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10 Abandoned Psych Wards Photographers Love Sneaking Into

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Abandoned buildings have long held a fascination for me. They imply a mystery (what happened?) and a challenge (can I get inside and see?) as well as a thrilling bit of danger (guard dogs! squatters! the floor might collapse!) that make an almost irresistible combination, especially for a photographer. But of all the sites that die-hard UrbEx photographers like to infiltrate (that's Urban Exploration for the uninitiated), which can range from old hotels and houses to industrial sites to bombed-out theaters and train stations, abandoned hospitals -- and especially mental hospitals -- rank very high on the list. I guess it appeals to the already somewhat morbid nature of UrbExers to infiltrate places that don't just look haunted, but, like, are, obviously.

There are many UrbEx photographers out there (the advent of high-quality, relatively cheap digital cameras that can take pictures practically in the dark helped spread the craze), but one of my favorites, and a friend of mine, is Martino Zegwaard, a seemingly fearless Dutchman whose pictures of skin-crawly places are imbued with a strange beauty. On his first trip to the U.S., he snuck into some abandoned mental hospitals. How better to spend one's vacation?

The amazing shot above comes from a facility in upstate New York that he simply refers to as "MT." (Many UrbExers hide the true names/locations of the sites they visit to prevent the hordes from descending, which helps preserve the sites in their natively-messed-up condition for as long as possible, and keeps local security guards, et al, in the dark.)

Martino writes:

This relatively small psychiatric center is listed as one the most haunted places of the county. The lovely Nan took us to see this place. At least fenced off for over a decade the decay in here is beautiful. The building itself is about to collapse and you really have to watch your step. Parts of the floor are moving as you walk over it. This place is a must-see, despite the risks that come with the building. It has it all, wheelchairs, coffins, a dentist chair and a lot more stuff. We only had a couple of hours to explore this place, because we had to be in Philadelphia that same night.

You can see the whole creep-tastic photo essay here.

Martino visited a mental hospital in Norway which he refers to simply as the Green Hospital or Sykenhus F (or "Hospital F" in Norwegian). He describes the scene:

A short 25 minutes from the moment the wheels of the plane touched the ground of Norway, we are in our rental car and our way to Sykenhus F.

It's weird to realize that within the hour after you got into a country, you're climbing a fence and your trespassing your way into an old hospital. Not all buildings of Sykenhus F are abandoned. People are living there and some mental patients are treated and coached.

The first of the two buildings was easy to get into to, the second was surrounded by people and very well sealed. But we managed to find one tiny hole that we could squeeze ourselves through. It felt like walking around in a museum. We found a piano, his master's voice record players, electro shock therapy equipment and a lot of other cool stuff.

I think this is my favorite photo of his. The rest of the essay is here.

Another hospital in Norway that I've seen a number of photographers visit is Lier Hospital outside of Oslo. Photographer Martin Widlund did a very atmospheric photo shoot here -- the dreary Norwegian skies leaking gray light everywhere, paint peeling from the walls, beds and things still scattered around. (He also brought along some actors in masks to pose creepily in corners and such, something a lot of UrbExers do to try to heighten the horror of the environments they shoot in, which is sort of unnecessary if you ask me.) Martin writes about the hospital:

Lier Psychiatric Hospital was closed in 1986 and it´s located in the middle of nowhere just outside Oslo (the capital of Norway). The place has a dark and interesting history. Here the staff tested new medicines, lobotomy, electroshocks and drugs like LSD on the patients in hope it could make them better.

Today the place only visitors is teenagers going there at nights and looking for ghosts.. And yes the place was really spooky. It´s a book called 23-salen written about this place by a man who worked there. Read it if you understand Norwegian..

Cane Hill was a massive asylum on the outskirts of London, opened in 1882 and closed in 1991. Since then it's been extremely popular with urban explorers as well as arsonists, who damaged the place so badly that most of it had to finally be torn down back in January. Which is a shame -- it was really something. Photographer Richard James took this impressive shot of the asylum chapel. More here.

Hellingly Hospital, also in England, has long been a popular site for UrbExers, and not only because of its name. From Wikipedia:

The hospital boasted its own railway line, the Hellingly Hospital Railway, used principally for transport of coal. This branch line led from the main line to the boilerhouse. The hospital also had a vast laundry, ball room, patients' shop, sewing rooms, nurses home, extensive grounds, and an advanced utilities network for its time, including a large boilerhouse and a water tower. It followed the compact arrow plan for the main hospital, with separate villas surrounding this.

The majority of the hospital closed throughout 1994, however, and to this day much of the 25.4 hectare site stands derelict and extremely run down, after suffering repeated vandalism and multiple arson attacks. The hospital is popular with Urban Explorers, not because it has many hospital items remaining but because of its size, severe dereliction and its dilapidation.

