Two years ago, I wrote a post about Rockland County Psychiatric Center, an abandoned insane asylum complex that is easily one of the most haunting places I’ve ever scouted.
To my amazement, more than 250 comments have since been left by former patients, doctors and nurses, and residents who lived in the area when Rockland Psych was in operation. Some of the memories shared are as heart-breaking as you’d expect; others are uplifting, funny, nostalgic, and even inspirational.
I wanted to share a selection of these with you, to allow those who knew Rockland Psych firsthand to tell its story.
I performed at Rockland Psych with my middle school chorus 17 years ago. I remember being really nervous to go there…Once we were inside, it looked almost exactly like your pictures, seriously chipped walls…I remember one man throwing fake grenades at us, another man removed for masturbating in his chair as we sang, and an old woman who wept loudly the entire time we performed. I have no idea how the school got away with taking us there, but they did. I have a feeling after our experience they didn’t go back again.
At Christmastime of 1966, my junior high school band played a concert of holiday music for the patients at the hospital. It was a bit scary, but most of all, fascinating. It was overly stimulating for some of the patients there. We got going with the sleigh bells and the whip and some couldn’t handle it and were removed by the staff. The whole experience piqued my interest and I went on to have a long career as a psychotherapist and administrator of mental health programs.
I grew up down the road from this hospital. We were told a lot of awful stories about it including someone escaping and killing someone in the neighborhood.
My father was a police officer in the area and was often called to Rockland Psych. He has commented on the horrible things he saw there but never went into much detail. Growing up, I remember a story of a man escaping and murdering an entire family in the house across the street.
I grew up in the development just behind Rockland State…There was a famous murder in 1957 from one of the patients who had escaped. I believe the murder happened on Dutch Hollow Road.
I grew up one block from the hospital grounds…Soon after we moved in, a patient who escaped from Rockland State murdered a woman who lived three blocks from us. The community came together to form a civic association that talked with hospital administrators about ways to keep the community safe.
I grew up down the road from the hospital. Occasionally, the police would drive around and tell all the kids to go inside because someone had escaped.
I remember visiting there once as a small child but do not recall any details except the memory of a blue door with a small wired glass that my Grandmother entered through to visit her sister. She went into the facility because she lost her mind at the abusive hand of a cruel husband.
I was institutionalized at Rockland County Mental Institution when I was 8 years old (1965-69)…I lived in a big dormitory with 50+ children. We were lined up at shower time and lined up to go to cafeteria. I remember spending most of the day in a “day room” – most of the other kids were severely disturbed / mentally retarded. If I didn’t do as told, they would put me in an isolation room (all day). Once they tied me to a bed with wet sheets layered with ice and opened the window in winter. There was an outside play area where one of the “minders” would hit kids with a wiffle ball bat. At meals I was forced to eat and finish everything on my plate even till I puked. It was HELL!
I was in Rockland State Hospital in the mid-1960s. I started off in the children’s ward and I made it up into the teens ward. I also was tied down in straitjackets in strait sheets when I did not obey their orders…When you’re heavily medicated, you don’t tend to really care about anything. I also remember a young lady dying. I remember everybody said “I hope she dies, I hope she dies,” and I was saying, “no let her live,” but she died. That always stuck with me.
They did have some strange ways of dealing with us. When we started to misbehave, they would tie us down with icy cold wet sheets. I guess that was their way of cooling us down. The wet sheet thing I found more humiliating than barbaric. The only physical pain I received from it was when the sheets started to dry, I started to itch. Of course, there were the straitjacket and the itchy room but that was it.
Do you remember when all of us were left alone during the evening to clean that long hallway in cottage 3? Boy do I remember! We soaped the hallway down, took of our gowns and started sliding down the hallway. We would slide all the way down to the end of the hallway where a hot steaming radiator was awaiting us. We would try to break before we hit the radiator but the soapy floor proved to be too challenging and we ended up hitting it butts first. POW! Boy did that sting…Yes, we had some bad times but we had some good times too and we made the best of it. We were “The Little Rascals of Rockland.”
