peekskill, New York
#18 Craig House, Peekskill, New York, 1859 Building Marker
#19 Tewksbury Hospitals Public Health Museum, Tewksbury, MA
#20 The “Delousing Room” Patient Entrance, Public Health Museum at Tewksbury Hospital, Tewksbury, MA
#21 Tewksbury Hospital’s Public Health Museum, Tewksbury, MA
#22 Vintage dentist chair from the Public Health Museum at Tewksbury Hospital in Tewksbury, Massachusetts
#23 Nurses Kit, Tewksbury Hospital, Tewksbury, MA, Public Health Museum
#24 Vintage Electroshock Therapy Machines, Tewksbury Hospital Public Health Museum, Tewksbury, MA
#25 Tewksbury Hospital’s Public Health Museum has a Death Cabinet