Saturday, March 29, 2014

Haunted Places: Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital


Today’s guest author is Denise K. Rago, known for her paranormal romance novels. Here she shares some history and photos of a haunted hospital near her home in Morris Plains, New Jersey.


"They have stripped me of my madness, 
that disease had sown and cultured,
They have granted me the spirit 
and the will to smile in healthy gladness,
When I’d once frowned like a vulture, 
in six months time on Greystone’s verdant hill." 

~ Richard Davis Comstock, patient at Greystone, 
from his book Rhymes of a Raver, 1930 ~

I know it as Greystone Park, a sprawling complex of buildings set on a massive hill smack in the middle of suburbia. Samuel Sloan’s New Jersey Hospital for the Insane opened its doors on August 17, 1877, to 342 patients to accommodate the overcrowded “lunatic asylum” in Trenton, New Jersey.

Greystone Park is synonymous with the famous Kirkbride building, built in the Second Empire Victorian style, and at 673,706 total square feet it alleges to be the largest continuous foundation surpassed only by that of the Pentagon built in 1943. 


The State Hospital at Morris Plains, ca. 1899, Morris Plains, New Jersey

“Courtesy of The Morristown & Morris Township Library, 
North Jersey Historical & Genealogy Center”


The Kirkbride Building 
~ Photograph taken by Denise K. Rago, 2013

Nestled in the lush green hills of Morris Plains, New Jersey; Greystone sat on 743 acres.  The plan for the main building called for 40 wards split into two wings, one to house men and the other for women with the center wing housing administrative offices. New dormitories were built to accommodate the inpatient population and the grounds spread to 1000 acres to include staff housing, a chapel, a post office, fire and police stations, a working farm, vocational and recreational facilities, ponds, a morgue stables and greenhouses. The hospital had its own quarry as well as gas and water utilities.  A trolley line connected the hospital with New Jersey Transit. 

Photograph of the train depot 
taken by Denise K. Rago

In later years, tales of the abuse and neglect of patients were synonymous with the institution but in the nineteenth century the belief was that 70 to 90% of insanity cases were curable, however the proper architecture was essential for the comfort, security and recovery of the patients.  Mental illness had been attributed to demonic possession and moral weakness, however, Dr.  Thomas Kirkbride, a Pennsylvania born Quaker, believed that the mentally ill could be treated and cured with kindness and care in an environment designed to treat them. 

Greystone was just the place, complete with airy rooms filled with Victorian furniture, housing only two patients per room; however, to decrease the chances of fire, stone, brick, slate and iron were used in the construction of the buildings. His design, called the Kirkbride model, became popular around the country, written about by Carla Yanni in her book The Architecture of Madness. 

Known to us locals as ‘Greystone’ it was once a place I would avoid, fearful of even driving near the grounds. My mother would jokingly accuse my brothers and I of “sending her to Greystone” with our bad behavior, which meant we were driving her crazy.  It was an anomaly in our middle-class, suburban world. A place for crazy people. And as rumors spread about the patients and how they were treated, most people stayed away. 

The hospital population peaked in the 1950s with the return of soldiers from World War II suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Perhaps Greystone’s most famous patient was folk singer, Woody Guthrie, committed to Greystone on May 29, 1956 with Huntington’s disease, which he inherited from his mother.  Guthrie nicknamed Greystone “Gravestone” and called his hospital ward “Wardy Forty” for Ward 40.  Although he was moved to a New York hospital in 1961 where he died, his daughter Nora has joined in efforts to preserve Greystone. 

Photograph taken of an abandoned building 
by Denise K. Rago

Dormitory photo taken by author 2014

In the 1970s and 1980s, trends in mental health shifted towards the deinstitutionalization of mental patients, and by 2003 the hospital closed its door. There had always been much bad press about the hospital, including stories of patient suicides, the sexual assault of patients and a twice-convicted rapist escaping from the hospital.  In 1974, community homes were built as halfway houses for the patients. 

A new hospital has been built on the same grounds and covers over one square mile and consists of 43 buildings.  Though the historic Kirkbride building remains standing its fate is unclear. An organization formed to preserve the hospital and several of the historic buildings continues to work with the State of New Jersey to take over vacant structures for non-profit agencies.  The County purchased Greystone Park from the State for $1.00 while exploring its options for the park and buildings.
 
Ghost Stories

Once abandoned, rumors of hauntings clouded Greystone, especially involving the dank underground tunnels which connected various building and were used to transport patients and other commodities.  I myself know of people who have worked on the grounds, sharing their tales of “feeling watched” while there or “not able to get out of there quick enough.” 
   

