Danvers State Insane Asylum and Session 9

Yesterday I watched Session 9 (from my list of movies I plan on checking out this fall), a movie filmed on location at the Danvers State Hospital/Insane Asylum in Danvers, Massachusetts. I’m not sure where I was when this film was released in 2001, but I was a different kind of nerd then, and this film just wasn’t on my radar, I guess. I enjoyed it, though I have to tell you it put me in a funk for a few hours. It belongs in the psychological horror genre, but less emphasis should be placed on the horror and more on the PSYCHOLOGICAL! The plot of the film, according to the movie’s IMDb page: “Tensions rise within an asbestos cleaning crew as they work in an abandoned mental hospital with a horrific past that seems to be coming back.” But the cool thing is that the parts of the story that pertain to the hospital itself are loosely based on real history and events.

For most of the movie, like a true paranerd, I couldn’t stop obsessing about the building, wondering what they added, what they didn’t, etc. I also couldn’t get my mind off of the fact that the place doesn’t exist anymore (more on that later.) If you’re brave, continue reading the somewhat bi-polar thoughts that came out of my fingers after the movie and after researching Danvers State Hospital all day.

 

Danvers State Hospital/Insane Asylum 

800px-Danvers_State_Hospital,_Danvers,_Massachusetts,_Kirkbride_Complex,_circa_1893

Construction on the site began in 1874 and opened to patients in 1878. Like most asylums and hospitals of this type and age, it has a complicated, sad, unbelievable, and depending on the decade, even a criminal history. Most of the infamous and inhumane treatments and methods were practiced here at one time or another, including shock therapy and lobotomies.

By the 1960s, a combination of controversy and budget cuts caused Danvers to begin shutting down sections of the hospital. For the most part, by 1985 the whole campus was closed and abandoned.

In the DVD’s special features, Brad Anderson (writer/director) and Stephen Gevedon (writer) explain that they had Danvers in mind before they even started writing the script. They also mentioned that they racked their brains trying to figure out exactly how they were going to tell the story in this building, meaning why in the world would anyone be in an abandoned asylum? This is a great example of life just before, or at least in the infancy of what I’ve always referred to as the great paranormal craze. How quickly we paranerds forget what life was like before Jay and Grant and the T.A.P.S. team. It is difficult for me to comprehend this, but Ghosthunters didn’t premier on SyFy until 2004. Clearly, if this script were being written today, asbestos would still be an issue, but they would have used a paranormal investigation team, armed with plenty of night vision and oxygen masks, to tell the story.

**RANT WARNING**
Now I know, I know… I’ve mentioned this before, but every paranormal investigator in the world likes to claim that Ghosthunters on SyFy had no influence on what they do in the field. I’m here to tell you that 99% of them are lying. It is accurate to say that paranormal investigation was not invented by Jay and Grant. It is accurate to say that a few of you may have been in the field before 2004 (like 2 of you, perhaps). However, it is also correct to say that approximately eleventy-thousand new paranormal teams and paranormal television shows have popped up since Jay and Grant popped on the scene. Whether or not the craze is truly a great thing is a topic for debate. I’ve got to be honest, though. I owe them a lot for really changing my life and my interests, and I’m giving them props where props are due. **RANT OVER**

Now cut to December of 2005, four years after Session 9 was released. Despite a brave fight by local groups and community members trying to preserve the enormous acreage of the Danvers hospital campus and its unique history, demolition began. In its place is now an Avalon apartment community. Can you believe it?!

I can’t help but think that perhaps if they would have been able to hold off for just another year or two, enough interest would have grown to somehow save this strange, embarrassing, yet fascinating and physically beautiful landmark. Now days all it takes is a visit from SyFy or the Travel Channel to put a place back on the map, turning it into a paranormal tourist spot. Many similar locations have been saved, at least for now, by funds that are raised by leading tours or by paranormal groups paying to investigate. See Waverly Hills Sanatorium as an example. I have mixed feelings on all of this, however, and I know it hits some ethical nerves of some of my readers. In my opinion, the great paranormal craze has its side effects, one of them being tons of paranormal groups trampling through historical buildings, tearing things up, and riling up spirits. These groups will leave their trash, their “trigger objects”, and their energy behind. (I have to include myself in “these groups”, by the way. I told you this was somewhat bi-polar.) And then 30 years later, will we be investigating an old asylum or a historic former paranormal training facility? What about the investigators who will have died during that time period? Those paranerds LOVE these places and the memories they made there. Are they now hanging out there for eternity too? Ha! I know I’m being silly, but it all just gets weird for me. But… at least this way a historic location has a fighting chance, right?

Hollowed out facade of the central part of the main Danvers building.

Hollowed out facade of the central part of the main Danvers building.

