Tuesday, September 16, 2008

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene...

I began my early morning atop a hill in Verona, New Jersey. Back in that time, all the buildings were still there. There had yet to be a fire or wreaking ball. But it had been in a great state of disrepair for sometime. It had once been a shining example of forward thinking and state of the art care but now it was simply a shell, covered in graffiti and garbage. But as I walked through the fog and the monster appeared in front of me, Essex Mountain Sanatorium didn't feel like just a empty shell to me. I felt like it could breath me in; the walls would expand and contract and breath a long sigh.

Smaller buildings were scattered throughout the grounds. Staff houses, garages, storage sheds. It really was a community unto itself. People lived here, laughed, cried, ate, slept and died.

In the beginning, it was a reform school and orphanage but by the early 1900's tuberculosis was taking hold of the nation, going head to head with pneumonia to be the single most common cause of death. (check out http://www.umdnj.edu for more info about the history of TB.) The school was soon turned into a 'sanatorium' (this does not mean looney bin, as I always thought when I was younger. Webster states "an establishment for the treatment of the chronically ill") for much of the east coast's TB patients, much to the disapproval of the town of Verona. The facility grew, becoming not just a place for recovering patients but for WWI vets. Men that had suffered the horrors of chlorine or mustard gas which had damaged their lungs and skin, among other things, found the air easier to breath and a better quality of life.

As the years went on though, cases of TB were less and less due to advances in medicine and containment protocol. Essex began taking overflow of Overbrook psychiatric hospital. By the mid 70's, buildings were closing down and what was left was turned into a drug rehab center. In December of 1982, the city shut the gates and Essex Mountain Sanatorium was closed forever.

So here I stood, digging around on the dirty floor, only half thinking about left-behind syringes that might be hiding in the trash, when I find hidden treasures. Files. Xrays. Transcripts! The more I searched the rooms it seems like everyone just up and left in the middle of the night. Medical equipment, beds, and all sorts of strange things were left behind.

If I squinted and turned my head, I could see the clean sheets on the mattresses, walls without graffiti, ghosts of past resting in their wheelchairs. I was lost in the past when I hear something hit the floor hard on the floor above me. Ghosts indeed. I didn't feel a negative presences, although I'm sure there were some unhappy people who lived there at points in it's history. Essex was not know for their neglect or mistreatment of their patients. Quite the opposite. They had an average of a 50% recovery rate for their TB patients, which is quite good for it's time.

This place was a place of hope, rest, and care. You might not have known that from looking at some of the antisemitic and satanic writings on the walls left by vandals and vagrants. I can feel the intentions of this place. It isn't a living beast but tired and old pair of loving arms.

By April of 2002, once the dusk had cleared, there was nothing left. The sanitarium was gone. The town committed to preserving the hilltop so that you will never have to look up and see a fucking Wal-mart. (Thank you, fair Verona). It will be conserved for plants and wildlife, and those of us that appreciate that kind of thing.

Maybe on those misty mornings, if you squint and turn your head, you can see the giant that used to be there. Most likely though, you will just the a wonderful view and a peaceful, cool morning.

Check out this site for much more info:

This guys is a wealth of information and has great photos.
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