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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.