So let’s get back to the demo and that mean old Avalon company and the apartment community, which I believe was completed in 2007. Interestingly, of the massive hospital campus, which consisted of an enormous main building (shaped like a bat) and several outer buildings (click HERE for an aerial photo), the facade of a small central portion of the main building was saved (see photo to the right). Though this portion was hollowed out, leaving only the front face of the building, I have to say, what they attached to it looks pretty cool to me. There are several other buildings and typical apartment units now on site, but apparently some of them are in the ominous “new” asylum building. Check the Avalon site HERE for cool interior photos. (On a related note, check out the former Michigan Insane Asylum, which is now residential condos, office, and retail space.)  Part of me thinks it is completely annoying and greedy for a company to come in and do this and then fake us out with a phony tiny portion of a Danvers building. But that’s silly, right? Why should a place stay abandoned, damp, and dark, with endless walls of peeling 1960s hospital green paint? Another part of me thinks it’s a really cool way to preserve at least a portion of Danvers, in a way that only a big company with big money can do. Another part of me thinks ARE THESE RESIDENTS CRAZY?! WHO WOULD MOVE IN THERE?!

………………………..and then the last remaining part of me wants to move in there. 

The new Avalon community building attached to the facade.

The new Avalon community building attached to the facade.

 

Clearly I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I’d REALLY love to hear from residents of this new Avalon community. What are the chances of this post finding someone who lives in the new faux Danvers building? Contact me!

 

My resources for this rambling post:

Session 9 DVD Special Features & Commentary

http://www.danversstateinsaneasylum.com/home.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danvers_State_Hospital

http://www.avaloncommunities.com/massachusetts/danvers-apartments/avalon-danvers/pictures/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0261983/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Session_9

 

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About Patrick Keller

Patrick Keller is an educator, blogger, and the host of the Big Séance Podcast, which is a place for paranerds to have an open discussion on all things paranormal, but specifically topics like ghosts and hauntings, paranormal research, spirit communication, psychics and mediums, and life after death. He’s the founder of the now inactive Missouri Spirit Seekers and has spent a lot of time experimenting with spirit communication tools and techniques, such as EVP. Patrick also has a passion for spending hours at a time in cemeteries and loves cemetery photography. Visit BigSeance.com! View all posts by Patrick Keller

16 responses to “Danvers State Insane Asylum and Session 9

  • Parlor of Horror

    The real story of Danvers is much more interesting to me than this movie. The events in Session 9 made little sense to me and then you had to watch the special features or read a book to make sense of it- not my idea of a sucessful film. I’ve been to my share of abandoned psyche hospitals and Danvers is one of the more intriguing places. I guess it is good that a company came in and saved the architectural design of the building for future generations to see. In my area, they had torn down the Pilgrim State hospital and Kings Park mental asylum because of health and safety concerns leaving nothing there but a feild.

  • davidalmeida23

    Hey Patrick,

    I lived very close to Danvers State Hospital growing up. My Mother brought me to Danvers State to visit a friend (a patient) when I was a child (9 or 10 yrs. old?). My mother, bless her heart, didn’t always use the best judgment as a parent. I guess she couldn’t find someone to watch me. This was in the early 80’s.

    I have vague memories of walking through the hospital. I remember it as being almost like a real-life horror movie (to a child mind you). I vaguely recall the patients. There was a woman smoking a cigarette at the main entrance of the building. She looked paranoid, almost as if she had seen a ghost. I imagine she was paranoid because of a mental illness, rather than from a supernatural encounter. Being there probably didn’t help her.

    I toured Avalon about two years ago. I have no idea why I would ever consider living there. I got that creepy, eerie feeling as the leasing agent showed me around. I believe the rent for a one or two bedroom unit is between $1,200.00 and $1,600.00. That’s about the average rental rate for a unit in a residential community in the Boston area. I decided to look elsewhere. It’s certainly no reflection on Avalon.

    I haven’t seen this movie. I have no plans to. I’m guessing it was created specifically for horror fans, so that fact needs to be taken into consideration. However, if you were to ask a former patient about his or her experience, without regard to the psychiatric condition or addiction that brought him or her there, the person may be able to relate to what’s in this movie – on some level.

    David

    • Patrick Keller

      Wow, that’s some experience to have as a kid. Funny and interesting that you have a kind of connection to the place. Small world. I really do hope I hear from someone who lives there. Probably not, though. 🙂

      The movie definitely does not fit into the “horror” category. Psychological for sure, though.

  • Aunt Sarah

    Historic preservation has always been a hot button issue in most communities. It’s just SO difficult to save these giant buildings like this behemoth! What’s sad, is the country not understanding mental illness and shutting everything down. Mental patients were often left homeless and I’ll, as they were in St. Louis, where we lived in a historic community!

