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Spooky Places: Danvers State Hospital (Arkham Asylum)

Updated on January 6, 2016

Whenever someone thinks of a mental asylum, they usually picture a large, non-descript building or a large, imposing, cathedral-like bastion. H.P. Lovecraft, noted horror writer, wrote The Thing on the Doorstep and imagined a place much like the one pictured left. In fact, it is widely believed that he based Arkham Asylum on the very real Danvers State Insane Asylum, pictured. The Batman franchise world would further popularize it as the Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane.

While the name Arkham isn't real, the bricks and mortar that made up Danvers stood sentry since 1874 until 2006.

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Photo by: Dhasson

The Story of Danvers

Danvers opened its doors in 1878. Danvers was a completely self-contained psychiatric hospital based on the Kirkbride plan. Many of these buildings survive today, and are really quite beautiful. None of the other Kirkbride buildings have the infamy that Danvers garnered through some of the horrific acts that happened there.

Danvers was slowly shut down starting in the 1960s, finally closing its doors on June 24, 1992. Most of Danvers has been demolished, but some of it still stands to this day, and was being turned into an apartment complex.

Picture: The Kirkbride complex, Public Domain

The Danvers Tuberculosis Tunnels

Most of Danvers is connected by a series of underground tunnels. This was so that during the winter, one would not have to go outside in the freezing cold. Many of these tunnels remain today, but blocked off. The tunnels twisted and turned as you walked along, due to many being added after the buildings were already in place.

Think if you had worked there. It's the middle of the night and you are needed at another wing. The woefully unkept tunnels are dark, damp, and cold. Most of the facility is connected, so an escaped patient could be lurking down there. Eerie.

Below is a quick video to give you an idea how the tunnels looked.

Does Danvers deserve the bad press?

In the 1920s, the superintendent of Danvers decided that mechanical restraint was harmful to patients. What would later happen as a result of refusing to use traditional restraints, and having to find alternative means of controlling patients was chilling.

First, shock therapy. Shock therapy is now a recognized treatment for many things, but the techniques used then were quite rudimentary. These treatments would induce full-blown convulsive seizures, memory impairment, and at times fractured or dislocated bones.

Danvers is rumoured to be the birthplace of the Pre-frontal lobotomy. The most popular and used method in the United States is the Transorbital lobotomy, known as the "Ice Pick" method, and it is just as bad as the nickname sounds. I will spare you the gory details, other than to state they go in through the eyes and that a hammer is involved.

Where has Danvers or Arkham been in literature or the movies?

The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Classics)
The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Classics)

The start of Arkham Asylum. The name Arkham comes from a fictional town in Massachusetts.


Ghosts of Danvers showing their displeasure?

Demolition of Danvers started in 2006 and seemed to be going relatively well, despite protests. The plan was to build an apartment complex, named "Avalon Danvers."

Strangely enough, on April 7, 2007 at 2:03 in the morning, a webcam at Danvers cut out. Placed by the development company, I suspect the webcam was for security, as the demolition of Danvers was been very unpopular and has gone through court proceedings.

A fire started, burning much of the construction and trailers. The fire was so large, it was visible from Boston, over 20 miles away. It is still unclear how the fire started, and no one has been charged. The webcam possibly failed due to overheating, but we will probably never know for sure.

Pictured: Avalon Danvers, 2007 by D. MacIver

If you liked this page you will probably also enjoy this page about a ghost town in Pennsylvania that was so spooky that it became the setting for the video game series and horror movie "Silent Hill."

I think they demolished a historical landmark - What do you think? Or just leave a comment.

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    • Grifts profile image

      Devin Gustus 4 years ago

      @Elsie Hagley: Thank you!

      Mind sharing a famous spooky place in New Zealand?

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 4 years ago from New Zealand

      Sad to see these old buildings go.

      We have spooky places like your story in New Zealand.

      I myself keep well away from them.

      Enjoyed reading this article, nicely done.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 4 years ago

      A shame to see any interesting old building torn down, although I admit there are often very practical reasons for why it must be so. As for the treatment of patients there, way back when, well, I just try to remember that every era had its horrors that were based on good intentions and limited scientific knowledge. Still, try telling that to the ghosts!

    • Coffee-Break profile image

      Dorian Bodnariuc 4 years ago from Ottawa, Ontario Canada

      Not a place where you would like to be for Halloween. At least not for me.

    • shellys-space profile image

      Shelly Sellers 4 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      Oh my goodness, the horrors of the old lobotomy treatments sends chills up my spine!

    • deified profile image

      deified 4 years ago

      ;( wish it was still there

    • profile image

      Shadrosky 4 years ago

      Very interesting tale..

    • sierradawn lm profile image

      sierradawn lm 4 years ago

      I think that the hospital should have been left as a historical landmark for tourists to get to visit. I wonder if the apartment complex that it was turned into is haunted.

    • qikey1 lm profile image

      qikey1 lm 4 years ago

      Haunted houses and buildings are definitely my favorite spooky themes...It looks like it was gorgeous building.

    • KamalaEmbroidery profile image

      KamalaEmbroidery 4 years ago

      Rather creepy.

    • CaztyBon profile image

      CaztyBon 4 years ago

      I had never heard of Danvers before. I have heard stories of other asylums I am glad I never worked or visited one. Real creepy!!

    • darkflowers profile image

      Anja Toetenel 4 years ago from The Hague, the Netherlands

      Very nice and spooky Lens, I love true scary stories a lot, well done :)

    • nickylv profile image

      nickylv 4 years ago

      I agree that they demolished an historical landmark, but I also agree...very creepy, ashame they did not turn it into a haunted hotel.

    • Littlej224 profile image

      Littlej224 4 years ago

      It would have been nice to see it still standing, I love visiting places like this for location photography

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      yes we will never know for sure

    • profile image

      burntchestnut 4 years ago

      Yes, it's sad when a historical building is demolished, but it costs a lot of money to renovate an old building and for its upkeep. I love visiting small town museums and historical buildings, but many are being closed due to lack of money and volunteers.

    • profile image

      TommysPal 4 years ago

      It would be interesting to go inside before they started changing the interior. I love old abandoned houses and buildings. They tell a story.

    • lewisgirl profile image

      lewisgirl 4 years ago

      I think a landmark was demolished as well, but maybe the ghosts feel differently.

    • akusphinx profile image

      akusphinx 4 years ago


    • profile image

      StrongMay 4 years ago

      I'm not sure I ever want to visit there, but the building is too beautiful and historical to tear down and building could be dangerous with all those tunnels.

    • halfpintohoney lm profile image

      halfpintohoney lm 4 years ago

      I am too much of a chicken to go visit, but it's nice to admire it from afar!! Thanks !

    • ghoststorylover profile image

      ghoststorylover 4 years ago

      I would like to visit to see if it's haunted! :)

    • mybffpet profile image

      Beth 4 years ago

      A very creepy place, interesting article.

    • Meganhere profile image

      Meganhere 4 years ago

      That was really interesting and yes, they tore down a historical landmark. I agree with boneworld: it could have been a great tourist attraction!

    • boneworld profile image

      Jackson Thom 4 years ago from West of Left South Lucky

      I agree. I think they demolished a historical landmark, or at least a place zillions of crazed horror fans would be dying to pay money to get into every year. I think it could have been almost as big as Alcatraz.

    • ainezk profile image

      ainezk 4 years ago

      Are the ghosts still there and keep appearing?

    • profile image

      Roxannetp 4 years ago

      Its always sad when an old building is destroyed