Even while taking photographs, I stay in my car and especially now that the grounds are patrolled daily by the local police.  Still, I cannot imagine the landscape without the Kirkbride building. It is a part the community, for better or worse. 

Filmmaker Sean Stone, son of movie director Oliver Stone, set his sights on making a movie on the grounds of Greystone Park.  Simply titled Greystone Park, the filmmakers came here in 2009 to explore the haunted asylum famous for electroshock, insulin therapy, and lobotomies; however the crew got more than they bargained for and the film is based on their experience 


Here is a trailer for the film Greystone Park.




Weird, New Jersey, a popular magazine, has numerous articles written about the abandoned buildings, the possible demolition of the Kirkbride building, and touring the asylum.  Presently, there are working non-profits on the grounds but the energy feels oppressive, even on a sunny day.  The Kirkbride building has been used in numerous television shows and films, including Marvin’s Room and House, M.D.

Did Jack The Ripper Die in Greystone?

The title of the article in Weird, New Jersey stated, and I was immediately drawn in further to an article published in 1923 in the Empire News about a Norwegian sailor named Fogelma who was committed to the Morris Plains Lunatic Asylum in New Jersey, better known as Greystone. Apparently he was subject to fits of rage and insanity, describing scenes and incidents that clearly connected him with the crimes of 1888 in London.  His sister also found press clippings in his belongings about the Whitechapel murders, and although Scotland Yard was notified, no follow up was ever done.  The archivist at Greystone said there was no record of such a patient, and one wonders about the validity of the newspaper article. But still it’s a great story and who knows?

References for further reading and great photographs:
e)   Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital – Wikipedia

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Author Denise K. Rago, grew up in Morristown, New Jersey, minutes away from Greystone Psychiatric Hospital.  Author of two paranormal romance novels, Immortal Obsession and Blood Tears, you can learn more about her at www.denisekrago.com.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Interview with Horror Author Anthony Hains


My guest author today is Anthony Hains, who wrote a great horror novel, Birth Offering.


Brian: Hi Anthony, welcome to my blog. Tell us about Birth Offering. What’s the basic premise? And what compelled you to write this story?


Anthony: Birth Offering is about a fourteen year old boy named Ryan Perry who has just recently lost his father. He and his mom move to his grandmother’s coastal home in South Carolina for a change of pace. Ryan isn’t thrilled with the idea, but what can he do? Not long after the Perry’s arrival, Ryan is haunted by a malevolent entity masquerading as his double. The hauntings become increasingly dangerous with Ryan suffering injuries. It becomes clear that this specter of ancient evil is intent on destroying Ryan. As if this wasn’t enough, Ryan encounters an additional threat: two menacing boys and their caretaker somehow connected to this other twin. Ryan soon realizes that in order to save himself and his family, he must confront this unimaginable evil head on.


My inspiration for Birth Offering came when we were vacationing on Edisto Island, South Carolina. We (my wife, daughter, and I) spent a week there in August of 1995. At the time, Edisto was not a crowd favorite like Kiawah Island, Hilton Head, and Isle of Palms. Whole sections were undeveloped with beach houses and one relatively small resort area. For all that I know, it may still be that way, which makes it the best kept secret of the South Carolina coast. I hope so. One day we came across the most beautiful road… unpaved and densely lined with live oak trees that were shrouded with Spanish moss. Beyond the live oaks, there were palmettos and other tropical kinds of bushes and trees. The impact of the vegetation was practically cathedral-like. The oak branches met across the road, and the sunlight barely peeked through the hanging moss. It was breathtaking. My wife proclaimed it beautiful, and the only thing I could think about was, “wouldn’t this be a cool setting for a passage in a horror novel?” I visualized someone on the road being stalked, and then chased by something in the vegetation which was gradually working its way towards the road. That imagery stuck with me for years, and ended up in Birth Offering – almost exactly like I had remembered it years earlier.


Brian: The islands off the coast of South Carolina sound intriguing. I’ll have to travel there and explore them. Is anything in your novel based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?


Anthony: Fortunately, the work is entirely based on imagination. Of course, there are minor personal experiences that make it into the book – like seeing the road in South Carolina which gave me the initial idea.


Brian: I’m always amazed what you can come up with when you tap into your imagination. What kind of research did you do?


Anthony: I tried to draw on my knowledge as a psychologist to inform the emotions and behavior of my characters. So, I didn’t have to research that aspect. For instance, my main character is a 14-year-old boy. I am a pediatric psychologist, and have spent my career researching various issues related to adolescence. However, when I came to sections of the novel that involved some aspect of the plot that couldn’t be addressed by psychology (and there were many), I was constantly searching the internet and trying some personal mini-experiments to see if a certain sequence of events was possible.


