The 'I am not leaving the US on my own accord' Road Trip: Day 8/9

Cedar Grove, NJ to Belle Rïver, ON (Rough Map)

Summer 2008

Awakening from the first night that I've ever spent in the Garden State, we gathered our belongings from the motel and packed them imprecisely into Chad's car for the last day of this trip.

After some Dunkin' Donuts, we made the short journey from the motel to the day 8 destination, where we were to meet our day 8 colleagues, Vínsanity and Coùnt Zero.

Does the building in the first picture look familiar?

It may, since it was one of our day 3 locations. The fact that the hospital was so amazing, along with the fact that we felt we didn't have enough time there, led us to returning to New Jersey from Massachusetts for our last day on the East Coast.

In the year 1896, the City of Newark, New Jersey purchased a 90 acre parcel of land in their county for the construction of a mental institution.

The last few years of the 19th century, along with a few years into the 20th century, saw the construction of many buildings upon this acquired land.

As part of my half-ass researching effort, I came across a New York Times article from December 17, 1921 where the institution's power plant failed and 24 patients died within 20 days.

At this time, the hospital asked to borrow a locomotive from any of the nearby railways. The steam engine locomotive could have heated the campus by pushing steam into the pipes below, but apparently none of the railways could spare one because their traffic was too great.

As with a lot of the American mental institutions, the population peaked in the 1950s, then declined with the advance of medicine to treat mental diseases. Throughout the 1990s the population was very small and the decision to close was made in 2007.

2007? Yes, you read that right. In the northeast U.S., things don't sit abandoned for very long before the people get inside.

It is definitely fortunate that people spared no time in the case of Essex. The land was already sold in the same year and demolition began in 2008 and continues into 2009. The plan for the property is a 90 acre park to counter the incredible amount of sprawl and mcmansions which plague the area.

A quote from an Essex County Executive:

"Right now, we are in final negotiations with the New Jersey Green Acres staff for a purchase by them and a lease to us for the largest open space tract of land in Essex — 90 acres of the former hospital center grounds in Cedar Grove," he (Joseph DiVincenzo) said. "It will be a tranquil area for wildflower meadows and walking trails."

I'm going to make a comment here, not knowing if I am the majority or the minority - but personally I am more impressed by places like Chicago, St. Louis and Philadelphia because they possess rare, stunning architecture. To me, parks are a dime a dozen (especially amongst very flat areas such as New Jersey) and architecture is something more valuable.

I'm not saying the above simply because I like abandoned buildings, but these were built in 1890 and as you have seen, and will see in pictures below, are very pleasing architecturally.

Oh well.

Arriving at our parking spot, we phoned Coùnt Zero and they were already inside. He asked us to meet him at x building, which left us confused.

"Ok. Just walk onto the campus and I'll pop out," replied The Count.

Onto the campus, we began walking some arbitrary way. The plan worked out well as we only walked for about 50 seconds before The Count popped out of a door and made enough noise for only us to hear.

UJ & Chad met Vínsanity & Coùnt Zero for the first time, while I had known them prior to this occasion. After some small talk, we moved through the building and snapped some pictures of the above murals.

There wasn't much in the first building besides murals, so Vínsanity asked if we wanted to go check out the building that the local police force had used for a while.

We grew excited.

We were let down a little, but you must realize that we were spoiled with that one police station, so others tend to pale in comparison.

One of the rooms was interesting though as it was filled with tables of stationary and forms. The most interesting being a stack of these 2 inch by 3 inch cards with basic everyday tasks - dress yourself, make your bed, eat lunch - and a system of checkboxes and points attributed to each task.

Trying to determine which building we should hit next, I suggested the Activity Center. Vínsanity said we would need to be quiet because there are glass windows about 10 feet from the campus roads; but that it was no problem.

You may remember my dejection from day 6, where I saw my first bowling alley but with a dead camera battery. I was happy to find my second in Essex - even if Norwich's bowling alley is 10 times more impressive.

Essêx had only been closed for a year when we visited, yet the gym floors were already warping. Jersey winters aren't much different from Michigan ones.

Also, the gym had a collection of desks, cabinets and chairs; making it seem that they had a community sale at Essex's closure.

Amazingly, no one bought this Latin For Lovers LP!

I looted it...Donnie & I listen to it sometimes while we spoon.

Essex brought about another first - my first indoor pool!

For the number of places I've been and how common pools are in these old institutions, I was amazed myself that this was my first.

After a bit of relaxing while The Count took care of both Chad & UJ at billiards, we went to the above building and checked out where security used to be located.

It was neat for the novelty and also because of the historical marker that was located about 10 feet from where the above picture was taken. The only other interesting thing there was a fridge with some decaying food which I was amused to open before someone promptly slammed it shut.

"Sobriety is an uphill journey. Use the steps. So you don't end up in hell."

Where the first building we entered this day had a few murals, we now headed to the Drug and Addiction Ward where plenty of 10 foot walls were painted from floor to ceiling.

Here are a couple mural close ups.

Also, I know it's hard to see in my picture, but that woman inside the question mark is drinking a 'Bud-Wiser'.

Continuing on we came to a room with about 100 mattresses (not the room in the above picture). We contemplated jumping on them, but instead sat down to sort through some patient cards while Chad & The Count walked off somewhere.

I eventually sorted through my patient cards and UJ didn't take much longer.

Since I finished first, I had a slight step on her and I had to draw her attention once I found my former locker...

(I don't care what anybody says, that En Vogue video is still off the hook.

After gawking at the ladies of En Vogue for a couple minutes, I walked over to a random room and found Vínsanity climbing outside through a window. I peered out and saw The Count already over on the hexagon roof you see in the above picture.

Eventually the four of us were back in the building...but wait? Where was Chad?

