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Athina State Hospital*


From its founding in 1874 to its closing in 1993, Athina State Hospital's name was changed ten times. its design was built on the Kirkbride plan and its grounds were designed by a student of Olmstead, the man who designed Central Park; many of the original patients were Civil War veterans. Over 200 lobotomies performed by the infamous Dr. Freeman and the odd stain left by the decomposing body of a female patient who 'escaped' into an abandoned wing and was thereafter trapped are two of the more interesting parts of this asylum's colorful history.

After seeing this massive and majestic Kirkbride during my visit to the tuberculosis ward on its campus, I was determined to get in. When I called the administration of the college that owned it, I was pleasantly surprised by how readily I was granted permission to photograph the interior a month later. I didn't want to jeopardize my access, so I went with the date that the administrator gave me: my 28th birthday.



Spending your birthday alone in an enormous insane asylum is somewhat of a strange experience. After making sure I had protective shoe coverings for the asbestos, I was taken to the stairway that lead up from from the basement into the ward and left to my own devices. It was an amazing day, even for being a solitary one. At one point I kept hearing knocking sounds coming from inside the walls, which was very unsettling. I determined it was caused by the old heating system, which was still in use since the administration section is part of an active college campus. The hallways seemed to stretch on forever and there was a stillness and clarity to the experience that is hard to describe, as though it were a single moment held frozen and motionless in time. It was the first Kirkbride hospital I've ever been in, and while I wasn't successful at subsequent attempts to revisit it, that time in Athina State Hospital was one of the nicest birthday presents I've ever received.

Please note that the true name of this location has not been disclosed to prevent theft, vandalism, and arson. Abandoned buildings are vulnerable and I do not want my work contributing to their decline. Photographs and unattributed text by Matthew Christopher. For more images click the thumbnails below.
a map made of scars