    People who are bi-polR, Schizophrenic, etc just don’t do well on their own, without help. The Presbyterian church on the square, Lafayette Sq. sat empty the entire time we lived there. When we visited, 12 yrs later, it was a refurbished condominium building! I was happy to see it saved, and remembered how we all worried that vandals, or vagrants sleeping there, would set it on fire!

    I’m impressed with this renovation. Thankful that someone had enough money to do it. The areal picture reminds me of Monopoly pieces 🙂 in the shape of a bat of course.

    • Patrick Keller

      Oh I definitely agree with you regarding mental health in our country. If I may reply to David here as well, I know that movies that depict asylums and institutions from this era are probably blown out of proportion, but I think there was quite enough evidence of disgusting practices and bad history in these places to shut them down, if for just the bad energy alone. It’s a shame that we’ve turned so many people away and thrown them out on the streets now that we’ve learned from our mistakes. But when it comes to this place and several of the other infamous institutions, I bet a lot of people were better off without it. Of course, I also don’t know what I’m talking about. 🙂

      And I’m so jealous that you had Lafayette Sq experience! I love that place and its history… though I’ve only seen it from afar.

  • davidalmeida23

    I agree with you Sarah. In the 1980’s, well-meaning mental health advocates and reformists managed to force the Dept. of Mental Health to close down asylums (I don’t know if asylum is the correct term) like Danvers State Hospital. They had a vision of transitioning the mentally ill to group homes.

    I’m not sure what happened to their vision. There are now more homeless mental ill people living in shelters and on the streets of Boston than ever before. I assume it became too costly to support group home model. This was situation became evident long before the mortgage industry collapse of 2007. It was a nice thought though. I guess it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

  • Earthpages.org

    Patrick, our city is being gobbled up by faceless condos and cookie cutter homes. A lot of vitality and history is just vanishing, so I get your lament. At least you can watch the movie and remember.

    I could be wrong but I think ECT is still regarded as a valid psychiatric treatment by some, if not all, psychiatrists. Perhaps there are different camps re this issue. Again, I’m not sure.

    Nice post. I like your freefloatin’ writing style!

  • davidalmeida23

    It’s a shame that the former residents of Danvers State Hospital cannot afford to rent units at Avalon Communities. Then again, I’m sure I would want to get as far away from that place as I could. I’m glad I was only there as a visitor.

    I met a woman in the mid nineties who was receiving ECT for severe depression. I asked her if she thought it was working. She said it gave her some relief. I remember when I got an electric shock from a live wire. If ECT is anything like that, I can certainly see why a person would forget about their depression. That’s like dropping a rock on your foot to relieve a headache. Personally, I would rather deal with the headache! 🙂

    • Patrick Keller

      Once again, I responded to this a day or so ago and I don’t know where it went. Don’t remember what I said… so I’ll just make something up. 😉 Just kidding. I wonder how many patients from Danvers are still living? There can’t be many, because there weren’t many patients left there by the 1980s, according to what I researched. I’m not sure I’d even want to be near the place if I were a former patient. Seems to me that most of the positive experiences of the place were in the 1800s… a lot of not so great things happened in the 80 or so years after that. And again, I had no idea ECT was still a thing. I hope mentioning it wasn’t insulting.

      • davidalmeida23

        Not insulting to me Patrick. 🙂 I’ll bet ECT is still used occasionally in some mental health facilities. While working for the public defender’s office starting in the 1990’s, I became aware that mental health professionals can “theoretically” petition a court judge to order ECT on their patients. Massachusetts has a special mental health court. They use what is called a Roger’s decision in these cases. It is a legal ruling that allows mental health professionals in psyche facilities to treat patients against their will. This is typically done with medication injections. The court appoints the patient with a specially trained lawyer to defend his or her rights. I understand it is a fairly routine matter. I’ve never personally seen this process in action. I’m certain the psychiatrist or social worker always wins the argument. If I were the judge, I suppose I would want to play it safe.

  • Kelly

    I’m moving in, in July. I’ll let you know.

  • Rick

    Dont forget the Norwich Mental Hospital in Norwich, CT.
    Since the “indians” set up the Mohegan Sun Casino across the river, the building has been scheduled for demolition many times but true paranormal activities have stopped it from happening so far.
    #1- In the late 70’s the demolition crew couldnt get any equipment to run “on property”, but over the white line outside road ran fine.
    #2- In the late 70’s, crew foremen “touched” his long dead mother.
    #3- In the early 80’s a broken down van saw room lights on in the buildings, that had no power since the early 70’s.
    #4- Numerous police calls over the years of people lost on property and when found they talk of people they met or dressed in clothes from when the hospital first opened.
    Many, many more like this.

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