Brian: Do you have a specific writing style?


Anthony: Since I am a psychologist and a university professor, this means my writing style is that of an academic researcher. Specifically, for the past thirty plus years, I have been writing empirical research articles in APA format (American Psychological Association). In order to write fiction, I had to be on my guard not to slip into scholarly manuscript writing and instead wear my fiction writing hat. I am not sure what I would call that style – since I am still trying to master it.


Brian: What books have influenced your life most?


Anthony: The most significant influences in the realm of horror are probably the earliest ones. In my senior year of high school, two novels came out nearly simultaneously: The Other by Thomas Tryon and The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. While I had always been a horror movie and monster movie fanatic as a kid, these two books more than any others initiated me into the joys of reading horror. I still regard them as classics. Since then I’ve enjoyed Stephen King for the most part, especially his earlier works and, strangely enough, his very recent works.


In terms of non-horror, I can rattle off a number of titles that moved me at the time I read them and still do today: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, and In Cold Blood. Interestingly enough, I read these in high school as well. More recently, I have enjoyed the three ‘Colorado’ novels written by Kent Haruf. His latest, Benediction, is an emotionally powerful novel. Finally, Skippy Dies by Paul Murray is probably one of the best books about adolescents. It is simultaneously hilarious and troubling – and informed my fictional writings of teenage characters.


Brian: Describe your path to becoming a published author.


Like many others, this was something I always wanted to do, but I never saw it as a career. However, the initial “nudge” occurred way back in my senior year in college when I took a short fiction writing course. For decades after that class, I always tossed around plots in my head, and even attempted to write once or twice. But, I could never sit still long enough. Finally, about five years ago, I took the plunge and began writing fiction for real.


Things really took off when we became empty nesters. I was able to schedule regular times for writing and always had a plan to write a certain number of words a day. I wasn’t focused on publishing the book, believe it or not. I wanted to see if I could actually complete the task. Once I finished a first draft of Birth Offering, I thought “why not?” So I started investigating the idea of trying to publish the book.


Needless to say, I was naive. The process was long and time consuming – with tons of rejections for agents and publishers. Finally, Damnation Books said ‘yes’.


Brian: Is writing your career or a hobby?


Anthony: I have a career as a psychologist and professor. So, I cannot say I have a career as a writer too. When I think of the word ‘hobby’, though, I think pastime.  I wouldn’t say that either. I take it seriously, and plan to continue.


Brian: How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?


Anthony: Like millions of others trying to promote their work, I have turned to social media. I’ve created a web page where I attempt to blog fairly regularly. I review other horror novels and novellas in my blog, in an effort to “give back to the field”.  I’ve joined GoodReads and try to take part in some horror-themed discussion groups. My only problem is that I do not have enough time to regularly contribute to those discussions. There are some very knowledgeable readers in those groups, and I have learned a lot from them. In addition, you will find me on Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, etc.


Brian: Can you tell us something you enjoy doing when not writing?


Anthony: When I’m not writing, I enjoy relaxing with my family and reading (often horror stories, but not always).


Brian: Do you have any advice for other writers?


Anthony: I wish I had some profound advice for other writers, but I really don’t. The cliché responses are the best I can come up with. Stick to it, don’t give up, carve out time for you to write on a regular basis – every day if possible, set a goal… Those are the things that have kept me on task.


Brian: Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?


Anthony: Thank you for taking the chance to read an unknown writer’s work.


Brian: Birth Offering was a great debut novel. Do you have a new book coming out soon? Tell us about it.


Anthony: I just completed the editing process of Dead Works with my editor at Damnation Books. Dead Works tells the tale of a teenager in therapy because he is seeing ghosts. I realize this sounds like the movie The Sixth Sense, but the plot is considerably different. My professional life contributed a chunk of the source material. The psychologist character is a graduate student in counseling psychology who was working on his PhD. The young therapist is doing his practicum placement at the university counseling center and he is assigned a teenage client who is seeing ‘things’.  I regularly teach a Practicum course where the students are being supervised while they provide therapy. Much of the context for the novel takes place within the counseling relationship between the teen and the student therapist; the story is told from the graduate student’s point of view. The book was a lot of fun to write.


Brian: Sounds like a great story. I’m looking forward to when Dead Works releases. Anthony, thanks so much for stopping by and sharing about your books. For readers who have yet to discover Anthony Hains’ horror fiction, check out Birth Offering which is now available on Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com and wherever books are sold.


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Anthony Hains is a university professor in counseling psychology, with a specialization in pediatric psychology – his research involves working with youth who have a chronic illness. He is married with a daughter in college. Birth Offering his is first novel.  



Twitter:
@AnthonyHains