Shadows Over Waltham

I’ve always got my eyes open looking for interesting places to go urban exploring. I love abandoned, decaying places, as well as their history. So when I stumbled upon info about the Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, so close to where I live, I knew I had to go.

I took the journey with my usual spooky companions (my mother and my nana) and we headed to Waltham armed with comfy sneakers and cameras. As we drove past the gated entrance on Trapelo Rd. we realized we needed to find parking, and we happened to turn onto a road with several old buildings.

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“Is…this place abandoned too?” I raised an intrigued brow and looked to my mom, then hopped out of the car. We both walked around the building, casually trying doors and peering into windows. Then we saw the black SUV driving up…a State Police plate on the front.

We had only been exploring two minutes and already the cops had found us.

The officer stepped out, and we walked up, trying to seem nonchalant. “Oh hi! We were just driving by and saw this building…” My mother smiled sweetly. Luckily the officer seemed to be in a good mood.

“I don’t blame you.” He put his hands in his belt loops. “Do you know what this place is?”

“No.” We admitted. “Was it a school?”

“Sort of. It was called the Fernald School for the Feeble Minded. Lot of history here. You should look it up.” He shook his head gravely. “A disappearance of history…” He trailed off looking over at the brick building.

The name certainly sounded familiar. We nodded and replied “Thank you. We will”

“Alright, unfortunately this is state property and I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

We bashfully conceded and headed out, driving out of the lot as I furiously began to google.

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The Fernald School was built in 1888, and at its peak housed over 2000 young boys. Like most mental asylums of the early 20th century, it was overcrowded and underfunded, and reports of bad conditions and abuse of the children were frequent. Though the Fernald was supposed to be a care center, a large portion of its occupants were not disabled at all, but were instead orphans or the poor/homeless. The boys there had almost no rights, and were treated as “sub human” according to reports from former ‘patients’.

In the 20’s the school became best known for leading in Eugenics research and advocation. For those not in the know, eugenics is the attempt to genetically create more “perfect” people, and was a foundation of Adolph Hitler’s beliefs.

In the 40’s the school partnered with Harvard and MIT and was funded by none other than Quaker Oats to do more experiments on children, this time by feeding them doses of radiated cereal. The children who had parents got permission slips to join a “science club” and were bribed with trips and toys.

Despite all of the this, Fernald existed and continued to house patients all the way up until 2014, with most living there for their entire lives. According to most the conditions greatly improved after the 70’s. Part of the reason for this was because Judge Joseph Tauro heard reports of the conditions, and made an unannounced trip to the institution. He described the school as being the realization of ones “worst horrors”. He found a ‘hospital’ that reeked of urine and patients covered in bugbites.

After learning all of this we were rather amazed, and I’ll admit, REALLY wanted to go back and explore more. Unfortunately the grounds were heavily patrolled by police, and each subsequent time we passed the road we could see a patrol car stationed up the road, watching. Further exploration there was simply not possible. Instead we headed onward to Metropolitan state. We parked in an old ball field and walked to the gate, past several abandoned houses we assume were part of the staff housing of the facilities, and had been abandoned around the same time as the hospital.

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I was shocked to notice a familiar sight…the same small white figure I had seen painted on the Clinton Tunnel in Western Mass. The coincidence was eerie, but I had to assume now that it was some kind of tag, perhaps from a fellow lover of urban exploration but with a slightly more destructive tone. Nonetheless, something about the figure gave me a positive feeling, like it was some sort of guide.

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We weren’t sure where exactly the asylums buildings were located, or if any even still stood. As we walked up the cracked paved road we saw our little friends once again.

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Though tempted to veer down the path we wanted to check the paved road first, and it snaked up the hill and let off at several other dirt paths headed toward an old water tank.

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Though interesting, it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. Our break came in the form of two dogs speeding past us after a rabbit, their owners coming up behind.

We made small talk, (easy to do as dog lovers) and then I probed. “Do you come here a lot?”

“Almost every day.”

