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.


“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.


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.


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.


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.



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.



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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


Hunting for Haunts in Western Ma.

After discussing ideas for a family outing back in August, my mother, nana, and myself settled on what seemed to be the obvious choice; we were to go ghosthunting.

The three of us have long been into the paranormal, passing that love on for three generations now. But was also love adventures and learning, which made a trip to some interesting Massachusetts sites very appealing to us.

My nana had learned of a few places in Western MA from friends at cards. They spoke of an haunted train tunnel, and abandoned, prison camp, and a legendary cemetery where demons lurked.

So we rented a hotel for a night and drove out to start our journey in Clinton MA.

The Clinton Tunnel was a functional rail tunnel near the Wachusett Dam from 1903 to 1958.  It now lays abandoned, set back only a few feet in the woods but hidden from the road. The only clues to its whereabouts are the massive footings of its former 133 foot tall viaduct, crossing the Nashua River across the road.

We found the path leading up a hill through some brush to the Clinton Tunnel, but we felt the place long before we saw it. Despite the searing August heat, a heavy coldness encased us once we stepped into the woods, flowing down the hill from the tunnels entrance. Logically I surmise this was due to a cooling effect of wind passing through the rock wall tunnel and being cooled down before flowing out our end, however the effect was no less eerie with an explanation.

When we arrived at the tunnels entrance we were more impressed than we were expecting to be.


Despite being abandoned, it had not been forgotten. The outermost portions were covered in decades of layers of graffiti. The tunnel itself was quite large, but it didn’t appear very long. This proved to be a dangerous optical illusion.

Clinton Tunnel is actually 1110 feet long, and once you get about 15 feet in you are in pitch blackness, so thick that the flashlight on my Iphone was useless. My family and I decided we would have to turn back and come again a bit more prepared. We went and bought several flashlights, and my mother and nana brought their coats back this time (it was quite cold in the tunnel itself) and then we went on for take 2 of our adventure.


This time I was determined to make it all the way through the tunnel. As we walked, we could hear things moving in the darkness ahead, scurrying away from our footsteps. Rats. I reasoned, but the hairs on my neck stood on end.

“This is not good I don’t like this.” My nana repeated for maybe the fortieth time. She was very uneasy in the tunnel and it had taken some convincing to get her along, despite her usual enthusiasm for the paranormal.

Not far into the tunnel the graffiti trailed away into plain stone walls. It was too dark here for the artists to even bother apparently. About halfway into the tunnel, the cut stone walls gave way to ragged rock.


Now it felt like we were in a long cave. Water dripped from the ceiling and ran down the craggy walls, pooling at the sides. In some areas the main path itself was flooded, leading to careful stepping around several inches of water. As I pointed my light around I began to notice not ghosts, but frogs. The tunnel was home to hundreds of frogs, swimming in the pools and sitting on the rocks. They didn’t seem worried about spirits at all. All this time the end of the tunnel didn’t seem to be getting any closer than when we had begun. Then suddenly, we were there.


The tunnel let out in a beautiful area of forest. Due to more water we couldn’t go an further, but it was beautiful to glimpse. There was a little bit more graffiti on the sun-touched walls of this side of the tunnel, and I recognized a small white figure that I had seen at the entrance as well.


I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Kodama, tree spirits, from Princess Mononoke.


Was this figure a graffiti artist’s calling card or tag? Or was this a picture of a creature that had been seen in the tunnel?

The tunnel itself is often called “haunted”, although most eerie places gain that reputation regardless of actual experiences. Kids pass on urban legends about places like the Clinton Tunnel and soon it seems the only ghosts that dwell there are the ones we’ve made.

Several myths about the place abound, such as the story of a young boy being hit by a train and killed in the tunnel, or the body of a murdered girl being found there. However there is nothing to back up these claims.

Regardless of that, there could still be something in there. I took this photo and caught several intriguing looking orbs in the tunnel.


Looking closely you can even see that they have nuclei, as if they radiate energy. Anyway, they don’t look much like bugs or dust to me.

Despite the photo and the unsettling feelings in the tunnel, we didn’t actually have any paranormal experiences in Clinton. But we certainly had fun.

Next up on our quest was the Rutland Prison Camp, or what was left of it.

Rutland Prison Camp was constructed in the deep woods, and was a place for the state to put prisoners to work farming. There were cows, chickens, and crops tended to here. It was closed in 1934 due to the area apparently being part of the Wachusett watershed. Today, 59 inmates remain buried on the grounds in unmarked graves, with only a plaque in the middle of the woods to commemorate them.

The Prison Camp remnants proved to be a bit more challenging to find than the roadside Clinton Tunnel. It involved driving on a narrow dirt road into the middle of nowhere in fact, and then driving the wrong way down several more roads before I found this old map and set us straight.


The only parts of the prison left to see are the old vegetable cellar, the solitary confinement cells, and a couple other nearly collapsed ruins at the pumphouse and hospital.

We found the vegetable cellar first. In fact once we were in the right place we managed to drive right up to it.


That’s my mother by the way. The vegetable cellar was in the best shape of the ruins, with an intact roof, but it was covered in graffiti and of little intrigue. Next we stumbled upon another structure. This was more decayed, equally graffiti-ed, but far more interesting.


We had found the remains of the solitary confinement cells. The cells were incredibly small, and it was chilling to step inside and imagine a human locked in there.


After poking our head into each cell we wandered around some more, but couldn’t find much else of interest in the area. Again we had found the site and found the history, but the ghosts were evading us.

Our final stop on the journey was the Spider Gate Cemetery in Leicester Ma.

Spider Gate Cemetery was rumored to be a satanic place, cursed, and filled with horror. It was said you would have to pass through seven gates to get to it, and each gate would unleash a new terror such as ghostly whispering. By the final gate you would be in the presence of demons.

In all actuality the legends are a load of baloney.

Spider Gate Cemetery is actually called Friends Cemetery, and it is a Quaker resting place, still in use today.


It got its name from its gate, which apparently looked like a spiderweb to some weirdo.


Looks more like a sea urchin to me. They are supposed to be the rays of the sun. Regardless, there are certainly not 7 (or 8?) gates. You pass maybe two gates to get to the cemetery proper, but those are really just to keep vehicles out. The cemetery is set far off down a dirt road (bring your hiking shoes kids) and through gorgeous forest and fields cut through by a bubbling creek. The cemetery itself is anything but satanic; it was in fact incredibly beautiful and peaceful, as we all agreed.


The trees filtered the light so that everything was golden, and being in the middle of nowhere it was calm and quiet. We found no evidence of evil, and how the place got such a bad reputation I’m not sure.

We left feeling content despite no having found any ghosts. What we did find was a lot of interesting Massachusetts history about the Wachusett area. And to us, the memories plus that were more than enough.