All Souls That Haunt This Site Can Expect Arrest
Tuesday, September 6th 2005
Jenna Russell, Globe Staff
DANVERS -- They hiked uphill through a field, armed with a video camera in case they spotted anything eerie, a ghost, perhaps. Their destination was the old state mental hospital, which has attracted ghost hunters from around the country.
Matthew Doherty, 34, and his two friends had heard the stories about the haunted hospital, and they wanted to see it for themselves. They found a lone, strangely leafless tree; a cold breeze that seemed to come up out of nowhere; some noises that might have been wind.
And then State Police found them.
The three North Shore men were arrested and charged with trespassing; two of the three pleaded guilty yesterday in Salem District Court and agreed to pay fines and court fees, avoiding the maximum penalty, three months in jail. The third case was continued without a finding.
Danvers State Hospital is a magnet for practiced ghost hunters and dozens of others, like Doherty and his companions, who described themselves in court yesterday as merely curious about the supernatural presence supposedly lurking within the spired, Gothic brick buildings. Such curiosity, in the face of health and safety risks facing interlopers on the property, has been a problem for the state Division of Capital Asset Management, the caretaker for the sprawling 500-acre property, since the facility was emptied of its last patients a dozen years ago.
Other closed state mental hospitals in Massachusetts have attracted thrill-seekers in the decades since patients were shifted to smaller, local treatment centers, part of the national movement away from large state mental hospitals. The suffering of the patients who once lived in these hospitals interests ghost enthusiasts, who believe such settings to be full of troubled and restless spirits.
In Danvers, State Police, aided by 24-hour security guards hired by the state, have made 120 trespassing arrests on the state hospital property in the last five years, a spokesman said.
Doherty and his companions, Ross Gordon of Peabody and Matthew Selecky of Salem, said they are not ghost-hunters. They said they hoped to submit their videotape to a television show that features investigations of the supernatural.
''There was a very negative vibe," Doherty said of the mood on the property. ''It felt like we weren't supposed to be there."
On the edge of the property yesterday, the silence was broken by the buzz of insects in outlying fields and the rush of distant highway traffic. A mattress lay abandoned, and wooden ''No Trespassing" signs hung on massive trees that line a dirt path uphill to the abandoned buildings.
The steady stream of unwanted guests at the hospital may have been spurred by a recent horror movie, ''Session 9," now out on DVD, that was filmed there. It may also reflect the growing number of websites run by hobbyists of the paranormal, many of which feature Danvers State Hospital as a supposedly haunted place.
Christopher Balzano, a 30-year-old librarian from Woburn, runs a three-year-old website, Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads, which records both ghostly legends and more scientific reports of possible paranormal activity. Reports from visitors to the old Danvers facility are frequent, and sometimes include photographs of orbs or streaks of light, said Balzano, who has not visited the property and advises website visitors not to trespass. He said he looks critically at all reports and believes that the photographs may be explained by conditions in the deteriorating buildings, rather than paranormal phenomena.
The attraction of the old hospital has grown as stories about it have circulated, he said, creating a snowball effect. The evocative visual details of the place -- some trespassers report old gurneys with straps left abandoned in hallways -- contribute to its popularity with ghost-chasers and its power to scare them, Balzano said.
''It's probably the most haunted place in Massachusetts, as far as the strength of its reputation," he said of the Danvers site. ''To me, the most convincing thing is what went on there on a daily basis. How could a place that experienced such sadness not leave something behind?"
Some of the recent trespassers may be seeking one last thrill, realizing that the hospital may not be abandoned for long. This month, the state hopes to finalize a deal with a Virginia development company that plans to buy the Danvers property for $18 million and build about 500 apartments and condominiums, a state official and a company representative said. Only a sizable portion of the Kirkbride Complex, the architectural centerpiece of the facility, will remain.
The new development, by AvalonBay Communities Inc., would also include commercial space, acres of open land, and a hilltop memorial to former hospital patients that will be open to the public. The development will not be gated or guarded, and anyone interested in seeing the restored historic building will be able to drive to it, said Scott Dale, vice president for development.
A well-lighted, perfectly restored Danvers State campus, complete with a swimming pool and a recreation center, may leave ghost hunters less than titillated. But it will not stop them from finding other spooky venues to explore, Balzano said.
''When you're out investigating, whether you see something or not, there's a heightened sense you have that's about as big a rush as you can get," he said.
This article was written by Jenna Russell, Globe Staff and published by Boston Globe on Tuesday, September 6th 2005 and NOT owned by nor affiliated with opacity.us, but are recorded here solely for educational use. The photographs featured in the article are randomly selected from the Danvers State Hospital galleries on opacity.us unless noted otherwise; they may not directly relate to the article subject matter except for the site location - any other relation is purely coincidental.