Asylum Seekers / Explorando Manicomios

Bizarre May 2005 / Bizarre La Revista Mas Extremada del Mundo Numerous 8

Falling through an Internet rabbit hole, I stumbled upon a subculture of urban explorers that sneak into abandoned and long-forgotten mental institutions for photographic endeavors. One particular explorer, John Gray, had even self published a book of his photography, including stunning shots from inside the Danvers State Insane Asylum--perhaps the eeriest of all such properties and also practically in his own backyard.

It was thrilling to hear John's stories and latest updates about Danvers. He'd have to enter at night via service tunnels in order to get great photos with morning light shining through the broken windows and mangled plywood that had been installed in lieu of more glass. Later, he shared that security guards for the property were at one point given license to open fire on trespassers--another reason to enter under the cover of darkness.

Our correspondence led to an interview that also included one of his explorer colleagues. I first approached Fortean Times with the story, they referred me to sister publication Bizarre magazine. Although some errors were introduced in their editing (most notably misspelling his friend's pseudonym), the result was an intriguing glimpse (beautifully accompanied by John's photography) into a piece of American history that society seems to want to sweep under the rug. The editors of Bizarre's international edition contacted me a short while later and subsequently reprinted the piece in Spanish.

The Danvers State Insane Asylum has since been partially demolished and converted into condos, but with the story in Bizarre, John's photos and the structure's starring role in Session 9, its history will not be forgotten.

In 2010, Bizarre revisited this topic in a shorter narrative form (with bland photos--not menacing or evocative such as the Danvers architecture) focusing on an abandoned U.K. asylum.