I was a patient at Rockland State back in 1961. Even though it did have all those weird and creepy people, remember that they were people in need. When I got there I was given a ground pass. I was 15…I used to run around the ground and I knew practically all the case care personnel workers…I had some very happy times. Its been 50 years and I would like to see it before is gone. I was there for 6 months…All the workers at Rockland hospital were very good people.
I worked at Rockland State Hospital… It was both interesting and training for the rest of my life as I worked as medical transcriptionist. Met my husband there, he was an attendant in Bldg. 58 which housed maximum security patients. One night a patient forced another employee by gun point to take him into New York City by via Tappan Zee Bridge so he wouldn’t get charged with kidnapping by going thru NJ. He was captured soon afterwards.
I did my nursing psych rotation here in the 80′s. There was a metal door locked behind you every where you went. I was in a ward with men who had been institutionalized for many years. One guy was in his 40′s and had been there since he was a teenager. He started a fire, killed his family. Most of the men seemed to wander in circles…and had few teeth due to the psych meds (which makes your mouth very dry).
I was there and didn’t belong in that place. But it was a safe haven for me and many like me. There were good times as well as bad times. I remember a young lady on our ward that died there. I also remember meeting the love of my life there. Too bad I didn’t know that until I chased him off. But in life there are ups and downs. You have to take the hand that you are dealt and make the best of it.
I worked at RPC from 1970-1991 as a psychologist, in many of those buildings…I rescued a patient who had just hanged herself in one of those windows, and a year later I discovered (too late) that same patient in the act of strangling to death another patient. During the years I worked there, an employee, working alone at night in a building for more functional patients, was stabbed to death by one of her patients. Too many patients were beyond my capacity to help, but I found gratification in helping those who under more fortunate circumstances would have been dear friends.
A friend and I were playing at the nearby reservoir and stopped some kid that lived there from drowning himself. He jumped in because we were swimming..but he didn’t know how to swim!! We threw him a rope that we used to swing on.
My mom was a patient at that hospital as well as many other institutes in NY. I remember visiting my mom for weekend visits. One visit she was in a white gown, her hair wild than ever and she was drooling out of her mouth, She looked like a zombie…She had also gone under the lobotomy and other sick things:
I grew up in N.J.just over the Rockland County line. My first memory of Rockland State was of hearing my parents talking about a “lunatic” who had just escaped from the hospital. I didn’t know what a lunatic was at 6 or 7 years old, but I could tell by the way they acted that I should be scared. My mother eventually used that fear to keep me in line by saying “you better be good or the lunatic will get you.” My ears still go up when I hear that word.
The building you said looked like a bus stop? It was, buses to the city and surrounding areas. They also had a barber shop in there, where I got my hair cut. When I walked over I used to have to check in to the guard gate, I was always afraid they would keep me in there. As I walked by, there were people in the “porches” area out front and they would yell at me, crazy stuff.
The power plant was coal powered and the coal train used to come right by our house along with the dalmatian dog and waves from the engineer.
My dad was just telling me today that he remembers being a kid, growing up in Tappan, just five or so minutes away, and occasionally hearing the Asylum’s alarm go off, indicating that someone had gotten out. Scary to imagine!!
I moved to Blauvelt in Nov 1958 and I distinctly remember the sirens going off whenever a patient supposedly escaped. I also remember when they stopped the alarms because the frequency was upsetting the residential neighborhoods.
My mother worked there for years, as did some of her friends, and as a teenager I would sometimes stop by…The grounds were always well-kept, and yes, as an institution it did have that institutional look, but it was not creepy…Lobotomies? Maybe in the early days – I have no idea – but definitely not in the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s. And as for the sirens calling patients back to the hospital – that is a load of crap, but I guess it does make for good lore.
I worked two summers at the school. Remember getting my set of skeleton keys that would open the heavy doors. For the past 40 years whenever someone has said “I’ll lock you in” I always think of that heavy door shutting and the sound of the keys.
