Nestled in a quiet corner of Connecticut, this state training school has a dark past with a history of sterilization for those who were mentally challenged. Some might saying they were very cutting age for the time period.
Located an hour from where I live, I’ve made dozens of trips here, but the most memorable one was likely my first visit when I was lucky enough to have friends from Philadelphia visiting. While eating lunch and looking at a map of our location, we determined that after scarfing down the last of our eggs, bacon and miscellaneous greasy diner food, we would head to the state school for the day.
In my eyes, there were what seemed to be like a million buildings on the campus that were mine for the capturing. It felt like an endless abandoned playground,with a few college buildings mixed in between. Though the campus was still technically active, we wasted no time worrying.
Most of the buildings were small and empty, showing signs of use after they had been a state hospital. One building was used as a summer camp storage space and had tons of arts, crafts, and sports equipment stored in it. On a return trip years later I discovered someone had taken the yarn in this room and connected all the furniture with it, creating a crazy maze. We had some fun with that.
Another building help more interesting artifacts for us. Although its last use was as a college building, the huge medical building had a back corner packed with patient files that had been left behind, or stored there. We weren’t sure. What we did know was that some of these files included hand developed photos of the children who were admitted and examined by the hospital, and even included cognitive test the students filled out themselves in addition to doctor’s evaluations.
It was like hitting the abandoned hospital jackpot, 19 year old me thought.
We hid out in this room reading about the children who lived here, why they were brought there and if they stayed or we discharged. Some even were labeled at sterilized. It was boredline uncomfortable to go through these files, but nonetheless, we did.
My strangest file was a girl who was sent to the training school for being promiscuous. I knew from previous patient file encounters that once upon a time this could land someone in jail, but not land them in a hospital as a young girl and resulting in sterilization.
There were many other files that would give you the chills, especially when they held photos of the children who many times looked happy and healthy. If nothing else, this was an eye-opening look into what our mental health system once was. It’s even more fascinating to think that what were are doing in the mental health world today will be likely frowned upon by my children 50 years from now.
We continued on our day after our patient file detour and headed to our final stop- a building that once was a museum of natural history. This building was filled with shells, rocks, taxidermy animals and so many other interesting artifacts. We again were side tracked picking through this building and looking at what had been left behind. Though drastically different from the patient files, you still would get the chills as you accidentally stepped on a seashell or rock that at one time had some educational or historic purpose.
For years I continued to visit and shoot this spot, with care and excitement. We had a lot of fun every time we visited, and I always manged to pull some awesome shots when other photographers scoffed at the hospital for being plain. My visits ended, though, after police kindly reminding me that I shouldn’t have been on the property, better yet lowering myself through a collapsing roof to gather patient files. After a stern warning about my next visit resulting in arrest, I decided it was time to kiss this sprawling campus filled with neat artifacts, goodbye.