Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Old Bryce Hospital for the Insane

Earlier this week, I wrote about the closure of all of the Alabama state psychiatric hospitals.   I thought I should do several posts in honor of the demise of such an important part of Alabama's healthcare system. After I wrote this post, I said I would do several posts on the ghosts of the Alabama psychiatric hospitals.  This is my second post in that series.  Today, I revisit Old Bryce Hospital and I add to my original post by posting two anonymous comments I got on the hospital.  These comments were wonderful to me because they describe the experiences of those who have been to and seen the ghosts of Old Bryce Hopsital for the Insane:

Alabama Hospital for the Insane was designed to be a refuge for the mentally ill. Its architecture was designed based on the ideas of Dorothea Dix and Thomas Story Kirkbride. It was meant o be moral architecture that would contribute tot he healing process within the hospital The hospital opened in 1861 and for a while it held to the ideals of Dix and Kirkbride. The first superintendent, Peter Bryce, was an idealist and he had studied mental health in Europe. He believed that patients should be treated with respect kindness. He even abandoned the use of restraints. The hospital was later named for Bryce and it went on to be the model for progressive mental health care.


Time quickly eroded Bryce' legacy, however. By 1967, there were more than 5200 patients residing in a facility that was never meant to hold that many. Observers described Bryce as a concentration camp and a model for human cruelty. In 1970, one patient named Wyatt started a class action law suit against the Alabama's other mental hospital, Searcy State Hospital. This lead to major change in the way the mentally ill were treated in Alabama. The number of beds were cut drastically and humane treatment of the mentally ill became an absolute necessity. The landmark Wyatt v. Strickney Casee would change Bryce drastically. Old Bryce was the African American portion of Bryce Hospital and was notorious for being even more cruel than its white counterpart. After Wyatt v. Strickey and desegregation, Old Bryce was shut down entirely and other buildings were used. The African American patients were integrated into the white population.

Old Bryce still sits quietly deserted, however, as a reminder to the old days when patients were held like prisoners with no rights. It is covered in graffiti and has been vandalized many times. Its even been set on fire. Trespassing is forbidden here, but the curious have reported seeing all manner of horrors coming out of the dark around Old Bryce. Lights flicker on an off in the building that has no electricity. Phones ring in rooms with no phones. Phantom lights drift from room to room. Furniture moves on its own and footsteps echo through the abandoned hallways. The living patients may be gone, but many believe Old Bryce is still filled with the ghosts of those who once suffered in its walls.

Here are two comments from Anonymous visitors to the haunted hosptial:

"I live on the side of the river where "Old" Bryce is, and I attend the U of A where "New" Bryce is. If you're out on Highway 82 coming from town, take the left before 84 Lumber (the right after it if you're coming from Coker). You go down the road a bit, and you'll see two stone entrance things (one on either side of the road). Go down to the end of the road (or where there's a huge branch in the way like it was when I was there) and you'll be able to see the building. Word of caution, there is no sign, no markers, nothing. They've almost been trying to erase its existence it seems, so keep an eye out if you go, and it is trespassing to go inside so be careful.  As of last night, I've been out there 4 times, but only down to the end of the road once (during the day at that). The first time at night, the streetlights couldn't light up the road at all, and we couldn't see anything so I panicked and turned the car around. The second time at night, I drove just past the stone things and turned on my brights but they didn't go any further than where the light from the streetlights ended(they're yellowish, not blue) and I saw blue...things, like almost hospital gowns in a way, so I chickened out and turned the car around promptly. The last time (last night actually), I drove to where I had before and turned on my brights again. My headlights flickered (they never do that) twice very quickly, and I turned the car around. Every time, I went with a friend (she didn't see the gowns), but last night she said she saw dark hands, like the darkness was crawling toward us. We'll probably go back again, but we're never getting out of the car. Haha."

