We’re about halfway through the woods when the siren sounds. To the left is a government training camp as we trek to an entirely different government-owned building. The “silent hill” style sirens blaring must have signaled the start of a drill but with mass amount of anxiety coursing through my body I was sure the sirens signaled our arrival to the authorities.
The government building I was sneaking through the woods to get to was Forest Haven, an abandoned children’s asylum with a massive history. This complex multi-building asylum was closed down in 1990 due to several lawsuits that vary from neglect, abuse, poor living conditions, rape, molestation, and even medical testing. Forest Haven’s complex of buildings included multiple living quarters, a gym, a rec center, church, hospital and eerily enough, a morgue in the basement. Rumors of a mass unmarked grave in the backyard adjacent to the playground ran rampant on the internet. In short, Forest Haven was a real life “American Horror Story”, with children.
I found this asylum by chance and after an hour of research I was ready to wander this unknown travel destination less than 10 minutes from my house. I was surprising myself by deciding to go. In general I’m a superstitious person. I’ve never played with a Ouija board, I’ve never attempted a seance, and even the childhood “light as a feather swift as a board” game freaks me out.
I simply just don’t fuck around with ghosts.
However, something about Forest Haven was intriguing to me, to the point where I knew I would regret not going when I had the chance.
So that’s how I ended up walking aimlessly on government property in search of an uninhabited, potentially haunted children’s asylum. After parking my car at a closed dive bar, my co-adventurer Dan and I hiked through the woods, following the directions of a 17-year-old we found on the internet. The excitement I had driving there had long since passed. Similar to waiting in line for a roller coaster, now that I could see the building in the distance adrenaline had taken over, and thanks to the sirens I was literally shaking in my boots.
The first thing we saw was one of the outer buildings with several supply trucks still parked against the building in loading zones. As I stepped out of the woods towards the semi trucks I fell over death. Literally. My shaky legs had fallen over the ribcage of a deer hidden by fall leaves. With every step we took closer to the building the more carnage of the deer’s demise emerged. Hoofs, then closer to the building were front legs. In true horror movie style, the outside of Forest Haven was scattered with the dead body of a deer.
As we ventured inside we learned the semi trucks weren’t the only things left behind. As far as I could tell nothing was taken out of Forest Haven when it originally shut down. We found file cabinets full of x-rays, medical files, leave requests as well as toys, shoes, food, and medical equipment. The most unsettling part of Forest Haven for me was the children’s shoes. There were small children’s shoes strewn in almost every building, tucked in corners. For a place that was abandoned the same year I was born I was surprised at the amount of useful items that were still intact surrounded by the decay. Items almost symbolized the amount of neglect the Forest Haven patients faced. Although things surrounding them were dissolving they were still there amongst the death, existing. Withering away slower than the building that inhabited them.
In the 4 hours I was at Forest Haven I didn’t even get to enter even a third of the vast asylum. Many of the outlying buildings were patient rooms. We suspected the first building we found was for younger children because of the amount of childish wall art, and run down cribs. It was obvious right away that this outlying building had been inhabited by homeless people. Make shift rooms had been made in many of the interior rooms and to our shock, bathrooms had been used. Everywhere were signs of previous visitors. Red bulls and beer cans littered this outer building, further away from the entrance and security I’m sure it was the perfect place for a Friday the 13th party that happened 3 days prior. Graffiti was also very prevalent. Many inspirational phrases had been sprayed on the walls like “Take the road less traveled” and “learn from every struggle”. Some of the graffiti took on the persona of Forest Haven itself, intimidating and haunting. “Psyco Rooms” was written on a hallway wall with an arrow pointing toward patient rooms.
The church, made out of limestone was the most intact. Graffiti had been scrawled on each pew. Out of every building in Forest Haven this is the only place I got a sense of calmness. The church was solid, and safe despite the ripped bibles and hymns scattering the floor. I looked down to read a hymn that was still intact “Jesus loves the little children”.
The main building is a maze of administration rooms. We rummaged through rooms of desks and paperwork. In one room I found multiple key rings, job applications, and a manila folder full of leave requests. The form on top that I read was denied because of behavior problems. In the basement of the main building we found something that was unexpected. I remember thinking the vibe in the basement felt a lot different. For one it was a lot darker, there was almost no light in the basement. After exploring several rooms I entered a room with a strange looking table. Through the lens of my camera it occurred to me that the table was an autopsy table. I then came to the realization that I was standing in a morgue. I turned around 180 degrees to come face-to-face with a morgue freezer where dead bodies were once stored. “I’m not sure if I want to be here” I said, and didn’t even get to finish my sentence before a chunk of the ceiling fell inches in front of my feet.
With that we left. I felt we were pushing our luck. Halfway through the woods back to my car we saw flashing lights rushing behind us. A patrolling security officer roared by where we had entered the first building, probably running over the deer remains. At this point we were too far into the woods to be spotted. My body was drained from being on my guard for hours, and my legs were still shaking from adrenaline and the cold wind as I climbed into my car. We drove past one of the outer buildings on our way back, and unlike many of the Forest Haven Children’s Asylum patients, we went home.
All photos taken by Alicia Lyon