D.C. July 13, 2016
This Creepy Asylum Near Washington DC Is Still Standing… And Still Disturbing
Near the Congress Heights Metro station, the sprawling campus of St. Elizabeths, the former psychiatric hospital and a National Historic Landmark sits vacant. An interesting history and an even more complex future, this asylum near Washington DC is incredibly creepy.
The hospital originally opened in 1855, founded by mental health reformer Dorothea Dix.
First called the terribly creepy name the Government Hospital for the Insane, but the name was changed to St Elizabeths in 1966.
The 176-acre campus was the first national facility voted to the humane treatment of the mentally ill.
The hospital was the primary hospital for the mentally ill of the US Army and Navy, and during the Civil War was a hospital for wounded soldiers.
At its peak, St. Elizabeths had 8,000 patients and 4,000 employees.
For a time in the late 19th century, it also temporarily held animals that were brought to the country from expeditions for the Smithsonian.
Notable residents of St Elizabeths include Richard Lawrence who attempted to assassinate Andrew Jackson, John Hinkley Jr who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, and silent film star Mary Fuller.
Perhaps the most famous person connected with St. Elizabeths was not a patient but a doctor. Dr. Walter Freeman, the infamous doctor who pioneered lobotomy, was the doctor who performed a failed lobotomy on Rosemary Kennedy.
Before he began performing lobotomies all over the country, Dr. Freeman was in charge of the morgue at St. Elizabeths where he performed research.
The Blackburn Laboratory where Dr. Freeman spent much of his time examining brains to link mental illness to a physical brain defect still exists.
There are, of course, many stories that the grounds and buildings of St. Elizabeths are haunted.
Visitors and employees have attested to hearing groaning sounds, footsteps, cold spots, and strange noises.
By 1996 there were only 850 patients remaining and the hospital was lacking in medicine, equipment, and had a failing heating system.
Everything came full circle when the facility that had been constructed to build up mental health facility standards began to become dangerous to its patients.
In 2002, the last of the patients were removed from the west campus and it has continued to stand empty.
In 2006, Homeland Security made a pitch to Congress for the west campus to become the Homeland Security Department’s new home.
Bizarrely in April 2010, a new facility was built on the east campus and 300 patients live on site.
The rest of the east campus is scheduled to become a revitalized retail complex, apartment and condo complexes and a practice facility for the Washington Wizards.
St. Elizabeths stands as a testament to the changing of the times, the shifting of neighborhoods, and the evolution of a city. It also tells an important story of the mental health situation in this country.