Friday, March 17, 2017

Ravaged Ruins Remembered

It was yet another freezing cold day on Sunday as Jeff and I arrived at Forest Haven. I haven't been here for a while, it was years ago that Jeff and I had explored it together, yet it's a dear old haunt that draws me back every so often, as though I have to be aware of every new piece of decay that will finally lead it to its eventual demise. We were prepared with spare batteries and hand warmers already piping hot in our pockets. Once again I decided to leave the tripod in the car, not wanting to constantly fiddle with icy knobs and metal legs.
As we approached the admin building, still grand and majestic and seemingly defiant in its advancing ruin, I admired the white blossoms and fresh pale green leaves that were popping out on branches. Sadness immediately followed as I thought of the impending snow storm, due to dump 13" on Monday night and cause the destruction of Mother Nature's fresh start to her new year. It seemed impossible that this event was only hours away as we stood in the warm sun and listened to a solitary mocking bird whistling us a greeting.
I tried to put the snow to the back of my mind and focused on the brick behemoth standing proudly in front of me. A couple of masks were hanging from the branches and we had in fact seen many of them, abandoned on the ground, as we came through the woods. We would discover as we walked around that these were likely the cast offs from the graffiti 'artists' who had also dumped multiple cans around the place as they created their 'art', a term I use very loosely as I didn't see one single effort that warranted a second glance or even closely resembled anything artistic.
Old window frames hung precariously from rotten windows, glass long gone and the wood soon to follow the same path, smashed on the ground below. As we entered, the cold still air inside the building surrounded and clung to us, and I dug my hands deep into my pockets, fingers wrapping around my hand warmers. Inches deep of plaster and asbestos dust covered the floor, compacted into hardness by hundreds of pairs of explorers' feet.
The rooms and corridors, now very familiar, had sunk into new depths of decay, more plaster on the floors, more peeling paint uncurling towards the ground, exposing more crumbling and rotten wood beneath. There was even less furniture than before, where did it go? And any paper records or glass bottles that had once been scattered, torn or smashed, or sat on window ledges or desks, were long gone. The place was becoming just a shell. Even the paint peels and ragged drapes were losing their vibrancy, the only real color now was the childish graffiti on doors and walls, almost an insult to the poor children who had once suffered here within these walls.
Jeff and I took head shots of each other through a still upright door then finished the last and third floor of the main building.
The staircases had become more precarious to ascend and descend, the fallen plaster causing the steps to disappear and become instead a slippery dusty slope. The morgue was barely recognizable and I was anxious to be back out into the fresh air. The building had such a heavy oppressive coldness about it, my core was chilled despite my thermal layers and hand warmers.
We walked towards a building that had once contained words of graffiti which had caused Jeff to explode into never ending laughter, with him reciting the phrase for the rest of the afternoon, setting him off chuckling once again. The words were still there, with additional lines added onto an adjacent wall. There wasn't anything else that warranted a photo as far as I was concerned so I left Jeff with his wall. I sat at an old school desk outside while Jeff continued to shoot photos inside, and soaked up the sun, savoring the surprising warmth that cut through the icy cold breeze. The blossoms brought beauty to the grounds and I fretted about whether they would still be surviving next week. The piercing cold wind was an indication of things to come, and under sheltered and shadowed roofs, frozen icicles hung from rotting eaves.
We walked into another building, now wide open, the doors hanging from smashed or crumbling hinges; a few years ago this had been almost impenetrable. The interior had also been emptied of much that had previously been here. Wooden work benches with old hand tools, piles of leather brief cases, old hospital equipment had disappeared, and old therapy baths, chairs, lockers and wardrobes which had been previously neatly stacked had now been thrown around or smashed to pieces.
The next building we entered had always been a little scary to me. Cold and dark with corridors of cells closed off by heavy doors incorporating a small thick pane of glass, it had seemed creepy, unfriendly and almost not completely unoccupied, as though lost souls still roamed in circles around the white tiled hallways. But today it felt like a building that had given up. Once again the doors were nearly all open, everything smashed inside, including a wonderful old piano which had provided many atmospheric photos on previous visits.
Gaudy, pointless graffiti daubed the walls, although Jeff loved some of the phrases. But it seemed like the place was caving in, an abject sense of surrender hanging in the air, Forest Haven was succumbing to the vandals and to nature and to time, resigning to its fate.
We moved onto the screen print shop. Again I was dismayed with the wreckage within. It was now almost impossible to walk about the room. Screens and anything not nailed down had been thrown about. The press had suffered further damage and was barely recognizable.
A stop at the church revealed the same treatment.
The colored glass windows had nearly all been smashed out and graffiti was painted on virtually every surface. It used to be awash with color in here on a sunny day, the sunshine throwing vibrant rays of red, green, yellow or blue across the floors and walls, but today the colored glass lay in shards and jagged pieces on the cold floor.
We stopped at one last building before leaving,  more modern, but which had fallen prey to the elements a lot faster than the older better built structures.
We didn't stay long in here, just a quick inspection from end to end. I detected an odd smell, something chemically caustic, and with the fine powder from the asbestos covered walkways drifting up, I decided I'd had enough. I walked into the courtyard and waited for Jeff to finish.
We wandered slowly to the exit, snatching a few more photos, lingering by an old basketball, taking in the monolithic old ruins, and then walked back up the path, littered with discarded empty cans of paint, and dozens of face masks left hanging on the bare branches.
An excellent article on forest Haven is here.,incorporating a wealth of information on the asylum.