I lived at Home 26, room 90 which housed female staff. A small room maybe 8×12 with a bed, sink, TV, little fridge and a hotplate. My friend at that time worked there and allowed me to stay. It was quite a small minority-type city. The staff buildings had day rooms on each end used for many card games, drinking and socializing. The hospital had its own drug dealers, loan sharks, police and fire…Eventually I was removed and barred from the ground due a drunken brawl. The 1970′s were a difficult time for a white man to be living with a black female.
It was a city unto itself, even with it’s own fire and police department. It was a difficult time in the treatment of psychiatric illnesses. Some of the treatments were very harsh and I cringe remembering being a part of them. Thorazine and Stelazine were just introduced. Many patients received insulin shock. I know there were many patients institutionalized who didn’t belong there, but then there were patients who were so sick that I couldn’t imagine how they could live without some sort of protection that Rockland did offer.
There were over 20,000 patients during that time. The treatment of geriatrics was so difficult and to my mind, there was plenty of abuse…I was only 18 at the time and had never seen mentally ill patients. It was there that I learned deep compassion for the human condition and spirit. I still work in the mental health field today & will never, ever forget what Rockland taught me about humanity.
My father’s family had been living in the area for a very long time, and my aunt knew the director of the place very well. Whenever she wasn’t happy with how I talked or behaved she would tell me how easy it would be for her to call him on the telephone and have me disappear forever.
[There were] tunnels that ran underneath the grounds, which allowed them to take patients from one building to another without being allowed out on the surface. They were gradually closed off with locked gates and I only ever saw bits of them. The people that worked in the hospital were afraid of them and used to talk about rats but I think what they were afraid of was not rats.
We had a whole bunch of legends at school of Rockland Psych. A lot of the sports teams used to send their freshman there as some sort of hazing challenge. And during Halloween time tons of kids would break into some of the buildings. One big legend about the place was that one of abandoned roads lead into the forest that would lead into an alternate dimension. Supposedly the further into the forest you went you would feel colder and colder and as you would look back it would start to blur. No missing students that I know of so I guess they eventually turned back. Also heard of students who went there coming back and feeling “odd” or “ill” because they had brought back a spirit. Usual collegiate stuff.
Looking at pictures now and thinking “how horrible”, isolated stories, and movies such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest….. do not fairly portray the whole picture. I am sure for every nurse Ratchett there were numerous Florence Nightingales and for every lobotomy there were numerous patients who were treated differently. The grounds, buildings, and facilities were beautiful and kept up very well.
Although it was an insane asylum, or rather a psychiatric hospital, it was always brimming with activity, with many people (patients and employees) walking around, from one place to another. The large cafeteria was often crowded and the church on the grounds too. And I can tell you I was never afraid walking around the campus. Was it because I was young and didn’t think? No I don’t think so. Bad things can happen anywhere and all the times that I was there and all the years living near there, there were no more frequencies of incidents than in the world beyond those gates.
My grandfather…emigrated to NYC as a young Irish boy, and became a very successful business person. He married my grandmother, and they had 6 children…The research I have done on my family indicates that grandfather had a serious problem with “the drink”, and spent many years drinking heavily, drying out at places like Rockland; and he eventually lost his career, and left his family while in his 50s, for the Bowery in NYC (around 1926). My grandfather died at Rockland Psychiatric Hospital/Institute in 1936 after a stay of about 18 months. He had a very sad ending to his life, and our family is still riddled with alcoholism.
I began drinking at a very early age, and watched most of my family members struggle with the disease of alcoholism. I was blessed to have found a 12 Step recovery program about 29 years ago, and have been able to maintain continuous sobriety since then…I am no better a person than my grandfather, just a bit luckier to have been born in a time when alcoholism was better understood, and more positive help was available.
As teenagers we would cross the state line and drive the grounds of the hospital “looking at the “lunatics”behind the screened in porches. We drove up to an old gentleman who was sitting on a bench and I asked him how he was doing and he said “I’m mindin’ my business and you do the same.” Words to live by.