Maybe it was an overwhelming sense of curiosity and adventure that drove me to choose Medfield State Hospital as a day trip.
Maybe it was my past experience working in a medical museum.
Or perhaps it was a combination of the two – my secret desire to explore something filled with history and decay.
And I can’t help but think I was meant to come here and write about it to you, readers. I’ll try to keep this post short and sweet, but words can’t describe everything I’ve learned and felt here.
Welcome to Medfield State Hospital in Medfield Massachusetts.
We drove into a small and sunny town in Massachusetts and I held out my phone’s GPS, tracking our destination down a long road called “Hospital Road”. You couldn’t tell where this place was until you spotted this sign next to a closed driveway gate – a tiny entrance to the walking path was unobstructed. We parked the car and got out, making sure to tie up our boots (in case of ticks) and pack some water on what was a very very hot day.
But let’s step back for a second – how did I even know this place existed?
My good and morbid obsessed friends at Atlas Obscura have a list of each state’s most creepy and unusual places. I first heard of Atlas Obscure when they hosted an event at the medical museum I used to work in. If you don’t already know about them, I highly suggest you check out their website!
I saw Medfield State Hospital on their Massachusetts list and was pleasantly surprised to see it was open to the public (which surprisingly minimizes break ins and vandalism).
Medfield State Hospital is an abandoned asylum complex that closed in 2003. How could I not visit this place? So off we went!
Not knowing where to go and without any maps of the complex, we just decided to pick a direction and start walking.
Off the bat, I couldn’t help but notice how peaceful this property was. Trees lined all the tiny trails and vast plots of land stretched out before us. I didn’t even think we would see a building until the path got larger and steeper up a hill. The very first house we reached was on our right. And the oddest thing happened – the sounds of nature, all the birds and little critters, just stopped.
It was so silent. The only thing we heard was our own footsteps crunching a few twigs and leaves.
“What is this place?” was all we could say as we looked at the first cottage. It’s all boarded up – the windows, the doors, everything.
As I walked along these manmade trails, I couldn’t help but notice just how “cozy” I felt here, despite there being acres of land ahead and behind us. It felt safe. Yet, there was something sad about it too. As a student of the history of medicine (and avid medical antique collector), just knowing how these places wrongfully treated patients was always at the back of my mind when planning the trip here.
When going to places like this – I really like to read up on their history. Unfortunately all I could get was a Wikipedia page and this very informative blog post by fellow visitor J.W. Ocker. But all I knew when I came here was that hundreds of people have died here – from natural and unnatural circumstances. As I kept walking along this wooded path, the realization of just how many emotions and history this land has was evident to me.
An Important Note on Visiting Historic & Abandoned Places
Before I show you some more photos and tell you my experience here, it’s really important to note that there are a few things to keep in mind when visiting abandoned and historic places:
- Be respectful of the rules and do not enter properties you are not allowed in.
- If allowed in, be respectful of the property and do not trespass into places that are clearly boarded up and have written warnings. The buildings often pose serious health risks and are boarded up for your own safety.
- When visiting historic and abandoned places, please be respectful and mindful of the past events that have occurred at the property – at any time, you may be over hallowed or sacred ground. Making fun of “ghosts” and “crazy people” is not only disrespectful to those that have lost their lives there but also disrespectful to the mental health community at the present time.
We passed our first big boarded up building and stopped for a second to take it all in. Every single entrance and possible window was boarded up. A “caution” sign plastered onto every face of the building. Three teenage boys rode their bikes furiously past us – talking to each other about how “spooky” this place was. Up the road ahead of us was a loud crash and bang. The boys quickly rode their bikes back past us and out of the complex, scared out of their minds.
We approached the road the loud bang was heard from and saw construction crews working on a new water tower. If the boys had done their research, they would have known that this complex was currently being worked on – in hopes of turning it into something the community and town can use in the future.
We walked up the path and stared at dozens of buildings lined up one by one – as far as the eye could see. This place was way bigger than I thought. Looking around, we noticed we weren’t alone. Construction crews walked past and us and waved. A man and his two dogs walked ahead of us – his was just another peaceful park.
So what exactly was this place?