"Three friends and I went there tonight. It is a very creepy place. You walk down this long stretch road that's pitch black, and the building sort of sneaks up on you. I jumped because I looked up and we were standing right in front of the asylum, when I hadn't seen it seconds before. The front lawn is littered with debris and broken glass and empty beer bottles. We walked up to the front with all of this crunching underfoot. There's absolutely no way to walk silently throughout the building. The place is in ruin. It's completely dilapidated. The floors and stairs are littered with debris, there are wires and poles hanging from the ceiling. Every last window is busted out, and in some places there were plants growing in the building. I mean, this place was just your textbook, archetypal haunted house. The place is covered with graffiti inside and out. Paintings of devils and penises and hundreds of names smear the walls. My friends and I explored the furnace room, the cafeteria, and just about every other wing of the place. Of course we hear the creepy sounds and our flashlights sent shadows flitting across the walls, which made me jump more than a few times. And overall, the place just has an haunting atmosphere. I've heard all of the stories of ghosts and seances and Satan worshipers and cult meetings, but your biggest fear should probably be cops, homeless people, and asbestos poisoning. The cops are often on patrol, and its easy to tell from a distance that there's a flashlight shining in the abandoned building, and it's completely and totally illegal to be there. I've heard first hand stories of friends entering a room and finding a homeless man sleeping, and one of my friends personally got chased out by one. And, of course, its an old rotting building, asbestos likely abounds. However, I plan to visit again. Doing research, I hear that there are other, creepier, buildings behind it. I've read of people finding lobotomy machines and masks and even some creepy drawings. I'd really love to explore some more. Overall, it's truly a haunting place. Whether or not you believe in the paranormal, it's true that hundreds have been tortured and many killed there. And, c'mon, it's a freaking abandoned insane asylum! How much cooler can that get. Definitely check it out if you get the chance."

14 comments:

Pam Morris said...

love reading these!

Jessica Penot said...

Thanks Pam!

Jeffery said...

Sometimes I wonder if the fascination comes from an overall sense of societal or collective guilt. The fear and trepidation all borne of the pain of the past, such places are repositories of such guilt. I'm sure I'd enjoy exploring such a place myself although from a different perspective..
Cheers Jess! Great read!

Mr. Macabre said...

My folks live about a mile from the old Bryce Hospital and I live about 2. They recently drove up to the building just on a Sunday drive and my mother, a Pentecostal church lady if there ever was one, said she immediately felt there was evil there. She didn't know of the haunted past of the building until I told her the other day.
It's VERY strange why the city or mental health board has not bulldozed the ruins by now because they are a hazard. Might have to sneak down there myself and check out some of the other buildings and grab a few photos.

Courtney Mroch said...

I don't know if I mentioned it in my other post but it makes me sad they're closing such facilities. Did you say how they will treat people with mental health problems going forward? Or is most of this sort of thing privatized now? It's wonderful you're honoring them in the fashion you are.

Jessica Penot said...

Jeffrey.. It could be guilt or empathy. Places like that seem to hold onto the sorrow that lingered there.

Mr. Macabre... It is interesting that buildings like that are left up. Searcy State Hospital keeps the old buildings up too. They do seem hazardous. I would love to see your photos if you take them.

Courtney.. They are saying the mentally ill will be treated in community facilities now and will be privatized, but there just aren't enough community facilities. Discharging people into any facility is a nightmare already in Alabama, finding aftercare when all the hospitals are gone will become impossible.

Anonymous said...

I know for a fact a patient who stayed in this hospital. A family member who received shock treatments.and among other things.back inthe late 50 s at least their at rest now.and forced to give birth there.

Anonymous said...

I have heard lots of these true story's women supposively being transfer over to the hospital but years later their kids find out they wasn't and was forced to have the kids at the mental institute with no meds.and shock treatments during the pregnancy also.

Anonymous said...

Hey my husband and i are going real soon i want other people to go with Us let me know if anybody is interested i want to do a evp...2566131389

Jessica Penot said...

Anonymous. I would love to join you. You can email me any time at Jessica.penot@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

How hard is it to sneak into Old Bryce?

Anonymous said...

It isnt that hard actually.. but youve got to make sure to be careful where you shine your flashlight because there are alot of cops on patrol around that place

Ashlee Cortez said...

Actually i go out there all the time and have spoke with some of the cops they do not patrol out there anymore. They only go on halloween and if they are called out there. I love goong would love to meet up with some people there and take some pictures and explore the basement. I finally found a way in but dont want ro ne alone when i go. Let me know!

Ashlee Cortez said...

Actually the cops don't patrol out there anymore. They only go out on Halloween and if they are called. I would love to meet up with people to explore the basement. I found a way in but I do not want to go alone. Please let me know if you are interested I love to go there and explorer and take pictures.