There are endless photos of Hellingly to sort through online, but one of my favorites is this little number, by photographer Nick Wild.

Actually, he's got two that I love. Hellingly apparently has some of the most talented vandals in England prowling its halls. Wild used their handiwork to make some art of his own:

You might remember Oregon State Hospital from the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, where it was filmed. That legacy has undoubtedly contributed to its popularity as an UrbEx site. Several wings of the hospital are abandoned and set to be demolished (in fact, they may have been already). It's also where photographer David Maisel did a fascinating essay called Library of Dust, documenting the unclaimed ashes and urns of indigent patients, that have attained a state of rather beautiful decay over the years.

Denbigh Asylum in Wales (1848-1995) has an amazing facade, and an equally amazing abandoned interior. It's much prized by photographers and vandals alike, and there's even a Facebook page dedicated to keeping it standing. Howzey, who has many great UrbEx photos on Flickr, took this shot of its imposing exterior. His whole set can be found here.

Of the famous West Park Asylum Wikipedia has this to say:

The hospital was slowly run down from the mid 1990s, and by 2003 most of the hospital was closed and derelict. A few outer ward buildings and villas remain open today and are still used for psychiatric treatment. As the hospital is largely derelict, it is of increasing interest to urban explorers who visit for the sheer size of the hospital, and also for many hospital items still in situ, such as beds, kitchen equipment and personal items. A padded cell is also of interest to explorers.

There are many, many photos of West Park to be found online. I really like this one by Sophos9, who got creative with a couple dozen fire extinguishers found in an attic garret. More of this photographer's set is here.

Some UrbEx sites become famous for a certain room or a certain unusual feature. St. John's Asylum (another English one -- the country's full of 'em!) is undoubtedly famous for its staircase. James Arnold has taken a number of great photos of it. More are here.

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10 Surprising Facts About The Babadook
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IFC Films

In 2014, The Babadook came out of nowhere and scared audiences across the globe. Written and directed by Aussie Jennifer Kent, and based on her short film Monster, The Babadook is about a widow named Amelia (played by Kent’s drama schoolmate Essie Davis) who has trouble controlling her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who thinks there’s a monster living in their house. Amelia reads Samuel a pop-up book, Mister Babadook, and Samuel manifests the creature into a real-life monster. The Babadook may be the villain, but the film explores the pitfalls of parenting and grief in an emotional way. 

“I never approached this as a straight horror film,” Kent told Complex. “I always was drawn to the idea of grief, and the suppression of that grief, and the question of, how would that affect a person? ... But at the core of it, it’s about the mother and child, and their relationship.”

Shot on a $2 million budget, the film grossed more than $10.3 million worldwide and gained an even wider audience via streaming networks. Instead of creating Babadook out of CGI, a team generated the images in-camera, inspired by the silent films of Georges Méliès and Lon Chaney. Here are 10 things you might not have known about The Babadook (dook, dook).

1. THE NAME “BABADOOK” WAS EASY FOR A CHILD TO INVENT.

Jennifer Kent told Complex that some people thought the creature’s name sounded “silly,” which she agreed with. “I wanted it to be like something a child could make up, like ‘jabberwocky’ or some other nonsensical name,” she explained. “I wanted to create a new myth that was just solely of this film and didn’t exist anywhere else.”

2. JENNIFER KENT WAS WORRIED PEOPLE WOULD JUDGE THE MOTHER.

Amelia isn’t the best mother in the world—but that’s the point. “I’m not a parent,” Kent told Rolling Stone, “but I’m surrounded by friends and family who are, and I see it from the outside … how parenting seems hard and never-ending.” She thought Amelia would receive “a lot of flak” for her flawed parenting, but the opposite happened. “I think it’s given a lot of women a sense of reassurance to see a real human being up there,” Kent said. “We don’t get to see characters like her that often.”

3. KENT AND ESSIE DAVIS TONED DOWN THE CONTENT FOR THE KID.

Noah Wiseman was six years old when he played Samuel. Kent and Davis made sure he wasn’t present for the more horrific scenes, like when Amelia tells Samuel she wishes he was the one who died, not her husband. “During the reverse shots, where Amelia was abusing Sam verbally, we had Essie yell at an adult stand-in on his knees,” Kent told Film Journal. “I didn’t want to destroy a childhood to make this film—that wouldn’t be fair.”

Kent explained a “kiddie version” of the plot to Wiseman. “I said, ‘Basically, Sam is trying to save his mother and it’s a film about the power of love.’”

4. THE FILM IS ALSO ABOUT “FACING OUR SHADOW SIDE.”

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Kent told Film Journal that “The Babadook is a film about a woman waking up from a long, metaphorical sleep and finding that she has the power to protect herself and her son.” She noted that everybody has darkness to face. “Beyond genre and beyond being scary, that’s the most important thing in the film—facing our shadow side.”

