For the last episode of a scary Rambling Harbor this Halloween, I want to tell you a true story that happened to me.
Sometime around 1974 in the spooky month of October, on a clear cold night around 1 a.m., I was driven up a narrow winding road in a rural, out-of-the-way location. The road led up to what I later learned was called Hawthorne Hill. I wasn’t sure why I was being taken up this hill, and I have to say I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. The driver remained completely silent, a small smile escaping from the corner of her mouth. Had she been sealed in secrecy by some demon? Oh, the power of one’s imagination on a haunting New England night!
Nearing the top of the hill, I could see the twisted figures of leafless trees dancing against the sky, old abandoned buildings hiding not just their past but their present, a dim light coming from a smaller building still in use—but for what demonic purpose? With that thought, as suddenly as cold wind chills the body, a feeling of death covered me. I knew people had been brought here and died horrible deaths, buried in the woods with nameless markers. Still I had no idea why I had been taken here.
My driver was a woman I had known for only a few weeks who had come to America from Sweden as a stowaway on a tramp steamer, and what did I really know about her? Did some horrible death await me as it had others she may have brought here? Again, the power of imagination on a cold clear haunting New England night!
My friend, knowing my part-time fascination with the supernatural and macabre, had driven me to see “The Lunatic Asylum.”
Danvers State Hospital was a place so scary that the 2001 movie Session 9 was filmed there. (If you want to see a good scary move for Halloween, Session 9 is it!) Danvers State Hospital has gone by many names over the years—the State Lunatic Hospital, Danvers State Insane Asylum, and even Hell House on the Hill. There were reports that inhumane shock therapies and lobotomies were used on humans—Danvers Lunatic Asylum is known as the birthplace of the lobotomy—and experimental drugs and straitjackets were used to keep the crowded hospital under control. How many people are buried on the grounds and what horrible deaths brought their lives to an end will never be told but are perhaps reflected by the dancing trees and the walls of the old buildings. I can tell you that the feeling I had about the place that night had nothing to do with my imagination.
After being closed for many years, the Danvers State Hospital site has been redeveloped as luxury apartments, but stories are still told about unexplained voices and images, and the only thing left of the asylum is the cemetery and the nameless markers.
Join me on the shores of Rambling Harbor as we wrap up our tribute to Halloween.