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Danvers
June 30, 2009 10:43 AM   Subscribe

A website has been launched to preserve the history of Danvers State Insane Asylum. The Asylum, which opened in 1878 in Danvers, MA (site of the Salem Witch Trials) and closed in 1992, was featured in the horror movie Session 9, and may have been the inspiration for HP Lovecraft's Arkham Asylum. Its Kirkbride Wings, which once held the institution's living quarters, now house a 400+ unit apartment complex.

Unfortunately, Avalon Communities destroyed most of the hospital in order to build their apartments. Danvers is also not the first asylum to be turned into consumer residences.

The Danvers gallery includes excellent, evocative images from John Gray, who specializes in photographing "abandoned architectural environments."

The "Kirkbride Buildings" link was part of a former FPP. Fascinating stuff. Pennsylvania psychiatrist Thomas Kirkbride literally wrote the book (pdf link) on the construction of massive mental hospitals through the "Moral Treatment". In all, approximately 30 US hospitals were designed according to the Kirkbride Plan.

More on Danvers. Previously on MeFi.
posted by zarq (35 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sorry but Lovecraft never mentioned an "Arkham Asylum". You're thinking of Batman.
posted by enamon at 10:46 AM on June 30, 2009


I would totally read an HP Lovecraft Batman story, though.
posted by jeffkramer at 10:47 AM on June 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm afraid you've got it the wrong way around, enamon.
posted by adipocere at 10:47 AM on June 30, 2009


Arkham Sanitarium equals Lovecraft. Arkham Asylum equals Batman.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:52 AM on June 30, 2009


This is now a Batman thread.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:53 AM on June 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Arkham Sanitarium, close enough.

I was meaning to visit Danvers, as my friends lived in the area and would tell me about it. Closest I ever got was going to the grounds of the Northampton State Hospital, which is now has a dog park.
posted by mrzarquon at 10:53 AM on June 30, 2009


In all seriousness though, the only reason I enjoyed Session 9 was because Danvers is awesome and basically a horror movie in and of itself.

Same thing goes for David Caruso.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:55 AM on June 30, 2009


Buffalo's own State Insane Assylum is equally beautiful and is making its way through community talks, inspections, and permits to being converted into condos. Though, unlike Danvers, it appears this move will actually save the buildings from neglect and decay.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:56 AM on June 30, 2009


In "The Thing on the Doorstep", the sanitarium in Arkham, Lovecraft's fictitious town, is where one of the characters winds up. Hear Arkham's got a nice gazette. Love to read the classifieds there. "M seeking M, F seeking M, Spawn seeking Human ..."

Is there any backstory on the adoption of Arkham name by the Batman comics? Derleth liked to sort of tend the flock of Lovecraft-associated creations, even if one or two would slip out now and then, and you have to wonder if there were objections raised about Arkham Hospital Asylum.

I missed going to Danvers recently, but I plan to go next year and spend some time there. Too good to pass up. Session 9 is just ... well, they could have filmed anything there, even a romantic comedy, or clowns, and it'd be creepy. Maybe especially clowns.
posted by adipocere at 10:56 AM on June 30, 2009


Arkham Sanitarium equals Lovecraft. Arkham Asylum equals Batman.

Oops. Sorry! I'm not really up on either genre, but didn't want to leave it out! :D
posted by zarq at 11:10 AM on June 30, 2009


Arkham Sanitarium equals Lovecraft. Arkham Asylum equals Batman.

Arkham Palisades equals luxury condominiums at ridiculously affordable prices! We must be crazy!!!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:15 AM on June 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


Is there any backstory on the adoption of Arkham name by the Batman comics? Derleth liked to sort of tend the flock of Lovecraft-associated creations, even if one or two would slip out now and then, and you have to wonder if there were objections raised about Arkham Hospital Asylum.

If anyone finds or knows of a link that explains this, I'd be grateful if you'd explain. While researching the FPP, I searched for a "official" cite on the Lovecraft/Danvers/Batman connection, but all I could find were anecdotal references on Wikipedia and other blogs.
posted by zarq at 11:16 AM on June 30, 2009


In recent years, there have only been two movies which have scared me enough to want to sleep with a light on. Session 9 was one of them.

Session 9 is just ... well, they could have filmed anything there, even a romantic comedy, or clowns, and it'd be creepy. Maybe especially clowns.

....Jesus. That'd be the third film.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:20 AM on June 30, 2009


I think abandoned mental hospitals are beautiful. More beautiful than any other abandoned buildings, except maybe playgrounds.

More here.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:20 AM on June 30, 2009


Oh, and I didn't want to put it in the FPP, but the "Buy Stuff" button at the first link opens a CafePress store that sells Danvers-themed merchandise, including a thong.
posted by zarq at 11:21 AM on June 30, 2009


a CafePress store that sells Danvers-themed merchandise, including a thong

"Drive her crazy with her very own Electro-Shock Thong (TM), just nine ninety-five. Batteries not included."
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:28 AM on June 30, 2009


Postcards from asylums? What? "Wish you were here"?

