Todays Haunt is ..:drum roll:…Kings Park mental hospital in Long Island NY
Erasing the Past at the Ghost Hospital
By LAWRENCE DOWNES
Published: August 4, 2012
KINGS PARK, N.Y.
Engineers and earth movers have now joined nature and vandals in the slow dismantling of the Kings Park Psychiatric Center, an all-but-abandoned city of the sick on the North Shore of Long Island, on thickly wooded bluffs above Long Island Sound.
Kings Park was one of the island’s four giant state mental institutions — part farm, part warehouse — that treated hundreds of thousands of patients from New York City. It began in the 1880s and kept growing into the 1960s and ’70s until, like its counterparts on the island and across the country, it was made obsolete by new drug therapies and a new understanding of the rights of the mentally ill.
Kings Park shut down in 1996 and the grounds became a state park, partly because nobody knew what else to do with it. Too far from major roads and full of buildings contaminated with asbestos and lead, it has proved inhospitable to redevelopment. (The sites of the other hospitals have long been home to ball fields, shopping centers, apartments, even a federal courthouse, and one is now a nature preserve.) At Kings Park, the state mows the lawns and tries to keep the ruins sealed, but only recently found the money to tear down the dozen or so unsalvageable buildings. After that, state parks officials say, it will be time to figure out what to do next.
For now the site remains one very strange state park — a place where you can launch a canoe into the Nissequogue River among reeds and herons and striped bass, or wander the grounds of a rotting asylum, among a century’s worth of ghosts. In its prime, Kings Park had not just hospital wards and offices but also a power plant, firehouse, workers’ cottages, dairy and horse barns, a piggery, libraries and garages. It had its own farm fields, reservoir and railroad spur.
Nearly all of what remains at the site is abandoned, including Building 93, a tower that looms over the grounds like a horror-movie hospital. Doors and windows are covered with plywood; weeds sag on brickwork. Graffiti defaces the ruins inside and out; thieves have stripped them for scrap metal, sawing off pipes and gutters and smashing electrical switches with rocks to pick out the copper like crab meat. There is a subculture of Kings Park infiltrators, carrying heavy tools and posting videos to YouTube. They seem to work as doggedly as the birds, squirrels and thick weeds that wrap themselves around metal stairwells and window grates.
Last Thursday, parks officials gave a tour. We drove back roads and went into Building 7, once home to administrative offices and surgical wards. The morgue was awash in filth and graffiti, but the body slabs still rolled. I wandered the rooms, then stopped when a worker with a flashlight said we weren’t alone; he had heard crunching feet down the hall. I saw a man in a T-shirt slip through a doorway into a pitch-dark room where stairs led to the basement. I was told not to follow.
Kings Park used to be far-off countryside, but over the decades, as development sprawled eastward from the city, it became an island of green in the heart of suburbia. This was true of all the Long Island state hospitals, but Kings Park, with its 600 rolling acres and water views, is the most beautiful. Its future is unclear: there will be parkland, certainly; housing in significant amounts, probably not. As for some sort of refuge for the poor and mentally ill, forget about it.
The surrounding township, Smithtown, will have a say on land use, and the not-in-my-backyard forces are legendary there. Nobody, aside from the looters and a few dedicated amateur researchers and bloggers, seems all that interested in the Kings Park Psychiatric Center as it is, or used to be. Long Island’s hospitals may not have had as bad a reputation as their New York City counterparts, but the whole era was toxic with abuse and neglect. And the memory of the patients who lived and died there is all but lost. Hundreds of them lie today in a potter’s field at the far edge of the property. Parks workers had trouble remembering where it was. But they found it, up a dirt road behind a locked gate: a grassy meadow scattered with a few stone slabs bearing numbers, not names.
New York State has largely abandoned its comprehensive commitment to caring for the mentally ill and disabled. When the hospitals emptied out, patients were sent to group homes to be better cared for; many were forsaken there, too. A recent series of articles in The Times found that abuse and neglect plague the mental-health system to this day. It would be wonderful if someday profitable redevelopment of Kings Park led to a surge in financing for care of the mentally ill. I’m not counting on it.
Outside Building 7, I chatted with an engineer about the bygone days of great brick-and-mortar public works, of bridges, schools and hospitals, of well-meaning efforts at great expense to meet the needs of the poor and sick. I looked around at the remains of a city built from scratch for people who couldn’t care for themselves. Standing among glass shards and weeds, on what might someday be the site of biking trails, parking lots and private luxury homes, it seemed like crazy talk.