“Do you know if any of the buildings are still here?”

The woman launched into explanation, a wealth of knowledge on the area and a goldmine for us. She told us that only one building still stood, and we would have to head down Metropolitan Parkway toward the Avalon condos. She also talked to us about the old incinerator, the secret tunnels, and more. I could tell immediately we would never find the mythical tunnels, but within reach was the cemetery. She told us it was down the path through the woods we had passed earlier.

We thanked her and said farewell to her dogs, then headed for the cemetery. It was down a steep hill in the woods, but the graves were in a small clearing surrounded by a stone wall.

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The graves were mostly stone blocks with numbers carved into them. The patients were from both Metropolitan and Fernald.

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According to our local guide, the cemetery had closer to 350 souls buried in it, and only a few with more dignified memorials.

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The graveyard was a humbling place, dotted with annual flowers that had been planted there in years past by loved ones of the deceased, or just those who pitied them.

On out way out we nearly stepped on one of the cemetery’s few living inhabitants; an extremely feisty snake who lunged at us.

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We headed back to our car and drove down the road to Metropolitan Parkway.  It wasn’t long before we found what we were looking for.

Metropolitan State Hospital was built around 1927, but the only building that we could still experience, the Administration Building, had it’s cornerstone laid in 1928. We were thrilled to see it, beautiful in its decay.

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Metropolitan State had once been a busy hospital for the mentally ill, housing thousands of patients. It was laid out like many asylums of the time using the Kirkbride  model, but it was comprised of many different buildings that gave it a colony effect.

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For some beautiful photos of the buildings pre-demolition click here

The conditions at the hospital slowly decreased as time progressed. In 1978, a patient named Anne Marie Davee went missing. Her disappearance wasn’t formally investigated until 19 negligence complaints against the hospital had been filed and two entire years had passed. It was then that they learned that another patient, Melvin Wilson, had murdered and dismembered Anne with a hatchet and buried her body on the grounds. He had kept some of her teeth as souvenirs.

The horrific crime was likely not the only dark event in Metropolitan’s past.

Other accusations included the attempt to ‘cure’ mentally ill children by adding chemicals to their milk, resulting in multiple deaths.

For 25 years Metropolitan State’s Admin building has stood, slowly crumbling. When I found it, boards firmly covered all the windows but one, where a hole had been dug out just big enough for a person to slip through. I strongly considered it, but my mother had some objections. As we drove away I felt both complete and yet hollow, not unlike the skeletal building I had left behind.

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A Strange Way To Die

Several years back I was enthralled with the case of Elisa Lam. The case ultimately seemed to amount to a mentally ill woman who got herself into a very strange predicament that cost her her life. Whether or not that is the whole truth we may never know. But it took some time for me to accept the validity of such an explanation. It just seemed absurd that a person, even if suffering from some mental break, could end up the way Elisa had.

The trouble is, such cases may not be as rare as one would think. I have begun to notice a pattern, one I will illustrate in 5 cases below, of people (in this case all women) who began exhibiting signs of erratic behavior before ultimately meeting tragic ends. Several had previously been diagnosed with bipolar (which Elisa also suffered from). Whether or not all of these strange deaths can be attributed to breaks from reality due to mental illness I cannot say. All that I can say is that if you or a loved one is struggling with mental illness, I urge you to seek the help that you need.

 

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In 1986, 26 year old Wanda Jean Mays was described by her loved ones as having a “chemical imbalance”. What precisely they meant is unclear, but it can be guessed from other descriptions that she suffered from panic attacks and “emotional distress” that she may have had a mental illness. On May 11th Wanda was spending the night at her aunt and uncles lakeside home. She headed into the guest bedroom at approximately 10:30pm. The next morning her relatives discovered (after breaking into the locked room) that Wanda was gone. The bed had not been slept in, her possessions were still on the dresser, and the large Venetian glass window had been smashed out from the inside, as if someone (presumably Wanda) had leapt through it. Outside, Wanda’s ripped, bloodsoaked nightgown was found laying on the end of the families dock, and some time later police located a bloodied canoe adrift on the water. But Wanda was gone. Despite the bizarre circumstances of her disappearance, police could find no evidence that anyone else had been in the bedroom with Wanda, nor that any actual crime had taken place. It seemed as if Wanda had leapt out the window herself. It was not until October of 2003, 22 years after her disappearance, that Wanda’s remains were discovered at the foot of a cliff about two miles away. But by then Wanda was only bones, and Police maintained their opinion that no foul play was involved.