Medfield State Hospital was a former insane asylum that was established in 1892. It was the first asylum in the state of Massachusetts and it’s campus is notoriously created on the “Cottage Plan”, giving it a modern campus like feel. It consisted of more than 60 buildings and at one time housed over 10,000 people, including the staff. That first cottage we passed? The engineer’s cottage!
As we continued walking, we came across these more stately buildings (pictured above). I figured they were administrative buildings, as they are technically the first buildings up the main road (not the one we took).
Medfield State Hospital’s name changed from “Insane Asylum” in 1914. Although you may think that a place like this only housed the mentally/criminally insane, it didn’t. Aslyum’s were safe havens for those with not only psychiatric conditions, but also those that were disabled or labeled as outcasts.
In my research, I came across a ledger that listed the reason for being admitted to Medfield State Hospital. Can you guess what you could have been admitted for in 1890? Here are a few examples:
You could be admitted if you had or did any of the following:
- Had any disability (even a club foot)
- Obvious psychiatric problems
- Had other health issues
- Or if you’re family simply didn’t want to take care of you anymore.
John, the caretaker we later met, said that people were brought here by their family members and never saw them again. He remembered he talked to a caretaker here that said they would celebrate birthdays every year – and every year no one’s family came to see them.
If the gravity/importance of this place hasn’t sunk in yet – now’s the time. This place was a safe haven for anyone who wasn’t useful to society. I’m legally blind without my lenses. If we lived in the 1900’s, I would be in one of these buildings – just because.
The Inner Working’s of Medfield State Hospital
Time was non existent here. We walked and walked in silence, just in awe and feeling emotions of the buildings we saw. I could sense both happiness and sadness as we passed each building. I didn’t know the whole story of this wonderful place until I ran into the caretaker, John. He had passed us several time in his pick up truck, wearing a yellow construction vest and hard hat. He had parked the building we were now approaching and walked right over to greet us.
John has been taking care of this property for a long time and has personally studied the history behind this place. He has seen all the records, met the doctors, and interviewed patients that once stayed here. This man knew this place inside and out. And while you talked to him, you could tell this property held a big space in his heart.
John started giving us a tour – and that was much unexpected and very much welcomed! But what he told us next made everything we’ve seen come to life.
You’re a new patient, welcome to Medfield Insane Asylum
John described in detail, what it was like coming here for the first time. I imagined everything in my head to spare you the long historical details, but it went like this:
Perhaps your family had packed your bags beforehand. Maybe you were suffering a nervous breakdown. They put you in a car and put your bags next to you. Everyone said goodbye and a family member drove you up Hospital Road.
You didn’t know it was the last time you would see them.
You drive up to Building A, the administration building. In 1894, this was the building that decided your fate at Medfield State.
A grand lobby greeted you and your relative walked up the the receptionist, hidden behind a caged wall, for her safety. The nurse listened to your relative as you stood idly by, bags in hand. A doctor came out of a small room and greeted you and your relative. He ushered you into his office and you sat on a beautiful chair next to his desk.
He asked you a bunch of questions: what was wrong? Have you every displayed these symptoms before? What was your regular mood? Have you been getting enough fresh air? Then he studied you to see if you were a “quiet” or a “insane”.
You’ve passed his test. He’s determined you are a “quiet” patient. You say goodbye to your relative and get ushered into the quiet dormitory.
The rest of your life is spent in the quiet dorms: eating, reading, and doing hobbies.
The doctors have taken you into one of the quiet buildings to live out your life and get the proper and available treatment for whatever it is you have. It’s pleasant enough, but sometimes you hear screaming from the building next door. You ask the women or man next to you what it is.
“It’s the Insane dormitory, of course” they tell you.
No one speaks of it. But everyone knows it’s where patients who are violent are kept, some being chained to their beds, other’s kept in complete isolation – only a slot in the wall for food.
You’re lucky that you aren’t chained to your bed, that your roommate hasn’t axed someone to death (true story), and that you aren’t given the dangerous hydro or electric therapy treatments that the violent patients are getting – often killing them in the proccess.
If you survived the Spanish Influenza (brought after WWI), then you watched hundreds of people being carried to the morgue next door. Over 500 people in one week.
Life goes on, but what you see there forever scars your memory.
Not all was dark
John kept talking to the rest of our group and I turned around and shed a tear. I looked around, increasingly aware of my surroundings and just how devastating this place must have been at times. John went on to tell us more stories of patients and doctors here, some of them, too graphic or sad to retell.