5. THE FILM SCARED THE HELL OUT OF THE DIRECTOR OF THE EXORCIST.

In an interview with Uproxx, William Friedkin—director of The Exorcist—said The Babadook was one of the best and scariest horror films he’d ever seen. He especially liked the emotional aspect of the film. “It’s not only the simplicity of the filmmaking and the excellence of the acting not only by the two leads, but it’s the way the film works slowly but inevitably on your emotions,” he said.

6. AN ART DEPARTMENT ASSISTANT SCORED THE ROLE AS THE BABADOOK.

Tim Purcell worked in the film’s art department but then got talked into playing the titular character after he acted as the creature for some camera tests. “They realized they could save some money, and have me just be the Babadook, and hence I became the Babadook,” Purcell told New York Magazine. “In terms of direction, it was ‘be still a lot,’” he said.

7. THE MOVIE BOMBED IN ITS NATIVE AUSTRALIA.

Even though Kent shot the film in Adelaide, Australians didn’t flock to the theaters; it grossed just $258,000 in its native country. “Australians have this [built-in] aversion to seeing Australian films,” Kent told The Cut. “They hardly ever get excited about their own stuff. We only tend to love things once everyone else confirms they’re good … Australian creatives have always had to go overseas to get recognition. I hope one day we can make a film or work of art and Australians can think it’s good regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.”

8. YOU CAN OWN A MISTER BABADOOK BOOK (BUT IT WILL COST YOU). 

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In 2015, Insight Editions published 6200 pop-up books of Mister Babadook. Kent worked with the film’s illustrator, Alexander Juhasz, who created the book for the movie. He and paper engineer Simon Arizpe brought the pages to life for the published version. All copies sold out but you can find some Kent-signed ones on eBay, going for as much as $500.

9. THE BABADOOK IS A GAY ICON.

It started at the end of 2016, when a Tumblr user started a jokey thread about how he thought the Babadook was gay. “It started picking up steam within a few weeks,” Ian, the Tumblr user, told New York Magazine, “because individuals who I presume are heterosexual kind of freaked out over the assertion that a horror movie villain would identify as queer—which I think was the actual humor of the post, as opposed to just the outright statement that the Babadook is gay.” In June, the Babadook became a symbol for Gay Pride month. Images of the character appeared everywhere at this year's Gay Pride Parade in Los Angeles.

10. DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH FOR A SEQUEL.

Kent, who owns the rights to The Babadook, told IGN that, despite the original film's popularity, she's not planning on making any sequels. “The reason for that is I will never allow any sequel to be made, because it’s not that kind of film,” she said. “I don’t care how much I’m offered, it’s just not going to happen.”

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15 Fascinating Facts About Amelia Earhart
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Amelia Earhart was a pioneer, a legend, and a mystery. To celebrate what would be her 120th birthday, we've uncovered 15 things you might not know about the groundbreaking aviator.

1. THE FIRST TIME SHE SAW AN AIRPLANE, SHE WASN'T IMPRESSED.

In Last Flight, a collection of diary entries published posthumously, Earhart recalled feeling unmoved by "a thing of rusty wire and wood" at the Iowa State Fair in 1908. It wasn't until years later that she discovered her passion for aviation, when she worked as a nurse's aide at Toronto's Spadina Military Hospital. She and some friends would spend time at hangars and flying fields, talking to pilots and watching aerial shows. Earhart didn't actually get on a plane herself until 1920, and even then she was just a passenger.

2. SHE WAS A GOOD STUDENT WITH NO PATIENCE FOR SCHOOL.

After working with the Voluntary Aid Detachment in Toronto, Earhart took pre-med classes at Columbia University in 1919. She made good grades, but dropped out after just a year. Earhart re-enrolled at Columbia in 1925 and left school again. She took summer classes at Harvard, but gave up on higher education for good after she didn't get a scholarship to MIT.

3. ANOTHER PIONEERING FEMALE AVIATOR TAUGHT EARHART HOW TO FLY.

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Neta Snook was the first woman to run her own aviation business and commercial airfield. She gave Earhart flying lessons at Kinner Field near Long Beach, California in 1921, reportedly charging $1 in Liberty Bonds for every minute they spent in the air.

4. EARHART BOUGHT HER FIRST PLANE WITHIN SIX MONTHS OF HER FIRST FLYING LESSON.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

She named it The Canary. The used yellow Kinner Airster biplane was the second one ever built. Earhart paid $2000 for it, despite Snook's opinion that it was underpowered, overpriced, and too difficult for a beginner to land.

5. AMY EARHART ENCOURAGED HER DAUGHTER'S PASSION. HER FATHER, ON THE OTHER HAND, WAS AFRAID OF FLYING.

Earhart's mom used some of her inheritance to pay for The Canary. She was a bit of an adventurer herself: the first woman to ever climb Pikes Peak in Colorado.