Creepy (yet funny)
posted by dasheekeejones at 11:36 AM on June 30, 2009


I've done the urban exploration thing at both Northampton State Hospital and Danvers back when they were derelict and creepy as all hell. I like how Northampton has turned into at least some kind of public recreational area (when I was a kid we'd go sledding on what was known as Hospital Hill and we did so semi-illicitly; now it's nice to see that it's open to the public like that.)

But turning a Kirkbride into condos is just wrong. Even if they destroyed much of the original -- hell, that's even worse. I could not fathom actually living on those grounds. Now we just wait for the inevitable laconic Yankee to show up and mention that you really do hafta be crazy to buy a condo there.
posted by Spatch at 11:38 AM on June 30, 2009


Denny O'Neil, who was doing "Grim'n'Gritty" Batman in the early '70s, invented it. It was based in "Arkham, New England" rather than Gotham, according to this exhaustively researched blog post. So, O'Neil was probably a Lovecraft fan, which explains his taking a turn toward the "dark horror" genre with Batman's villains, a sensibility that's launched a thousand lucrative franchises.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:51 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Arkham Palisades equals luxury condominiums at ridiculously affordable prices!

Three words: direct. to. video.

Yes. It must be done.
posted by aramaic at 11:54 AM on June 30, 2009


Is there any backstory on the adoption of Arkham name by the Batman comics?

From Wikipedia:
Arkham Asylum was named in honor of the fictional city of Arkham, Massachusetts, one of the settings of H. P. Lovecraft's horror stories. In fact, when the asylum first appeared, it was actually in the city of Arkham; its Gotham location, and the subsequent alternative explanation of the name, were later retcons.

Lovecraft's Arkham Sanitarium may have been inspired by the Danvers State Insane Asylum (aka the Danvers State Hospital) in Danvers, Massachusetts. Danvers State Hospital was erected according to the Kirkbride Plan devised by Victorian-era mental health professional Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride. In the comics, Arkham Asylum is often drawn with Victorian elements, suggesting the Kirkbride model.

posted by The Great Big Mulp at 11:55 AM on June 30, 2009


dasheekeejones said: Postcards from asylums? What? "Wish you were here"? Creepy (yet funny)

My best friend sent me a card from a graveyard that said "Wish you were here". She wrote "Well, not *here*", pointing at a grave "But you know what I mean." I pinned it up. It still makes me laugh when I see it.
posted by dejah420 at 12:18 PM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's the goddamn batman.










(Nice post.)
posted by Malice at 12:31 PM on June 30, 2009


The Great Big Mulp, Thanks. I saw that, but unfortunately there's no cite to back it up. Without sources, that wikipedia article may be accurate, but there's no way for a casual reader to tell truth from fiction.
posted by zarq at 12:32 PM on June 30, 2009


Malice, thanks. :)
posted by zarq at 12:32 PM on June 30, 2009


Yeah, zarq, I suppose you're right about that.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 12:34 PM on June 30, 2009


So what do parents on the North Shore say these days when their kids are making them crazy? I nearly drove Mama Fairytale to Danvers State at least six times a week in my youth.

It's as bad as Walpole State Prison now being MCI Cedar Junction. Where will you threaten to send misbehaving kids? "Cedar Junction" sounds like a retirement home, not jail.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:50 PM on June 30, 2009


Where will you threaten to send misbehaving kids?

To their rooms?

I always liked Bill Cosby's line: "I brought you into this world and I can take you out!" :)
posted by zarq at 12:57 PM on June 30, 2009


Heard this today on the drive to work -- awesome that they're saving an old building with so much history, but seeing this I can't help but think of the real, living people who are languishing in these types of places in certain parts of the world today.

I also can't help but think of Batman.
posted by tastydonuts at 2:09 PM on June 30, 2009


Other Mass. mental hospitals:

Tewksbury State Hospital - still there, still a hospital.

Metropilitan State Hospital - now apartments and protected green space..
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:55 PM on June 30, 2009


I am confused and frightened that no one has mentioned the ridiculously fun Arkham Horror board game- which, of course, is set in Danvers Arkham. I feel stretched thin. I lose one sanity and I am delayed.
posted by cheap paper at 7:41 PM on June 30, 2009


The beautiful Chestnut Lodge Hospital in Rockville, MD was another empty former psychiatric hospital headed for a new life as luxury condos, though the main building was much smaller than Danvers and its peers. Sadly, it burned down earlier this month. More on Chestnut Lodge.
posted by swerve at 9:16 PM on June 30, 2009


In fact, when the asylum first appeared, it was actually in the city of Arkham; its Gotham location, and the subsequent alternative explanation of the name, were later retcons.

This seems redundant. It's best to assume that every single piece of information in a superhero comic is a retcon of some sort.
posted by Justinian at 11:11 PM on June 30, 2009


Speaking of New England mental hospitals, I give you "Met State" from Handcranked Film. Shot on location at the former Met State Hospital in Waltham, Mass.
posted by pxe2000 at 5:22 AM on July 1, 2009


I once wandered into the grounds of Met State on foot, looking for a shortcut. I had no idea what the place was, until I saw the sign on my way out. That explained the nonstop screaming I heard from inside one of the buildings. Besides me, the place looked deserted. Very creepy.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:35 AM on July 1, 2009


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