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Patricia “Patty” Meehan was a 37 year old animal lover living on a ranch in Bozeman Montana. In the days leading up to her death her loved ones had noticed some unusual behavior, but nothing could have prepared them for the events of April 20th 1989. That evening Patty was involved in a car accident, due to her driving down the wrong side of the road. Patty and two other witnesses exited their respective cars to assess the situation, but the others were unnerved at Patty’s behavior. One of them described Patty as “staring” as if in a trance, and looking through them, not at them. After a moment Patty abruptly climbed a nearby fence and hopped down to the other side, where she again stood for a moment and stared. She then wandered off into a darkened field, never to be seen again. The other motorists were haunted by her behavior, and wondered if she had received a head injury in the crash. The trouble was, when police arrived they uncovered more evidence suggesting that Patty had been acting strangely before the crash took place. On a camera in her car they found the last photo ever taken of her, an unsettling self portrait in which Patty stares out of the same glassy eyes described by witnesses.

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Why did Patty take this unsettling selfie?

After the accident, there were hundreds of reported sightings of her, across the country. A few seemed to hold water, including one of a woman matching Patty’s description who sat in a diner for hours staring into space. Despite all the follow up and years of searching, Patty has never been found. Though she may well be alive, I included her case for its grim similarities to the others in this list.

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Mitrice Richardson was 24 year old with a bachelors in psychology living in Covina California. She was known by her loved ones as a free spirit and a tough cookie, and was an out and proud lesbian. In the days leading up to her disappearance, Mitrice had reportedly suffered from insomnia. On september 16th 2009 police were called to a Malibu California restaurant, Geoffrey’s. A customer there had been acting very strangely and was now attempting to leave without paying her bill. Witnesses reported that Mitrice had joined several different groups of people without invitation, and was acting flirtaciously as well as possibly intoxicated. At one point she claimed to a Geoffery’s employee that she was from Mars, and later she stared for a long time at a computer screen as if in a trance. Police issued a sobriety test and found that Mitrice was not on any drugs or alchohol. They took her to the station and booked her on minor charges. Her car and belongings were impounded.

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Mitrice’s booking photo which I find eerily similar to Patty Meehan’s final selfie.

At some point Mitrice’s mother, Latice, found out about her daughters strange behavior. She was assured by police that Mitrice was safe, and if she was to be released then they would notify Latice to pick her up. Latice was relieved; she had been concerned that her daughter would be let out in an unfamiliar area with no phone or car. Later on, after midnight, Mitrice asked to leave the station. As she was exhibiting no unusual signs to them and they had no legal way to hold her against her will, they agreed, but asked her to call her family. Mitrice agreed, and called her grandmother Mildred. At least, she said she did. Mildred never spoke to Mitrice that night, and though the calls were made they were not recieved, and it seems that Mitrice had babbled away for some time to a dial tone. Then Mitrice walked out into the darkness. At aound 6 in the morning, police received a call from a man in a rural area six miles from the station. There was a young black woman sitting in his backyard. Police didn’t arrive until some time later, and by then the woman was gone. It was the last time Mitrice Richardson was seen alive.  Mitrices-Map.jpg

Mitrice’s body was found completely by accident 11 months later, by police searching for illegal pot farming. Her naked body was in a remote area called Dark Canyon, and her clother were strewn around a wide radius. Her body was partially mummified, unusual for corpses in that area, especially after a rainy season. Despite this, police had her body removed before the area was properly processed as they did not feel it was a crime scene. In their opinion Mitrice had wandered into the night and died of exposure.