6. EARHART HAD A LOT OF ODD JOBS.

In addition to volunteering as a nurse's aide, Earhart also worked early jobs as a telephone operator and tutor. Earhart was a social worker at Denison House in Boston when she was invited to fly across the Atlantic for the first time (as a passenger) in 1928. At the height of her career, Earhart spent time making speeches, writing articles, and providing career counseling at Purdue University's Department of Aeronautics. Oh, and flying around the world.

7. SHE WASN'T SURE ABOUT MARRIAGE, BUT SHE DEFINITELY BELIEVED IN PRE-NUPS.

When promoter George Putnam contacted Earhart about flying across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928, it was her first big break ... and the beginning of their love story. The two began a working relationship, which soon turned into attraction. When Putnam's marriage to Dorothy Binney fell apart, he eventually proposed to Earhart. She said yes, albeit reluctantly.

Earhart wasn't worried about safeguarding financial assets so much as she wanted the two of them to maintain separate identities. Earhart asked Putnam to agree to a trial marriage. If they weren't happy after a year, they'd be free to go their separate ways, no hard feelings. He agreed. They lived happily until her disappearance.

8. SHE WROTE ABOUT FLYING FOR COSMOPOLITAN.

In 1928, Earhart was appointed Cosmopolitan's Aviation Editor. Her 16 published articles—among them "Shall You Let Your Daughter Fly?" and "Why Are Women Afraid to Fly?"—recounted her adventures and encouraged other women to fly, even if they just did so commercially. (Commercial flights date back to 1914, but they wouldn't really take off until after World War II.)

9. FIRST LADY ELEANOR ROOSEVELT WAS SO INSPIRED BY EARHART THAT SHE SIGNED UP FOR FLYING LESSONS.

The two became friends in 1932. Roosevelt got a student permit and a physical examination, but never followed through with her plan.

10. EARHART WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO GET A PILOT'S LICENSE FROM THE NATIONAL AERONAUTIC ASSOCIATION (NAA).

That was in 1923, when pilots and aircrafts weren't legally required to be licensed. Earhart was the sixteenth woman to get licensed by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), which was required to set flight records. Still, the FAI didn't maintain women's records until 1928.

11. SHE ACCOMPLISHED A LOT OF "FIRSTS."

Earhart eventually became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger (1928) and then solo (1932) and nonstop from coast to coast (1932) as a pilot. She also set records, period: Earhart was the first person to ever fly solo from Honolulu to Oakland, Los Angeles to Mexico City, and Mexico City to Newark, all in 1935.

What do John Glenn, George H.W. Bush, and Amelia Earhart have in common? They all earned an Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross. But only Earhart was the first woman—and one of few civilians—to do so.

12. SHE WAS ONE OF THE FIRST CELEBRITIES TO LAUNCH A CLOTHING LINE.

Amelia Earhart Fashions were affordable separates sold exclusively at Macy's and Marshall Field's. The line's dresses, blouses, pants, suits, and hats were made of cotton and parachute silk and featured aviation-inspired details, like propeller-shaped buttons. Earhart studied sewing as a girl and actually made her own samples.

13. THE U.S. GOVERNMENT SPENT $4 MILLION SEARCH FOR EARHART.

At the time, it was the most expensive air and sea search in history. Earhart's plane disappeared July 2, 1937. The official search ended a little over two weeks later on July 19. Putnam then financed a private search, chartering boats to the Phoenix Islands, Christmas Island, Fanning Island, the Gilbert Islands, and the Marshall Islands.

14. THE SEARCH ISN'T OVER.

There are several theories about what happened to Earhart's plane during her last flight. Most people believe she ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Others believe she landed on an island and died of thirst, starvation, injury, or at the hands of Japanese soldiers in Saipan. In 1970, one man even claimed that Earhart was alive and well and living a secret life in New Jersey.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has explored the theory that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan lived as castaways before dying on Gardner Island, now called Nikumaroro, in the western Pacific. Over the years, they've found a few potential artifacts, including evidence of campfire sites, pieces of Plexiglas, and an empty jar of the brand of freckle cream that Earhart used.

In early July 2017, a photo surfaced that seemed to confirm the theory that Earhart and Noonan crashed and were captured by Japanese soldiers, but that photo was quickly debunked.

15. TODAY, ANOTHER AMELIA EARHART IS MAKING HISTORY.

In 2014, another pilot named Amelia Earhart took to the skies to set a world record. The then-31-year-old California native became the youngest woman to fly 24,300 miles around the world in a single-engine plane. Her namesake never completed the journey, but the younger Earhart landed safely in Oakland on July 11, 2014. We think "Lady Lindy" would be proud.

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