Dorothea Dix was a Massachusetts reformer who wanted to put an end to a terrible practice that most people don't even know existed. In the years before compassionate care mental hospitals, when a person was sick or suffering from a mental ailment, instead of being cared for appropriately, often times they were auctioned off to the highest bidder for general labor. Many died from malnutrition, the elements, or an inability to care for themselves. They were shoved into cages, stalls, barns, holes, and pens, and it didn't matter because as long as you had money to pay for them, they were yours.
For obvious reasons, it was a terribly flawed and truly barbaric practice, which lasted in America for well over 200 years, until 1841 when people like Dorothea Dix fought for more humane systems. And Danvers State Hospital was just that… for a while anyway.
Danvers State Hospital has gone by many names over the years. It's been called the State Lunatic Hospital, Danvers Insane Asylum, and even Hell House on the Hill. During its years as a functioning asylum, Danvers devolved into a terrible, unsanitary, and dangerous place for both the patients and staff, and in the years since its doors finally shut, it's become known as one of the most violently haunted buildings in the world.
Danvers State Hospital opened its doors in 1878, and was one of the country's many Kirkbride sanitariums, which meant it was a fully functioning building capable of sustaining itself. Each of the Kirkbride asylums were built in the shape of a giant bat with wings on either side that would catch the breeze (no matter what time of year), providing a kind of natural central air system. At the time, many medical heath practitioners believed fresh air was a very important aspect of a healthy state of mind.
For a while, things at the massive 17 building hospital were fine. People were cared for and treated in ways that, years before, they would have never experienced… until 1939. During this time the psychiatric community was desperately seeking both an answer and a solution to what they deemed "insanity". Asylums were filling up with people, and they needed a quick, easy, and permeant "treatment" that would put an end to their problem.
A neurologist named Walter Freeman refined a procedure he called the lobotomy. By 1942 he had conducted over 200 lobotomies in the US alone and doctors were taking notice. All you had to do was jam a long spike into the corner of the patient's eye, give it a wiggle, and there you had it, no more connection to the pre-frontal lobe and no more violent outbursts.
In the 50s, Danvers State Mental Hospital held more than 2,600 patients in a building that was only meant to hold 500. To say things were out of control would be an understatement. Patients were naked, living in their own filth, and many were prone to violence. When Freeman arrived with a solution, Danvers jumped at the chance. In the following years, many, many patients were given shock-therapy, psychosurgery, and of course, were lobotomized and left to wander around the facility in a hellish daze. In short, Danvers "perfected" the art of lobotomy and gave it to the rest of the country.
In 1992 the hospital closed its doors, unable to remain open, and for years it sat abandoned. People began to talk about the strange things that went on inside the empty hospital, that for years, tortured, drugged, and kept people against their will. Many adventurers have experienced the full bodied apparitions of past patients, malnourished and terrifying, wandering the dark corridors screaming. People have reported feelings of absolute despair, and leave the building feeling quite sick. Doors open and close on their own, footsteps are commonly heard going up and down the stairs, and there is always a feeling of being watched.
The buildings were sold on June 27, 2014 to the DSF Group who have announced the property will undergo renovations. And though the buildings are off limits, there are tours every second and forth Tuesday of the month that run from 10am to 12pm.
Danvers is a relic from a time period when sick, strange, and sometimes scary people were swept off quietly to places far away from the many who would rather pretend they never existed. And though you might think it would be a better idea to demolish the building rather than preserve it, Danvers is also a reminder of just how far we've come.