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For those of you still unsure of the merits of crossing the fence to the world of the forgotten and forbidden, allow Vocativ’s new three-part documentary series featuring Will Ellis, Untapped Cities’ Abandoned NYC columnist, to do the talking–and the exploration. The series, which aired its first episode on Monday, follows Ellis into the bowels of three abandoned structures in the New York City area. A researcher and historian, Ellis is best known for his website abandonednyc.com, which has featured, among other obscurities, a baseball graveyard in Queens, the abandoned facilities of North Brother Island, and an old resort in the Catskills.

On tap for Episode One of the series, Ellis treks to the Kings Park Psychiatric Hospital in Suffolk County on Long Island. Beginning in 1885, the hospital served as the largest state-funded psychiatric ward for over a century. Most tenants were relegated to agricultural duties, as this was considered an effective therapeutic activity at the time. The hospital grew in both numbers and prestige for its innovative uses, and by the time the iconic 13-story Building 93 was constructed in 1939, the hospital had well over 9,000 patients who helped to generate the grounds’ own heat and electricity and was serviced by its own spur of the Long Island Railroad.

untapped-cities-kings-park-will-ellis-3Building 93 as it stands today. Source: Wills Ellis for Abandoned NYC.

In the 1950s, Kings Park became subject to the same concerns of overcrowding that had prompted New York state to found the facility in the first place. Departing from its agrarian practices, the facility also developed a reputation of experimenting with pre-frontal lobotomies and electro-shock therapy. The advent of Thorazine, an antipsychotic used to treat schizophrenia, expedited many treatment processes and decreased residency steadily for forty years until the hospital closed down permanently in 1996.

untapped-cities-kings-park-will-ellis-1Former living quarters in Building 93. Source: Will Ellis for Abandoned NYC.

Today Kings Park is a haven for explorers like Ellis, who dare the grounds’ chain-link fences and boarded up entryways to happen upon a facility inert in mid-breath. Ellis’ first stop in the documentary is Building 93’s art facility, with a mural along the crumbling walls and a mess of unfinished projects strung across the floor. The residents of the nearby town of Kings Park refer to the abandoned structures simply as the old “Psych Ward.” Despite its eerie facade, Ellis provides an historian’s perspective on the facility, asking viewers to look beyond its ghostly past and recognize its prestige as one of the state’s most cutting edge mental health facilities in its heyday.

untapped-cities-kings-park-will-ellis-2The art studio features murals along the walls…and unfinished works strung across the floor. Source: Will Ellis for Abandoned NYC.

Join Untapped Cities and Abandoned NYC on an exploration of Brooklyn’s Dead Horse Bay on March 21st:

Get in touch with the author on his Twitter and his website, thisisnotreale.com, to talk photography, cities, and the abandoned world.

19 Comments

  1. Cheryl Walker says:

    Thank you for clarifying many of the facts behind the history of KPPC. I was an MHTA. From 1980- 1993 in Bldg.7 Med/ surf unit and later transferred to Bldg. 21 when Med/Surg closed.

  2. margaret says:

    I look at these photos and remember what it USED to look like. I worked there,my parents and all of our extended family worked and retired from KP. It was not the horror show that is depicted. Kids have broken in over the years years and destroyed everything with graffiti. There were indeed artists then, both patients and employees, but not what it’s article and photos depict. The patients were well cared for and after all these years, I still remember names and personalities. Ask anyone that worked there. They will tell you the same. Some patients were not even ill…they had no where to go and ended up institutionalized. To those of us that grew up in Kings Park, the hospital was never a “scary” place. It still isnt.

    • Margaret,what years did you and your family work at KP? My father, Percy Crosby, the famous artist and creator of “SKIPPY” character, was a patient from Jan. 1949 to his death in Dec. 1964. Any information you can give me would be appreciated.
      the official website of Skippy, Inc. is http://www.Skippy.com that has my story of his life, and the legal battle against the makers of Skippy peanut butter, who stole the name. Currently, volume 3 of the SKIPPY series is available

  3. Joanne Phillips says:

    I worked an as intern at Kings Park State Psychiatric Hospital in the Developmental Center, an area that housed patients with significant cognitive deficits and physical disabilities. We used the unfinished underground tunnels to move patients between buildings in bad weather. I wonder if these passageways are still there today. Might be worth checking out!

    • Robert says:

      Yes, they are.

    • Nicole says:

      They are. A lot of them have been blocked off and doors sealed but you can still easily get from one side of the property to the other. As time goes on they keep sealing off more areas.

