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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 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.

1. PANGANGALULUWA // THE PHILIPPINES

Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.
Suman

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.

2. PÃO-POR-DEUS // PORTUGAL

Raw dough.
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Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.

3. HALLOWEEN APPLES // WESTERN CANADA

Kids trick-or-treating.
iStock

If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.

4. ST. MARTIN'S DAY // THE NETHERLANDS

The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.

5. A PENNY FOR THE GUY // THE UK

Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.

6. TRICKS FOR TREATS // ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

Kids knocking on a door in costume.
iStock

If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.

7. ME DA PARA MI CALAVERITA // MEXICO

Sugar skulls with decoration.
iStock

While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.

8. HALLOWEEN! // QUEBEC, CANADA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
iStock

Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.

9. SWEET OR SOUR // GERMANY

Little girl trick-or-treating.
iStock

Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.

10. TRIQUI, TRIQUI HALLOWEEN // COLOMBIA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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11 Thrilling Facts About Dial M for Murder
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In 1953 Alfred Hitchcock was looking for a new project after a film he’d been developing fell through. Sensing a need to go back to his safe space of murderous thrillers, he opted to adapt a stage play that had already proved to be a hit on British television. Though he had no particular attachment to the project, Dial M for Murder would ultimately become one of Hitchcock’s best-known—and best-loved—classics.

From the film’s use of 3D to the debut of Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s filmography to a pivotal murder sequence that made the director lose weight from stress, here are 11 facts about Dial M for Murder.

1. IT’S BASED ON A STAGE PLAY.

Dial M for Murder is, in terms of locations and number of characters, a relatively sparse film that barely leaves its primary set. This is because it was based on a stage play by Frederick Knott, which premiered as a BBC TV special in 1952 and later opened at London’s Westminster Theater and, eventually, Broadway. After seeing the BBC production, producer Sir Alexander Korda purchased the rights to make the film version, and later sold them to Warner Bros. for $75,000.

2. ALFRED HITCHCOCK THOUGHT HE WAS “COASTING” WHEN HE MADE THE FILM.

By 1953, when Dial M for Murder arrived at Warner Bros., Hitchcock was developing a project called The Bramble Bush, the story of a man who steals another man’s passport, only to find out that the original owner is wanted for murder. Hitchcock wrestled with the story for a while, but was never satisfied with it. When Dial M for Murder landed at the studio, Hitchcock knew the play had been a hit, and opted to direct it. As he later told fellow director François Truffaut, he found the film to be “coasting, playing it safe,” as he was already known as a thriller filmmaker.

3. IT’S HITCHCOCK’S ONLY 3D FILM.

In the early 1950s, the 3D movie craze was raging, and Warner Bros. was eager to pair it with the fame of Hitchcock. So, the director was ordered to use the process on Dial M for Murder. This meant Hitchcock had to work with the giant cameras necessary for the process, but there was also a trade-off that makes the film fascinating—even in 2D. In order to make the film look appropriately interesting in 3D, Hitchcock added a pit into the floor of the set, so the camera could move at lower angles and captures objects like lamps in the foreground. As a result, the film looks like no other Hitchcock ever shot, particularly for the infamous scissors murder that’s the film's thrilling centerpiece. Unfortunately, by the time Dial M for Murder was released in 1954, the 3D fad was dying out, so the film was shown in 2D at most screenings.

4. IT WAS HITCHCOCK’S FIRST FILM WITH GRACE KELLY.

Of all of the iconic blonde stars Hitchcock cast in his films, the most famous is almost undoubtedly Grace Kelly, the actress-turned-princess who first joined him for this film. Hitchcock once described Kelly as a "rare thing in movies ... fit for any leading-lady part,” and it was said he had the easiest working relationship with her of any star. They worked so well together that they went on to make two more films, Rear Window in 1954 and To Catch a Thief in 1955.

