Wörcester Statë Höspital

Wörcester, Massachusëtts

Winter 2008.

The North American forum that I'm involved with is comprised of many chowderheads¹ (i.e. residents of Massachusetts). If there is one things chowderheads bring to the table, it's fine asylums. For a place that is 1/7th the size of michigan; they contribute.

One said asylum that was receiving a lot of coverage lately was the Wörcester State Hospital.

The original Wörcester Insane Asylum opened in 1833 as the first American institution ever to treat mental illness. This building was eventually outgrown by the needs of Wörcester and construction began on the new Wörcester State Hospital in 1870. The building was originally designed to be a series of outbuildings; but that plan was later abandoned for the Kirkbride plan (as explained in my TCSH write up).

The above picture shows the central administration building with its imposing clock tower. This central administration building was originally complimented by 4 story, 500 foot wings to each side. Behind the administration building was a chapel, nurse's quarters and a kitchen.

Your random fact for the day? Sigmund Freud visited here in 1909 on his only visit to America (Freud was Czech-Austrian).

That all sounds amazing for exploring; but shortly after the hospital closed in 1991, a fire destroyed most of the 500 foot wings. The fire that occurred destroyed all of the left wing and almost all of the right wing except for a small portion. The burnt out shell of the left wing and the right wing portion were demolished; and the subsequent stone was used to seal the giant holes in the administration building and remaining portion of the right wing.

So stands Wörcester hospital today. The central administration building, the Lincoln Building (the remanding portion of the right wing), the Gage Turret (see above - connected to the Lincoln Building), the Male Dorm and a few separate buildings remain of the once great kirkbride.

Still; the Wörcester State Höspital had always been somewhere that I had seen in photo and I thought looked amazing. It was on my way back to Nova Scötia, that I had stopped in Massachusetts to visit my boy GrayFox and asked him how far it was to Wörcester and if we could go.

GrayFox was more than willing and told me we could go wherever and see whatever I wanted.

I couldn't believe my eyes - Worcester is completely stunning. The gneiss stone bordered by red brick gave this victorian structure an insurmountable beauty.

As with Traverse City, I was almost content to just walk around and take in the building exteriors.

We walked around back and even the powerhouse was amazing.

It made me wish some of the other buildings (the nurse's quarters, the chapel) were still standing.

While circling around the remaining portion of the right wing, we came back around to the backside of the administration building and I had to just had to take more pictures.

Such an amazing structure.

Never happy with just exteriors, I HAD to make my way inside.

Massachusetts currently plans to demolish all of the buildings except the administration building for a brand new, state of the art health care facility. Therefore, I had to get inside Wörcester while it still existed. I called up my Massachusetts contact GrayFox and arranged to meet him in the early morning hours of New England's second largest city.

While driving home for March Break, I was going down the empty I-90 interstate surrounded by the Northern Maine darkness. I called GrayFox to ensure that the plan was still a go and he informed me that he had been throwing up all night and was feeling extremely ill. He told me that The Dude was still going, and tried to give me his number - but I already had it.

So I called The Dude and we arranged to meet up. I thought I knew where the kirkbride was and could make my way there. Soon I realized that the city wasn't so easily remembered or navigated. Embarrassed, I called The Dude and we ironed out the details.

The Worcester Night was still upon us. We made our way across the dewy grounds of the facility. I've met The Dude once before and we exchanged few words before making our way inside.

Prior to September, I had never been east of Pittsburgh. Suddenly, I was in this American metropolis with my foreign counterpart, about to see what said metropolis had to offer.

As you could tell from the exteriors, there aren't very many open windows at Worcester. So as the sun rose, we would walk the floors to each window and witness the rising sun paint the majestic buildings.

We eventually made it to all of the open windows (there's literally like 6), and The Dude saved the best one for last. In calling it the 'best one', I mean because it was the best place to view the New England sunrise.

The Dude found an awesome chair and his friend sat on a nearby mattress skeleton. I went off to search the building by myself for another chair but couldn't find one for the life of me. Also, the cinder block I found just wasn't cutting it. Eventually The Dude and his friend went off somewhere, so I snatched The Dude's chair and lounged with my feet up and my smile wide.

Quite often in my life I sit back and think about the circumstances that I'm in, in terms of x location with y people at z age. This was definitely one of those times. Peacefully enjoying the sunrise of Wòrcester, Massachusetts in their åbandoned åsylum at z age.

