Abandoned Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane New York
Updated photos from a 2018 explore of another building on-site at the bottom of page
Abandoned Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane New York is on the grounds of an active prison and the property is peppered with active buildings mixed in with many very old derelict and crumbling abandoned buildings.
Many of the patients admitted to this now abandoned insane asylum died there and were buried in graves marked not with names, but by numbers. In 2012 I took a day long road trip with this abandoned asylum on my list of places to visit. I had no idea what to expect when I got here or what to look for once I made the over 4 hour drive.
This abandoned asylum, which opened in the last quarter of the 1800’s was setup to provide better treatment for those who were unable to care for them self.
Rather than being locked away in squalid conditions in an almshouse, this facility promised better care for those who could not “fit in” to every day society. Like all asylums, significant budget cuts lead to overcrowding & deplorable treatment of patients. Then, after a expose in the 1970’s by Geraldo Riveria, the wheels were set in motion to start the closing of this & all other facilities.
Today this particular building along with several on the grounds have been left to rot with significant structural damage. Although the history of this place is quite sad, the building itself was at one time quite beautiful & it’s sad that is now beyond repair.
When this Psychiatric Center closed in 1995, workers discovered hundreds of suitcases in the attic of an abandoned building. Many of them appeared untouched since their owners packed them decades earlier before entering the institution.
The suitcases and their contents bear witness to the rich, complex lives their owners lived prior to being committed. They speak about aspirations, accomplishments, community connections, but also about loss and isolation. From the clothing and personal objects left behind, we can gain some understanding of who these people were before they disappeared behind hospital walls. We can picture their jobs and careers, see them driving cars, playing sports, studying, writing, and traveling the world. We can imagine their families and friends. But we can also see their lives coming apart due to unemployment, the death of a loved one, loneliness, poverty, or some other catastrophic event.
The suitcases and the life stories of the people who owned them raise questions that are difficult to confront. Why were these people committed to this institution, and why did so many stay for so long? How were they treated? What was it like to spend years in a mental institution, shut away from a society that wanted to distance itself from people it considered insane? Why did most of these suitcase owners live out their days at this asylum? What about their friends and families? Are the circumstances today any better than they were for psychiatric patients during the first half of the 20th century?
Part One Video of this explore takes us along the main floor of this old abandoned asylum for the chronic insane.
Part TWO Video of this explore takes us to the upper and more dangerous floors of this old abandoned asylum for the chronic insane.
2018 Return to the Abandoned Insane Asylum
I first visited this facility in November 2012 and only managed to explore one building. In 2018 RiddimRyder Photography and I finally got back and explored this other larger building that neither of us had explored in 2012.
After a good few hours and some very questionable safety decisions we got the whole place covered and had a great time doing it!
Willard Asylum Cemetery
Exploring the Historic, Derelict and Tragic Willard Asylum Cemetery
5,776 patients, or inmates of the asylum are buried in a large plot of land only marked by numbers. The cemetery is divided up into sections for Jewish, New Protestant, New Catholic, Old Protestant, Old Catholic, etc.
Of the 5,776 inmates buried here over 1,500 of the graves were dug by one man, a patient named Lawrence Mocha. Lawrence is the only person in the cemetery who now has a name after the tireless efforts of a small group who are attempting to give names to the 5,776 numbers. Lawrence’s grave , Marker 45, row 2 is the only one with anything but a small number, as someone has placed a lantern at his grave.
You can read more about Lawrence and the group who are looking to give names to the numbers here:
Years ago, the graves were marked my spiked metal markers with numbers, but to make it easier for the groundskeepers to cut and maintain the lawn, they were replaced by small numbered concrete markers in the ground. In an area with trees you can still visit graves with the original spiked markers.
One whole side of the cemetery has not been maintained, so you are not able to find the markers since the grass has not been cut.
In another far corner of the cemetery the land is potted with small trenches and holes all in perfect lined formation where, assumingly, the caskets have given to the weight and the earth has dropped.