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Jamie Minor was a beautiful 26 year old working at the Trace Restaurant located in the W Hotel in downtown Austin. She had been previously diagnosed with bipolar, but was leading a normal life until May 23rd 2011. On that evening, fellow employees noticed a change in Jamie. They described her behavior as “erratic”, and whatever she did it was bad enough that Jamie was terminated from her job on the spot. Friends concerned about her state of mind called her a ride, but Jamie wandered off before it arrived. She walked several blocks away to another restaurant, Perry’s Steakhouse, that she knew either from previous employment or a currently employed friend. However rather than entering through the front, Jamie was spotted on CCTV trying to force open the locked back and side doors of the establishment. After failing to gain entry, Jamie went up three floors of the adjacent parking garage and located an air duct leading into the building she was trying to access. While there is no footage of Jamie entering the ventilation system, some of her belongings were found on the ground at its entrance. Over a month later Jamie’s body was discovered lodged in the ducts a floor down. She appeared to have become trapped, and expired due to hyperthermia, as the vent was about 115 degrees inside. Some sources claim that MDVP (the active ingredient in bath salts) was found in her system, but the truth is unclear. Why Jamie was attempting to enter the building at all is unknown.

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Teleka Patrick was a 30 year old working as a psychiatry resident at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Though not diagnosed with a mental illness, Teleka did have a history of unusual behavior, including her obsession and stalking of a minister from Grand Rapids whom she was convinced she would marry. For her job Teleka worked long hours and sometimes went days without sleeping. In the days leading up to her disappearance, Teleka began exhibiting some disturbing warning signs. She claimed to some that she had begun hearing voices in her head, and posted strange things on her social media accounts before deleting them altogether. December 5th 2013 started as a normal day at the hospital, with no one noticing any odd behaviors from the troubled woman. But when her shift let out she approached a colleague, claiming she needed a ride and to borrow some money. The truth was Teleka had a car at the hospital, and she had purposefully left her wallet and phone in her locker for unknown reasons. Her coworker gave her a ride to her requested destination; a downtown Radisson hotel. They also lent her $100. Hotel employees and CCTV witnessed Teleka come in and try to get a room, however she was turned away (likely due to not having a card with her they could put on file). Teleka next went out to a shuttle and hitched a ride back to the hospital. The driver, the last person to see Teleka, described her as seeming anxious, as if she was being followed. From there Teleka got into her car and drove over 110 miles. Where she was going is anyones guess, but she never got there. Several reports came in to police stations about a car matching Telekas driving erratically on the highway, including crossing into oncoming traffic. Her car was found crashed in a ditch in Indiana, near Porter, minutes later. But Teleka was already gone. Search dogs traced her scent back up to the highway where it ended, and police presumed she had hitched a ride. Just in case, they had also searched the lake adjacent to the highway with sonar, and found nothing. It seemed unlikely the woman who had just crashed her car would scale a barb wire topped fence to get to the Charles Lake. And yet, on April 6th of 2014 her body was found in that very lake, $100 still in her pocket. Her cause of death was determined to be drowning, despite being in only 3ft of water.

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Approximate location of the crash.

What was it that truly killed each of these women? Mental illness? Drugs? Bizarre accidents? I have even strongly considered the possibility of sleepwalking as a culprit. Its frightening to imagine that a person can seem perfectly fine one day, then completely wrong the next. Were these women suffering from mental breaks which lead to bizarre behavior they were not fully in control of? Were they hallucinating in the time leading to their deaths? Were their illnesses causing sleep disorders and possible sleepwalking? The truth is, we may never know. Unfortunately mental health has a strong negative stigma attached to it that leads to many not seeking treatment for illness, and leads to some being treated improperly. Hopefully one day we can better understand the vast unknown territory that is the mind, and learn to better treat the disorders that affect it.