We figured he didn't go very far, so we began checking the nearby halls and rooms, but he was nowhere to be found. So we descended to the tunnels, figuring that he must be hiding down there.

Firstly, Vínsanity (somehow) figured out that Chad was Jewish and then secondly, he asked UJ what Chad's last name was. Using his "nagging Jewish mother" voice, Vínsanity had us all in stitches as he walked through the tunnels, "Chad Crawford. Chad! This is yaaaa maaather. Chaaaaaaad. The police called me. Chaaaaaaaaaaad!"

It had us all dying from fits of laughter, and between that voice and what can be best described as a 'pubescent death metal' voice, our sides were splitting throughout the day.

Eventually Chad emerged from the darkness, confused as to how Vínsanity now knew his last name and his religion. We moved through the tunnels and into the cafeteria, which was the best smelling abandonment I've ever been in - due to a crate of spices that people had been opening periodically.

The cafeteria connected to an area which we had already browsed during our first visit, but was worth a second look. We all went separate ways and I began taking a picture of a CPR dummy with its head ripped off.

After I finished that, I walked up the above hallway and saw Chad walking with an older man towards me. It crossed my mind to run, but Chad looked awfully calm, so I paused for a second.

(Yes I realize that Jay-Z said "he who hesitates in war is lost," but I was made comfortable by Chad's disposition.)

Vínsanity happened to pop out of a room and see the guy. I could tell Vínsanity had the same mental conundrum occur, but Chad quickly told him it was ok and that this guy was just some other person checking out the building.

Once I heard that I made my way over and listened to Vínsanity and this guy muck it up for a bit...

...and then a bit more, and then a bit longer.

UJ, Coùnt Zero and I left the hallway to sit in the adjacent room. Tired, hungry and frustrated, all of us were wishing Vínsanity would just shut his yap or get the guy's number already.

Eventually Vínsanity parted ways with that guy and we decided to call it a day and take off for something to eat. As we were leaving, we came to the staircase which led to one of the flat roofs, so we decided to check that out quickly.

We sat on the roof and enjoyed the summer day for a bit before taking a group shot and heading on our way.

Our escape from the campus went smooth and after reaching the cars, we left for a nearby diner that The Count & Vínsanity favoured.

Dinner was delicious, especially after a good 5 or 6 hours spent at Essex. The highlight had to be the wrap menu being named after rappers, where Chad selected a LL Cool J Wrap (Philly steak) and I believe Vínsanity got the Tupac Wrap (Lettuce, Veggies - California stuff). Quote of the day had to go to Vínsanity when he asked how the LL Cool J sauce was.

The nadir of the meal was overhearing another table of women discuss their lives. You know the Seinfeld where Elaine's friend tells her that she "has to come see the babayyyyyy?" Well this woman sounded just like that and I sat there pondering how anyone could put up with that wheezing, whiny voice for upwards of 60 years. Maybe it's simply not my cup of tea.

We finished our meals and talked for a bit longer until Vínsanity reiterated that he didn't know what time the bus stopped running and that they had to go. We thanked The Count and Vínsanity and they were on their way.

We now stood in Northern New Jersey at 9 o'clock at night and we were faced with driving 10 hours to get home. I can't recall if UJ drove the whole way or Chad drove for some short time before her, but we got on our way. We were all beat and this was going to be difficult, especially as I cracked a 40 while trying to stay awake. The first part of the journey was easy as we only drove for about an hour before stopping in small town New Jersey to visit 'the Land of Make Believe' simply because we saw it on a AAA map and it was called 'the Land of Make Believe.'

After some help from two random Asian girls walking down the street in this tiny town, we got our picture in front of the sign and returned to the highway. A little conversation and the Welcome to Pennsylvania sign passed. I was feeling drowsy and felt that the others were as well, so I returned to the AAA road atlas and started up a game of 'Name the American States in Order of Their Size!!!"

So one by one, we took turns trying to guess the largest state, then once one of us guessed the largest state, we moved onto the second largest state, then the third, and so on and so forth.

UJ and I tied for first with 14 each; while Chad got third with 121. The most shocking one was that New Mexico is actually the 5th largest state.

By the time we finished the game, we were already an hour into Ohio and it was near 4 a.m. I began the population by state game as we still had 3 hours left. As we got to the third hour, UJ hit a raccoon and started becoming very emotional. I took this as my cue and went to sleep because this was territory for boyfriend Chad to handle.

They woke me up in Chad's driveway around 7:30am. I grabbed everything of mine out of their car and turned down an offer to sleep at their house for a bit. I picked up some 40's at the CVS and headed for the border; completely tired and grumpy. Mysteriously, the border didn't question why I was gone for 9 days, but I was thankful as I wasn't in the mood.

In the end, I came back to Canada on my own accord.


1 - We only started counting points after a bit of the game had passed, therefore our scores don't add to 50

(A big thanks to all the people who made this trip possible & a thanks to you, the customer, for reading all (or some) or this saga.)


1 - 1,800 in Big Asylum in Peril from Cold - The New York Times, December 17th, 1921.

2 - Essex County Hospital Center - Wikipedia.

3 - In tough times, Essex County seeks new funds - The Montclair Times, February 05, 2009.

4 - Mcmansions - Wikipedia.

Go Home

Day 1
Detroit to Camden
Spring City

Day 2
Philly to Delaware

Day 3
Delaware to Northern NJ
Paterson, NJ
Cedar Grove, NJ

Day 4
Northern NJ to Long Island
Kings Park, NY
Day 5
Long Island to Norwich, CT
Day 6
Norwich, CT to Taunton, MA
Jerimoth Hill
Day 7
Taunton, MA to Northern NJ
Nearby, MA