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
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.
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.
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.
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
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Papa Jack’s Pizza: Final Investigation Report (Big Séance)
There’s Just Something Romantic About a Staircase (Big Séance)