Of the wide variety of abandoned buildings, perhaps none are as eerie as deserted hospitals. Whether it’s old military hospitals once filled with wounded casualties, dilapidated facilities for contagious disease patients, or Victorian buildings once used as psychiatric asylums, abandoned hospitals can haunt the imagination with nightmarish thoughts of medical experiments and patient abuse. But while there have undoubtedly been some documented cases of cruel conditions, in truth many of these hospitals were originally considered state-of-the-art. Perhaps because these now-decaying buildings were once so immaculately pristine, it can feel like, of all abandoned institutions, hospitals have suffered the steepest fall from grace.
1. LETCHWORTH VILLAGE
Built in 1911 in the upstate hamlet of Thiells, New York, Letchworth Village was created to be a utopian village for the mentally ill. By 1950 over 4000 patients lived there, many of them children. The village was divided in two by a river (creating a girls' and a boys' half), and included its own power station, printing press, stores, and places of worship. At the center of Letchworth Village was the hospital and mortuary.
This self-contained village in the woods was designed to be at the forefront of progressive treatment, but Letchworth was closed in 1996 after reports of decades of abuse and neglect. Exposed along with Willowbrook in Staten Island by Geraldo Rivera, Letchworth was eventually shut down.
Today the hospital, like the rest of Letchworth, is completely abandoned. Empty wards still contain beds and paintings on the walls from the children who lived there. In the pitch-black basements are the laboratories, dentists’ rooms, and the morgue. The full story of Letchworth, exactly what transpired in the hospital, and how many passed through the morgue, is unknown. But a cemetery in the woods a few miles away is home to hundreds of unnamed graves, the plain crosses marked only with numbers.
Some abandoned hospitals seem more sinister than others by virtue of who was treated there—perhaps none more so than Beelitz-Heilstatten. Medical staff at this now slowly decaying site outside of Berlin once treated two of the most reviled figures in recent German history, Adolf Hitler and Erich Honecker.
Beelitz-Heilstatten was built around the end of the 19th century, initially as a hospital to care for the increasing number of tuberculosis patients in Berlin. A sprawling complex of over 60 buildings, it was converted into a Red Cross hospital during World War I. It was here that a young Adolf Hitler was brought to recuperate after suffering a wound to his thigh during the bloody Battle of the Somme. The hospital at Beelitz was occupied by the Red Army in 1945, and resembled its own small-scale village, complete with private power plant, a post office, restaurants, and even a butcher. In 1990, the recently deposed head of the German Democratic Republic, Erich Honecker, was treated here for liver cancer, and it was from the now-crumbling wards that he fled to Russia.
Beelitz-Heilstatten was finally abandoned in 2000, and like many other empty hospitals is marked by peeling paint, deserted corridors, and rusting medical equipment. But it is the specter of two of its most notorious patients that gives Beelitz-Heilstatten its most disturbing character.
3. NEPONSIT HEALTH CARE CENTER
Rockaway Beach in New York is a beach with a peculiar feature. Here, beachgoers and surfers visiting this remote shoreline enjoy the summer sunshine in the shadow of a foreboding presence: an abandoned hospital.
Located along Rockaway Beach Boulevard, Neponsit Hospital was built in 1918 as a children’s tuberculosis hospital. Campaigned for by Jacob Riis, the journalist and photographer who strove to highlight the abysmal conditions of New York’s slums, the hospital on the beach was considered the ideal location for children suffering from tuberculosis, who were thought to benefit from the air coming in from the Atlantic. In the 20th century, the hospital was converted into a care home for the elderly.
When the hospital was badly damaged during a storm in 1998 and thought to be on the verge of collapsing, the patients at Neponsit were evacuated in the middle of the night, with no warning to patients or their families. Two residents died while being relocated, and another disappeared for several weeks.
The hospital has been left to slowly decay ever since. There have been rumors of plans to convert the beachfront hospital into a hotel—plans thwarted by an existing covenant stipulating that the land could only be used for a hospital or public park. That means visitors to Rockaway Beach will continue to see sunbathers right next to an abandoned hospital for the near future.
