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Overbrook Asylum


Overbrook Asylum 

Entering this place it feels less a hospital complex, and more a winding labyrinth of dirty red brick and chipping mortar. The sheer scale of the grounds is difficult to communicate in text or photo. Imagination suggests the sense of having left the familiar world behind for something altogether separate. Serpentine lengths of brick adorned with copper flashing and ornate dormer windows expand outward for what seems to be forever in all directions. Every angle of the corridor reveals another bend, or stairwell, or row of doorways, and every room has a story to tell. Overbrook is more than just a discarded husk or out-dated facility - It is a testament to the massive strides in healthcare and basic human rights made during recent decades, and a crumbling monument to those who toiled, suffered and died before they became a reality.
Overbrook opened in 1896, and was built to be Essex County's local answer to the neighboring Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital. Its purpose was to house and care for the mentally, and in some cases physically, handicapped residents of the county. Once completed the campus had over a dozen buildings on its 90 acres, most of them connected via miles of subterranean tunnels running under the grounds. The tunnels remain today, a maze-like collection of pitch black and partially flooded tubes. The hospital operated for over a century, and there were no shortage of hardships faced during that time. In the winter of 1917, the asylum's boiler broke down leaving the inhabitant's without heat for twenty days. During that time 24 people lost their lives to the cold, many freezing to death in their beds. In the great depression large numbers of homeless found refuge here, but over-crowding and heavily rationed food made living conditions very poor. Following World War II, there was a large influx of patients suffering from 'shell shock' and post-traumatic stress disorders. The asylum became extremely overcrowded and staff was hard-pressed to manage the needs of so many patients. Accounts of neglect, starvation, escapes, and suicides were reported. All told, over ten thousand people died while confined within Overbrooks walls.

In the first half of the 20th Century mental illness was still relatively poorly understood. Thus, Overbrook was host to numerous forms of attempted treatment that today would widely be considered torture. A particular specialization at Overbrook was the relatively tame discipline of hydrotherapy, also known as hydropathy or water cures. However, electrotherapy and even prefrontal lobotomies were performed here as well. A growing interest in psychiatric medicine during the 1950's and 1960's saw tremendous strides in research and the development of new treatments. The number of patients living at the hospital center began to drop dramatically, and would continue to do so. By the time it closed in 2007, Overbrook was operating only out of a small wing of a single building, while the rest of the site was left to crumble around it. Eventually its role was subsumed into the nearby, newly-erected Essex County Hospital Center just down the road. 

The phrase “if walls could talk” takes on a much more somber meaning when referring to a place like this. All the dark history continuously and invisibly pulsates throughout the asylum, and has shaped Overbrook into a shadowy place. The air hangs heavy in these halls, and a constant feeling of remorse is impossible to escape when you know what has transpired here long before you yourself stepped foot here. The heavy state of decay here seems almost suiting, as if the building were finally able to reflect visually what it has held inside all these decades. Black rotten masses of sheet-rock hang upon the walls, impossibly deep shadows conceal corners of the wards, and fallen paint cover the floor so profusely that at times you cannot tell what the tiles below even looks like.

Today Overbrook sits completely vacant, as it has for nearly ten years. It's a depressing sight to watch the once sprawling campus slowly rot away as twisting ivy ensnares everything it can latch upon. Still, perhaps as its end draws ever closer, Overbrook has come to find peace. No longer is it home to pain and suffering. No longer is it a sight that brings fear to those who gaze upon it. No longer are the early morning hours broken with cries or screaming. Now the only residents roaming these halls are the woodland creatures which call this place home. The mornings are silent, save for the early-rising song birds who chirp as slow moving mists crawl across the dew covered grounds. Maybe now, below what onlookers likely see as a ruinous husk, Overbrook is at rest.


Beds still bear the names of the last patients to sleep in them.

This entire office was covered in moss.


The modern ceiling of the old cafeteria has decayed and fallen, revealing the old ceiling and skylights above. 

The decapitated head of a CPR dummy lays, unblinking, in the dark corner of a day-room.