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The semi-abandoned Rockland Psychiatric Center in Orangeburg, NY, formerly Rockland State Hospital, was one of the many asylums built during a particular time period in American history that sought, at least at first, to approach mental illness with spaciousness and tranquility. Opened in 1931, like most, it fell as treatment evolved from an agrarian philosophy to the use of more controversial methods. In addition, several unique cases of negligence and patient death marred its reputatio. Untapped Cities reader James Garcia, a filmmaker and paranormal investigator, shared his photos of the center’s abandoned complex with us.

In its current state, Rockland operates only a few of the newer buildings to accommodate its less than 600 patients. The rest of its campus exhibits various forms of decay. However, the reputation of its abandoned facilities as haunted doesn’t stop it’s operational facilities from being a relatively popular shooting locations. Some of its newer buildings, still inhabited, were used as outdoor shooting spaces for Orange is the New Black. It was also used as a stand-in for Indiana University in the 2004 film Kinsey, based on Indiana University professor and sexologist Alfred Kinsey, starring Liam Neeson.

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Construction on the state hospital’s 600-acre campus began in 1927. At its peak, the grounds contained a power plant, a farm, and various shops where patients, treated according to the popular agrarian method for mental illness, produced things like the hospital’s furniture. It was lauded as the best planned state hospital in history.

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Finds like this abandoned bowling alley may seem out of place in a modern psychiatric center but may have been built at Rockland as a form of entertainment for the patients, the care of whom during the 1910s and ’20s was centered around physical activity and occupational therapy rather than medical treatment. It was only until the ’30s that scientists began theorizing mental illness as a physical imbalance of chemicals within the body, which they believed they could rectify by physical means. Enter electroshock therapy, pre-frontal lobotomies, and other forms of treatment that remain controversial today and have contributed to many pop culture stereotypes about psychiatric hospitals in the ’40s through the ’60s.

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At the start, it contained over 5,000 beds, and by 1959 was treating over 9,000 patients with around 2,000 on staff. Even with 2,000 staffers, however, the hospital languished throughout the two World Wars when doctors and nurses kept getting drafted to the army. Reports showed 300 patients assigned to one psychiatrist, at one point. Most patients alive today, many of whom comment with their own stories on blog posts and web tours of the abandoned hospital, reference some forms of treatment that would be considered abusive today.

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One New Yorker with an interesting history with Rockland is Allen Ginsberg, a noted forerunner of the 50s Beat Generation, referenced Rockland in the final section of his epic poem, Howl, repeating “I’m with you in Rockland.” The line is believed to be a reference to his mother’s frequent admittances to several psychiatric hospitals, including Pilgrim State Hospital in New York and Greystone State Hospital in New Jersey. Naomi Ginsberg eventually died in 1956 at Pilgrim.

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The grounds also included cottages and housing for children, hence the classroom-settings and the drawings on the walls. The center no longer treats children, but the abandoned youth quarters and playrooms featured here are probably the most unsettling.

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Starting from the 1970s onward, Rockland operated on a much more limited scale, abandoning most of its buildings and facilities because they were no longer needed. Today, It sees only around 600 patients, and is recommended for patients with very severe schizophrenia and manic depression because of its excess space. Of the many state hospitals founded in New York in the 1910s and ’20s, Rockland remains one of the only ones that is still operational in some sense.

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In short, there is a reason why Ryan Murphy, creator of American Horror Story, set his show’s second season, ‘Asylum’ in a New York state psychiatric center: all of them are terrifying. Whatever tortured soul wrote “I’m Scared,” on that chalkboard is quite successful at approximating our feelings as well.

Next, see more of James’ photos of Orange is the New Black’s shooting locations and a full list of film locations for Orange is the New Black. Get in touch with the author @jinwoochong.

15 Comments

  1. Michael Chisholm says:

    Would love to know if I would be messed with by authorities if I were to walk the grounds of the abandoned portion of this place…Tried letchworth, but couldn’t get the owner to reply to my requests…so in that I take that their answer was no…

    • michelle young says:

      Hi Michael, you can walk the grounds fairly easily at Rockland but you are in the midst of the medical facility. They aren’t usually that amenable to requests. Letchworth is actually part of a public park, so you can definitely walk those grounds. Going inside the buildings isn’t officially allowed there. Hope that helps!

      • Taylor says:

        When did you walk the grounds, let your mind. wonder as you look at the buildings, there are a group of buildings up on the hill, there there did shock therapy, lobotomies, cold bath, in tunes where you were in something like a straight-jacket, just read an article where they killed a patient with medication ( they were giving him all kind of psychological medication without knowing which ones reacted with the other one). I know the institution I was a patient there because I was a wayward child… trust me they are still killing patients with medication but we just don’t hear about it.
        I hope with my little intro you will be able to live vicariously with the patients who were there and there’s a graveyard also over by the golf course where there are a number of patients who are buried there and you wonder what happened to them. Enjoy your walk through and just imagine what horror that’s going on there at that time and more than likely are going on now you can take that to the bank. Taylor

  2. My brother was addmited there 55 years ago. His name was Daniel Miller .he had downs sindrome.
    i was lucky .i went to schools for slow learners. in NY.they were chathalic schools.then i went to one of the worst public school in Harlem cooper junier high school 120.that’s a church now .talk about irony .
    My brother had a mind of a three yr. old.i don’t know why he was put in there .when i was young but my family did visit him often .bring food for him and sat with him for an hr.or so.i live the shame of what i did to him .not understanding what i was doing.my parents are dead not and i still live at the old apt.
    since then i did not go to see him.my life was hard . on the last visit i took a friend with me to .see him he didn’t reconize me and called me girl friend MOM.he frighten he so we had to go .we seperated .and i had a nerves breakdown.Spent 3 weeks in harlem. i tried about 2014 to find him.Now that i know the Hos.
    was abandoned .My brother could be dead for all I know now.may God have mercy on me and bless him were ever he is.

  3. Joseph vilar says:

    I was a patient there when i was 5 years old never knew why but it was a horror the abuse and fear i suffered i wouldn’t wish on anyone
    I was in building 11 cottage 4 in the childrens wards i remember it well
    To this day i wish i could run into any staff member who i interacted with so i could share my pain this was in 1965 through 1969

  4. Joseph vilar says:

    I was a patient there when i was 5 years old never knew why but it was a horror the abuse and fear i suffered i wouldn’t wish on anyone
    I was in building 11 cottage 4 in the childrens wards i remember it well
    To this dayni wish i could run into any staff member who i interacted with so i could share my pain

  5. mimi keys says:

    I grew up in the staff court of RPC and lived there fro age 9 to 23. The Staff Court had its own story to tell and would make a great documentary.

  6. Taylor says:

    I was a patient there in the late 50’s to early 60’s, I personally know know the horrors that when on there. For one Pete Lacy had the doctor order me 400 milligrams of Thorazine twice a day as punishment, he informed me the next time I would be history… have seen other patients died an always wonder why, after all they appeared healthy to me…

  7. richard harris says:

    I am an former employee.The psych center was one of the biggest employers up till the late 90’s.

  8. Orlando Martinez says:

    Hey george I would like to know what you saw everything you remember only if you don’t mind.I am fascinated by it all.

  9. Kevin Iler says:

    I think my Paternal Grandfather died here in 1948. How do I go about getting information about him?

  10. JOYCE says:

    so sad it looked like it was a nice place in its day .

    • George Solend says:

      You don’t know the half of it as I do, I am a witness to what went on there as a small not crazy kid, Joyce it may look, nice but it wasn’t

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