4. PRIPYAT HOSPITAL
Deep inside the exclusion zone of Chernobyl is the doomed workers’ town of Pripyat. Now one of the world’s most infamous abandoned towns, Pripyat was opened in 1970 a few miles from the reactors. Designed as a model example of Communist life, the site featured a disco, fun fair, sports fields, river cafes, schools, bars, and a hospital. Big enough to house 400 patients, the hospital also featured a once-thriving maternity ward for the 1000 or so babies born there each year.
Like the rest of the exclusion zone, the hospital in Pripyat is disturbingly eerie. It’s filled with discarded medical equipment, glass-fronted cabinets still filled with vials of medicine, and medical wall charts. But there are also artifacts in the main ER entryway that tell the terrible story of what happened here. On the floor still lies some of the equipment from the firefighters who first responded to the cataclysmic explosion. Inside the hospital, most of the radiation levels are not particularly hazardous in limited doses, but measuring a fireman’s helmet on the hospital floor, the levels jump dramatically. Virtually all the first responders to the explosion died from radiation, as did many of the nurses and doctors who tried to save them.
5. THE ELLIS ISLAND IMMIGRANT HOSPITAL
Ellis Island and the neighboring Statue of Liberty remain two of New York’s most-visited landmarks. Over 4 millions tourists sail to Ellis Island every year, often to see the rooms where many of their ancestors first entered the United States. But Ellis Island has a hidden side—while the half of the island nearest Manhattan is home to once-thriving former immigration halls, the other is home to an abandoned hospital.
Opened in 1902, the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital served as a detention facility for those deemed unfit for entry into New York. Upon arrival from Europe, immigrants were subjected to a brief medical examination (often as quick as 30 seconds), and chalk marks made upon their clothing signified whether they were able to enter the U.S. or sent to the other side of the island for treatment and monitoring. The hospital had wards for patients suffering from contagious diseases such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, and cholera, as well as an autopsy room and vast sterilization facilities for the medical staff. Somewhere around 3500 unfortunate patients died on the island, while 350 babies were born there.
The hospital was closed in the 1930s, and has gradually fallen into decay ever since. In recent years, limited tours by the Save Ellis Island organization and an art installation have allowed a small number into the crumbling ruins of Ellis Island’s dark side.
6. YPRES ADVANCED DRESSING STATION
While the other hospitals on this list occupied grand, state-of-the-art facilities, the preserved remnants of an altogether more rudimentary medical facility from World War I lie outside Ypres, Belgium. The concrete bunkers of what was known as an Advanced Dressing Station are located there by a canal bank. Situated by the British trenches, these dark, concrete rooms were where casualties from the front line were first brought for immediate first aid. It was at these horrific sections of the western front that the Germans first used chlorine gas in 1915.
One of the doctors working in these hellish confines was Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, who conducted his gruesome work amid the “constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed and a terrible anxiety lest the line give way.”
Today the makeshift hospital where McCrae watched his friend die has been preserved with a memorial, and the field stations where he tended the wounded have been left untouched.
7. NOCTON HALL
In deepest Lincolnshire is a ruined Victorian mansion, slowly crumbling and being reclaimed by the forest. Once it was a beautiful stately home, on grounds that originally dated back to before 1530. The mansion was rebuilt following a fire to be the home of the 1st Earl of Ripon. But Nocton Hall is more widely known as a military convalescent home, used mostly by the Royal Air Force. Wounded soldiers from World War I all the way through to the First Gulf War recovered there amid the stately grounds and historic home. The site was sold to a private owner in 1995, after which it became abandoned. A further fire in 2004 saw much of the roof of the venerable old mansion destroyed. Despite its status as a Grade II listed building, and its historical significance, Nocton Hall now stands as a haunting looking ruin in the woods, rather than the state of the art medical facility it used to be.