  4. Untapped Cities says:

    The primary focus of this piece was to promote Ellis’ new documentary and give a brief history of Kings Park to our readers who are unfamiliar with the site. Never was it our intention to provide personal anecdotes of our experiences there. To address some of the facts, we’d like to say that this author used the words “nearby” to distinguish the Psych Center from the town itself, particularly due to the fact that Kings Park functioned in many ways like an independent town. We apologize for the inaccuracy of the murals and appreciate notifying us as to the nuanced differences between the terms “Psych Center” and “Psych Ward.”

  5. FormerKPer says:

    What KingsParker says is correct.

    Some additional history… The town was originally named ‘St. Johnland’. The name Kings Park comes from Kings County, which is Brooklyn. The hospital was named ‘Kings Park’ since patients from Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn would be brought out to the ‘country’ for rest and treatment. As the hospital grew, the surrounding town grew as well as staffers wanted to settle in the area. The town (and LIRR station) was eventually renamed to Kings Park.

  6. Carolyn Corcoran says:

    Interesting piece. For those of us who worked there and provided care for the patients it was not just a job but a rewarding experience. Employees devoted themselves to the patients and for most of them we were the only family they ever had. Sadly, we let them down. By closing the State hospitals (Psychiatric Centers), the patients were forced to seek care from communities that were unable and unwilling to provide it.. The result is huge homeless and jail populations of mentally ill people who are not receiving the care they need. Ask any employee and they will tell you the same.

  7. Michelle says:

    My brother died on the grounds while a patient there. I wonder how many other patients died there?

    • Nikki says:

      I’m sorry for your loss, but I actually stumbled upon one of the cemeteries on the grounds and in just that one alone there was over 200 tombstones.

  8. daughter of hospital staff says:

    some of your history is incorrect. my parents were both working there until it closed in 96 (they met there) and I’ve met some of the residents (not that I can remember I was only 4). but the “murals” on the wall are by no means created by patients. kids break into the facilities every day and paint on those walls. I’m surprised you didn’t run into anyone, it is a very popular place. also reaching out the previous workers might have been a good idea for you as my dad has all the keys to all the rooms still for building 93.

    • King P says:

      I worked in 93 for many years. Murals: Basement and former linen room are believed to be done by a patient, Percy Crosby, a renowned catoonist. Murals I remember on the 8th floor (ward 32) were mostly fish. Looked like an aquarium. They were painted by Mattie Werkheiser during the evening shift – 1960’s-early 70’s. Mattie was an attendant in the bldg. He attended Pratt Institute in Bklyn for a couple of years after WW2, late 40’s. Very talented

      • Hello, what years did you work at KP? My father, Percy Crosby, was patient from Jan. 1949 to Dec. 1964, and painted the murals in Bldg. 93 basement– I was told was the “day room”. He was the celebrity creator of the SKIPPY character, which name was stolen by the makers of Skippy peanut butter. My story about his life and battle against the peanut butter racket is on the official website of Skippy, Inc., http://www.Skippy.com.

        • Joanna says:

          Hi Joan- I am looking for patient information/stories about Kings Park. My father was a patient there many many years ago and suffered a great deal of abuse.He is 72 years old and still speaks of the trauma. Please email me at jrosa@luckymail.com

          • Joanna,
            I just saw your comment of 8/9/15 about your father, and would like to hear more from you. But please email me separately from this website comment.
            When your father was a KP patient, was he a veteran? What years did he spend there? What kind of abuse did he suffer? My father also wrote about being abused, and it took me years to get his hospital files. It’s certainly understandable that your father still speaks of the trauma he endured from abuse.
            Have you seen the documentary film, “Kings Park” that was released a year or so ago? It has received much attention.

    • LucidLoon says:

      I don’t believe the graffiti is what they were referring to when they used the word “murals”, although there is plenty of that.

  9. KingsParker says:

    For the record, it is IN the town of Kings Park, smack dab in the center of it, not “nearby” the town on KP. Also, as a lifetime resident of KP, I can assure you that we do not refer to it as the “psych ward” EVER, it is simply called the “psych center” by everyone.

    • For the record, you’re not quite right. Kings County Asylum was created in the 1880’s in St Johnland (named after those who owned the majority of the land there). In 1895, it was renamed to “Kings Park Asylum”.

      The town of Kings Park (in what was largely formerly estates and farmland) literally sprung up *around* the asylum and took on the same name. And that’s when St Johnland and some of the surrounding areas became “Kings Park”.

      The town, on what was formerly farmlets, was built to support the asylum, and assumed the same name as the asylum.

      So, the article is correct – you aren’t.

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