5. IT TAKES PLACE ALMOST ENTIRELY INDOORS.

Because Dial M for Murder is based on a stage play, the original script had very little in the way of outdoor set pieces. Hitchcock wanted to keep it that way, as he later explained to Truffaut:

“I’ve got a theory on the way they make pictures based on stage plays; they did it with silent pictures, too. Many filmmakers would take a stage play and say, ‘I’m going to make this into a film.’ Then they would begin to ‘open it up.’ In other words, on the stage it was all confined to one set, and the idea was to do something that would take it away from the confined stage setting.”

Hitchcock wanted to keep the confinement intact, so almost all of the action in the film takes place indoors, largely in the Wendices' apartment. This adds to the intimacy and tension.

6. HITCHCOCK PERSONALLY CHOSE EVERY PROP.

Hitchcock was always known as a meticulous director obsessed with detail, but on Dial M for Murder he was particularly detail-oriented, in part because the 3D cameras were going to capture objects in a way his other films hadn’t. As a result, he selected all of the objects in the Wendice apartment himself, and even had a giant false telephone dial made for the famous “M” close-up in the title sequence.

7. KELLY’S WARDROBE GROWS DARKER ON PURPOSE.

Grace Kelly in 'Dial M for Murder' (1954)
Warner Home Video

Hitchcock’s exacting eye also led to an elaborate “color experiment” to portray the psychological condition of Kelly’s character. As the film begins, the colors she wears are all very bright, suggesting a happy life in which she doesn’t suspect anything is wrong. As the film grows darker for her, to the point that she’s framed for murder, the wardrobe grows darker and “more somber,” as Hitchcock put it.

8. KELLY WON A PARTICULAR WARDROBE ARGUMENT.

For the scene in which Swann (Anthony Dawson) attempts to murder Margot (Kelly) by strangling her (until she manages to stab him with a pair of scissors), Hitchcock had another exacting wardrobe request. He had an elegant velvet robe made for Kelly, hoping to create interesting textural effects as the lights and shadows played off the fabric while she fought for her life. Kelly reasoned that, since Margot was alone in the apartment (as far as she knew) and was only getting out of bed to answer the phone, she wouldn’t bother to put on a robe.

“I said I wouldn't put on anything at all, that I'd just get up and go to the phone in my nightgown. And [Hitchcock] admitted that was better, and that's the way it was done,” Kelly later recalled.

9. HITCHCOCK WAS SO NERVOUS ABOUT THE PIVOTAL SCENE THAT HE LOST WEIGHT.

Dial M for Murder was shot in just 36 days, but the director took special care with one scene in particular: the murder sequence in which Margot stabs Swann with the scissors. Not only was it a key scene in the film, but it was also a moment that required particular care to make the 3D effects work. Hitchcock agonized over the scene to such a degree that he apparently lost 20 pounds during filming.

"This is nicely done but there wasn't enough gleam to the scissors, and a murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without the hollandaise sauce—tasteless,” he reportedly said after one take.

10. HITCHCOCK MAKES HIS CAMEO IN A PHOTOGRAPH.

Hitchcock became known throughout his career for making cameos in his films, ranging from the very subtle (you can see his silhouette in neon outside the window in Rope) to the more elaborate (missing the bus in the opening sequence of North by Northwest). In Dial M for Murder, his cameo falls somewhere in between. He appears in a class reunion photo in the Wendice apartment, seated at a banquet table among other men.

11. IT’S BEEN REMADE FOUR TIMES.

Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow in 'A Perfect Murder' (1998)
Warner Bros.

Dial M for Murder was a film adaptation of a stage play that had also already been adapted for television in Britain, and it proved popular enough that four more adaptations followed. In 1958, NBC broadcast a Hallmark Hall of Fame production, in which both Anthony Dawson and John Williams returned to play Swann and Chief Inspector Hubbard, respectively. A 1967 ABC television production of the play co-starred Laurence Harvey and Diane Cilento. A television movie starring Angie Dickinson and Christopher Plummer was produced in 1981, and in 1998 the play served as the inspiration for the film A Perfect Murder, starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.

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