I tried to capture the sunrise in picture but did a very poor job of it. At first it was hard with the rising sun backlighting the buildings; then it was hard just to get a shot which showed all of the visible buildings.

The combination window frame and my inability to produce a proper panorama brought about this.

Although, I still like the color the building has in the right side.

In this picture you can see the remaining portion of the right wing (the Lincoln Building), where we were located. It is connected to the circular Gage Turret; and behind the Gage Turret is the Male Dorm I believe.

Eventually the sun rose enough to allow us to comb through the Lincoln Building. It was initially dark when we entered the building, so we barely used our flashlights, carefully covering them, only allowing the most minute amount of light escape to allow us to navigate to the next open window.

It wasn't much of an exploration though, the aforementioned 5 board less windows resulted in about 5 things to see. Like the above bed frame that I've seen in about 15 photo galleries from this place. It's the dead giveaway that a photographer is at Worcester.

We made our way over to the aforementioned Gage Turret. The Dude's friend didn't think twice and crossed this shady, icy, ramshackle floor into the circular Turret. The Dude questioned it, but eventually made it across. I thought about it, but just opted against it; I instead decided to go down to the basement and see if I could go under this ramshackle floor...leading me to see this...

Well I guess I know what was holding up the floor!

(I later showed The Dude and his friend this and they just chuckled. I think they figured it was stronger than the frozen ice that they postulated was holding the floor together).

Instead of seeing the upper floor of the Gage Turret, I saw the basement. Which featured a rounded hallway with a few janitorial rooms. At centre, was some weird room that had this viewing window inside...

...and then when you went inside the room, you saw the sink and mirror which connected to the viewing window.


Many of the web sites that document Wòrcester have very similar information and very little of it about the actual items inside.

The room also had a mattress and this strange contraption - which I believe is a scale?

It was at this point that I started to get the x place, y age syndrome again. Separated from The Dude and his friend, setting up my tripod and waiting for the timer & shutter afforded me time to look around and feel the solidarity. The solidarity of that cold, dark basement. With how much I explore in Detroit, it almost feels like home and the buildings definitely don't feel foreign - traveling to locations like this, 10 hours away from home, makes it feel foreign.

I probably would have spent a good hour down there; but realizing that I should have said something to The Dude and his friend (sorry about that again); I made haste and returned to their floor. I felt bad when I found them looking for me, and I should have said something in hindsight. I'm just accustomed to wandering off alone; my mistake.

We continued on our tour.

Throughout the day, people are continually walking the grounds with their partners, their children and their pets. Combined with the path past the power plant, Massachusetts has to have some of the strangest walking paths in the world.

What that meant for us, was that you had to be extremely careful when approaching any window. People tend to gawk at the buildings and surround them throughout the day; so you can't just stand blatantly at the open windows - you need to slowly creep and peek out to see if the coast is clear.

This creeping and sneaking wasn't worth it to me to see outside. I let The Dude take care of the responsibilities and I just stood back and took my wheelchair shots.

One of the things I wanted to see most was the camera obscura. I'm not the most clear on this, but apparently some very intelligent fireman made holes in the plywood boards of one room, so that the light reflection off the other buildings would enter the tiny hole and reflect onto the wall.

It wasn't that impressive when we were there; but apparently it is a sight to behold at sunset.

The Dude informed me that he couldn't get a good shot of it with his 60 second shutter speed; which tempered my enthusiasm. I set up the ole tripod and tried my best, but the damned 2 second shutter speed let me down again.

It really is far more impressive than this. A great shot (amongst a collection of great shots), can be found at David Dillon's photoblog. Definitely check it out there.

As mentioned before, there isn't really a whole lot to see inside Worcester. The place is risky and there are only a few good things per building. Meaning that you would have to take risks to capture everything.

Although I'm really trying to stop this habit, I told The Dude I had seen enough and I was content. He told me the male dorm was completely collapsed inside and had nothing to see - and although I regret doing so, I passed on it. Now Worcester will be gone and I should have really taken full opportunity.

I had nowhere to go; but I had been driving all night and had been up for 24 hours straight. I was tired and decided to pass on the opportunity. Although I'm happy I saw what I did, I feel like I let down the place a little by not covering more.

Oh well, it'll be gone soon and another chapter will close. If anything, it'll teach me to be more thorough and to learn from the experience.


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¹Used with permission.