But there was also hope and light. Medfield was at the forefront of treating patients with psychiatric problems. Staff here was mostly very kind, very helpful, and very much dedicated to making these people feel at home -and most importantly, safe.
The patients grew their own food here. The acres of land here were used for farming. This was a completely self sustaining community – feeding thousands of people on the crops they grew. Patients were the first of their kind to have any type of occupational therapy – as doctors saw that most patients were actually very fit to go back into society and work.
This community was one of the first in it’s kind to perform tests and experiments that would help save patients lives. New occupational and physical therapy treatments were tried and tested. Patients lived comfortable lives, fell in love, had families, and ate well – something their families might have not been able to provide for them. The future was very much a hope here.
So is this place haunted?
Walking around this abandoned campus, it’s probably the first thing you’d ask. I mean. c’mon: ABANDONED ASYLUM. Absolutely no ghost hunting crews are allowed on this property as the caretakers feel it disrespects the memory of those that have lived out their lives here. As a avid history and medical history lover, I have to agree. Film crews are allowed to come in but there’s absolutely no “hospital” or “zombie” horror films allowed. One of the most famous scenes filmed here was in Shutter Island, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The caretaker was very clear that trying to make this place some sort of haunted attraction was far from the goals of the community
But that’s not to say there there certainly aren’t any ghosts or spirits here.
I’m going to be 100% frank and honest with you and let you know that I am not a skeptic, although I always choose to look at the facts first and foremost. I only had two experiences here and I’ll let you decide if it merits any type of paranormal activity or not.
I approached the building above to document any type of architectural feature I could find (of course I’m more focused on that, right? Lol). Anyways, I approach but quickly back up because a rock just skidded past my foot and down the sidewalk. At the time, I didn’t think it was relevant, after all there were rocks everywhere.
So I take pictures and I’m feeling #allthefeels as I stand in awe of the rich history here. I turn my back and begin walking to catch up with my small group when a women’s voice calls out to me, like she was asking a polite question.
I turn around and look at the building, unaware that my brother had also heard it, standing not that far away.
“Where are you going?” my brother asked, repeating the question he thought we both heard.
“We’re going to see the other buildings” I said out loud, feeling like I owed it to her. I walked away, not scared at all. It was a really comforting and almost caring feeling. I was impressed that my first VP (voice phenomenon) was friendly.
A source told us that this place had been reportedly haunted since it first opened. Some records show that doctors had reported seeing an apparition around 1920 of a women in white up on the second floor of the administration building. Things often went missing and moved around in that building too.
The same source has stated that many people here catch “orbs” in their photos, especially near the old church and morgue.
Is this place haunted? Maybe. Maybe not
But this trip was never about ghosts, and never should be.
The End of A Historic Story
Medfield State Hospital officially closed it’s doors in 2003, unable to accommodate patients as places like these were in the decline. The last of the patients got moved to nearby hospitals and this place closed it’s doors forever.
For quite some time now, the city has managed to take control of this historic landmark, protecting it from being torn down. However, the fate of this place might be heading down that road. There have been numbers debates and meeting to discuss what is to be done with Medfield State Hospital. Everything from golf courses to assisted living communities has been taken into consideration. No word yet on what the exact plans are. But for now, this wonderful and historic landmark is open to the public everyday from 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening. You can walk the grounds freely, as long as you follow the rules.
Thank you, John, for your incredible kindness and amazing tour.
Have you ever been to a place like Medfield? Do you have any questions about this place? Let’s chat! Leave them in a comment below!
FB Live Special
There’s obviously a lot I haven’t said about this place. Because this is merely 1 blog post. I didn’t even cover half of the thing’s I’ve learned and saw! So I have a special event for Petite Bijou readers that want to ask questions about my trip and want to find out more about this place (the history, the look, anything).
I’ll be hosting a special FB Live dedicated to this post.
Please join me on:
Saturday, September 3rd, 7PM CST, here on my page.
I’ll be talking about EXCLUSIVE behind the scenes content that wasn’t published, including stories that didn’t make the cut due to their violent/paranormal nature.
If you want me to answer any questions, please comment below and I’ll make sure to answer your question directly!
Visit this page and “like” it to be notified of the event!
Thank you so much and see you Saturday!