Old Camarillo State Hospital

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Imagine yourself as an 18 or 19 year old, fresh from high school, heading into college. The college of your choice sits on a picturesque area of land, most buildings are original 1930s Spanish mission-style architecture. Not only is the campus itself beautiful, but you’re in sunny California, just miles from Los Angeles and Hollywood. What could be better, right?

Well, if you’re a current student enrolled at California State University, Channel Islands, I imagine nothing could be better… unless you’re one of the students who’s experienced the former residents of CSUCI. It’s been only 14 years since the campus of CSUCI hosted residents of a different sort. Prior to 1997, the campus functioned as the Camarillo State Mental Hospital. It opened its doors as a branch of the California State University system in 2002.
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Sunland Mental Hospital: Tallahassee, FL

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Sunland Mental Hospital: Tallahassee, FL

The complex that came to be known as Sunland (or Sunnyland to locals) Mental Hospital was originally the W.T. Edwards Tuberculosis Hospital when it opened in 1952.  The five story building was constructed with large banks of windows that were equipped with cranks so they could be opened easily to allow the fresh healing breezes to penetrate the patients’ rooms. Doctors tried numerous ineffectual cures for tuberculosis, many of which caused the suffering patients further misery before their inevitable demises. Eventually, after countless deaths had occurred at the facility, a vaccine was discovered to combat the killer and the hospital was needed no longer. The building’s next incarnation was as the infamous Sunland Mental Hospital.

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Haunted Long Island: Pilgrim State Hospital

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Pilgrim State Hospital

If you live on Long Island, eventually you will pass the Pilgrim State Hospital site and wonder what the heck this huge building is. There’s really no escaping it.  Opened October 1, 1931 (we just missed its 80th Anniversary), it was at one time listed in the Guinness Book of records as the largest mental institution in the world. At its highest capacity, just after World War II, Pilgrim State housed over fourteen thousand patients. The massive property had its own Long Island Railroad station,  post office (with its own postmark), power plant, agriculture and livestock farms, cemetery, police and fire stations and water tower. The complex was made up of many different buildings on over a thousand acres.

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Ten Days in a Madhouse

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Nellie Bly

On September 22,1887, Elizabeth Cochrane Seamen was asked by the New York World if she would be willing to go undercover inside the New York Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island in order to write an expose on the treatment of patients in the asylum. The only instructions she was given were to “Write up things as you find them, good or bad, give praise or blame as you think best, and truth all the time.” Cochrane, who wrote under the sobriquet “Nellie Bly”, optimistically accepted the assignment.

Bly’s biggest hardship would be to first be declared insane and be admitted to the institution. She also worried about being discovered before her assignment was complete. The newspaper wanted her to go incognito so that she could observe exactly how patients were treated as there were rumors that patients were being abused and that conditions in the asylum were deplorable. If her identity was discovered, conditions in the asylum might be altered so as to conceal the real treatment of patients. The final hurdle for the undercover reporter would be getting out once having been declared insane.
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New York City Lunatic Asylum

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New York City Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island

New York City Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island

There isn’t a lot that remains of the old New York City Lunatic Asylum on Roosevelt Island– just the administrative building called “The Octagon”, which has since been remodeled. The refurbished portion of the Kirkbride pays homage to the woebegone times of big asylums and high aspirations for treating the mentally ill. It also stands as a sentinel to mark the historic past of the building that once stood in place of the new development.
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