Hollywood seems to think Massachusetts asylums are the scariest places on Earth. Here’s why they’re right.
DANVERS STATE HOSPITAL
The (un)holy grail of haunted asylums. It opened in 1878, by cosmic coincidence, on the same hilltop spot in Danvers — formerly Salem Village — where witch-trial judge John Hathorne once lived. By the mid-1900s, the institution was nearly quadruple its intended capacity, indiscriminately packing the criminally insane alongside mildly bummed-out housewives. Danvers was plagued with allegations of abusive treatments, especially with regard to its "expert" lobotomies, which used electro-shock therapy to render a patient unconscious, after which a metal pick would be driven behind the eye socket and wiggled back and forth to sever neural connections in the brain. "The things I saw inside would make your blood curdle," says Eric Perry, founder of the Central NH Paranormal Society, who as a teenager visited his uncle, a hospital barber, there. He remembers ghastly sights — nude patients, covered in razor slashes — and grisly stories, like that of a 16 year-old girl who sliced an orderly's throat with a scalpel. Based on the so-called Stone Tape theory, such suffering made Danvers a likely haunt, says Sam Baltrusis, author of the new book Ghosts of Boston: Haunts of the Hub. "That paranormal theory speculates that the environment can absorb energy from a high-tension event, like a lobotomy or suicide," says Baltrusis. Strange activity started while the hospital was still open and flourished after it closed in 1992, becoming a deified Big Score for urban explorers, photographers, and thrill seekers. An entire horror film revolves around the place: the 2001 cult gem Session 9, about a terrorized asbestos-cleanup crew, filmed in the abandoned hospital. Eventually the asylum was demolished, save the façade of its signature spire, to make room for luxury condos. Today, say ghost-hunting groups, apartment residents have reported everything from receiving mysterious scratches to the face in the nearby patient cemetery to children with paranormal playmates.