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Haunting images reveal dark history of a segregated mental asylum in Virginia

Creepy images reveal the dark history of a segregated, abandoned mental asylum where black patients were sterilized without consent – the first facility of its kind in America.

Urban explorer and photographer Leland Kent of Abandoned Southeast took pictures of the sprawling grounds and central brick building of what was known as the ‘Central Lunatic Asylum’ when it first opened in Virginia in 1870.

He captured his incredible images using his Canon RP and a DJI drone while visiting the hospital – which is still partially open.  

Creepy: Photographer Leland Kent of Abandoned Southeast captured images of what was known as the ‘Central Lunatic Asylum’ when it opened in Virginia in 1870. It is now called the Central State Hospital

View from above: Kent used a DJI drone to capture aerial shots of the hospital - which is still partially open

View from above: Kent used a DJI drone to capture aerial shots of the hospital – which is still partially open

History: The Central Lunatic Asylum was the first facility of its kind in America - built specifically for black patients

History: The Central Lunatic Asylum was the first facility of its kind in America – built specifically for black patients

Old photos: The hospital had numerous buildings, including the old main building that is pictured above

Old photos: The hospital had numerous buildings, including the old main building that is pictured above 

Aerial drone shots showcase the sprawling grounds and central brick building, while the other haunting images were captured inside the abandoned facility.

Kent’s photos feature a bed strewn in a crumbling corridor, patients’ cell-like bedrooms complete with personal effects and the dingy staircases that join the floors. 

Another eerie picture shows a huge metal hydrotherapy bath that had been left to rust. Hydrotherapy was a popular method of treating mental illness at the time but is now considered inhumane due to its punitive nature.  

Central Lunatic Asylum was the first facility of its kind in America – built specifically for black patients – and it wasn’t until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that the state-operated facility was desegregated.

During the 1890s, the use of mechanical restraints, hydrotherapy and hypnotics were common practices, but the patients at the hospital were encouraged to use the asylum’s surrounding farmland to grow crops and produce food as part of their treatments.

The hospital grew and by the early 1900s, it had over 80 buildings with men and women housed separately. Patients were assigned to wards for the acute, chronic, demented, tubercular, epileptic, criminal and suicidal. 

Looking back: The state-operated facility wasn't desegregated until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Women are pictured during diversional occupation at the hospital

Looking back: The state-operated facility wasn’t desegregated until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Women are pictured during diversional occupation at the hospital 

Addition: The building for delinquent females was built in 1929 and had a barred arcade leading to the main building

Addition: The building for delinquent females was built in 1929 and had a barred arcade leading to the main building 

Sprawling grounds: The hospital had a large, separate building for male psychopaths

Sprawling grounds: The hospital had a large, separate building for male psychopaths

Sprawling: There was also a large lodge located in the woods on the hospital's property

Sprawling: There was also a large lodge located in the woods on the hospital’s property 

History: Kent went inside the dilapidated hospital and photographed patients' old rooms

History: Kent went inside the dilapidated hospital and photographed patients’ old rooms

Eerie: Kent's haunting images feature a wheelchair abandoned in a crumbling corridor in the hospital

Eerie: Kent’s haunting images feature a wheelchair abandoned in a crumbling corridor in the hospital 

Thoughts: The photographer said the abandoned hydrotherapy bathtubs in the hospital were one of the 'most fascinating things' he found left behind

Thoughts: The photographer said the abandoned hydrotherapy bathtubs in the hospital were one of the ‘most fascinating things’ he found left behind

Not right: Hydrotherapy was a popular method of treating mental illness at the time but is now considered inhumane due to its punitive nature

Not right: Hydrotherapy was a popular method of treating mental illness at the time but is now considered inhumane due to its punitive nature

In 1980, an investigation uncovered that 1,700 patients had been sterilized without their consent between 1924 and 1973 at the hospital. 

A mass sterilization program was put in place by doctors to allegedly eliminate social misfits and promote the white American race.

In the 1990s, the Department of Justice investigated the hospital over excessive use of restraints. 

The two-year investigation revealed that some patients were placed in restraints for as long as four days at a time, and one patient died after spending more than 400 hours in restraints in a month.

‘This particular state hospital remains partially active which made it an exhilarating experience,’ Kent said.

‘You never know when you may run into someone or be observed from a distance.

Haunting: The use of mechanical restraints, hydrotherapy and hypnotics were common practices in the late 1800s. Kent also photographed the waiting room during his visit

Haunting: The use of mechanical restraints, hydrotherapy and hypnotics were common practices in the late 1800s. Kent also photographed the waiting room during his visit 

Different places: There was a hair salon with leather seats and hairdryers within the walls of the hospital

Different places: There was a hair salon with leather seats and hairdryers within the walls of the hospital 

Horrific: In 1980, an investigation uncovered that 1,700 patients had been sterilized without their consent between 1924 and 1973 at the asylum

Horrific: In 1980, an investigation uncovered that 1,700 patients had been sterilized without their consent between 1924 and 1973 at the asylum 

Monstrous: A mass sterilization program was put in place by doctors to allegedly eliminate social misfits and promote the white American race

Monstrous: A mass sterilization program was put in place by doctors to allegedly eliminate social misfits and promote the white American race

Cruel: In the 1990s, the Department of Justice investigated the hospital over excessive use of restraints and found some patients were placed in restraints for as long as four days at a time

Cruel: In the 1990s, the Department of Justice investigated the hospital over excessive use of restraints and found some patients were placed in restraints for as long as four days at a time

‘Although the building has been empty for decades, you can still get a sense of what life may have been like for the patients that once called this place home.

‘The rooms, more like cells, are small with little ventilation or lighting. Some of the rooms are so small you can stretch your arms and touch both walls.

‘I think one of the most fascinating things left behind would be the hydrotherapy bathtubs.

‘That sort of treatment has long been abandoned and is something you would only see in a television show or movie.

‘I try to be as inconspicuous as possible when I enter a place like this. I love to discover what is left behind, whether it be old records or equipment. That sort of thing is fascinating to me and gives life to an empty building.

‘I think it is important to preserve the past through photography. These old asylums are often off-limits to the public and most are demolished before any sort of documentation can be done.’


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