In the late 1800’s, progressive reformers began to question the long standing tradition of treating the mentally ill like prisoners. They began to look at mental illness as just that: an illness, that needed to be treated and cured. In 1896, a new asylum was founded in Essex County, New Jersey. In its early years, the asylum housed thousands of inmates, but as new drugs were invented, it slowly became oversized and obsolete. The complex’s path to abandonment happened slowly, as more and more of it’s buildings became unnecessary and were abandoned. Eventually the entire asylum, which was much more like a small town, was deserted. For better or for worse, its many years of service are almost forgotten. The Essex County sheriffs department has made quite a few claims about security around the asylum, but i was not hassled as i walked into the compound and jumped through a window. The asylum’s condition is varied from place to place.
Overbrook Asylum was founded by people with good intentions, but like every other asylum in the turn of the century, its methods of treatment were often cruel and torturous. “Treatments” such as lobotomies, submerging a patient in ice cold water, and even electroshock therapy were practiced in asylums across the US. In one particularly cold winter, 24 patients died of exposure when heat systems broke down. Despite the many horrors that Overbrook hosted, it probably helped rehabilitate many people during its later years when treatments were more based in science. Has Overbrook redeemed itself for the atrocities committed to the mentally ill? You can decide.
I could still tell what many of the rooms and areas in the asylum were used for back in the day, thanks to the countless papers and signs. In one room, i found a folder containing a file for a former taxi cab driver. His paper read
“Date Discharged: May 11 1952.”
“How Discharged: Died”
Overbrook Asylum has now been condemned to demolition. Its long history of both helping and hurting patients in need finally comes to an end, after more than 100 years.
Thanks for the read!