Abandoned Asylum: Horrors of Forest Haven [44 PICS]

May 2nd, 2014 Permalink

Once upon a time, the story of Forest Haven was happy and hopeful because the state-of-the-art D.C. Training School would help developmentally and mentally handicapped children and adults learn skills to help them survive in the real world instead of being institutionalized. That was 1925; the Forest Haven facilities grew to a compound with over 22 buildings spread over 250 acres. By 1991, the story of Forest Haven was a heartbreaking horror story as hundreds of residents died of abuse and neglect before the U.S. Justice Department forced the District of Columbia institution closed. “What we have here are quiet little murders,” explained a Justice Department expert witness in a 1994 article. “They’re killed one day at a time because people don’t pay attention and then no one finds out the real cause of death.” Before everything was said and done, Forest Haven ended up being one of the worst cases of criminal institutional abuse that the U.S. has ever seen. Oh the sickeningly sad stories the walls would tell you if only they could. Now, over 20 years later, this is the abandoned Forest Haven asylum. [44 Photos]

Left behind luggage at abandoned Forest Haven asylum

Left behind luggage at abandoned Forest Haven asylum. Like this luggage, patient records and sensitive information were all left behind. This place seems like the saddest version of Hotel California because mentally disabled children and adults were checked in, but could only check out by dying. Forest Haven history is dark and demented, full of epic abuses, criminal neglect and atrocities like rape. As we look at the abandoned asylum, let’s listen as if the walls could to talk about some the horrors of Forest Haven. Photo #1 by © Darryl Moran Photography

This is the building with the epic luggage shot in it abandoned asylum Forest Haven

Forest Haven in October 2013. “This is the building with the epic luggage shot in it,” explained the photographer. Located in Laurel, Maryland, Forest Haven – aka D.C. Training School – opened its doors in 1925 as a state-of-the-art institution where children with mental and developmental disabilities could receive care and training in the 22 buildings scattered over 250 acres. Betty Evans, one parent and plaintiff in a lawsuit (pdf), said, “Forest Haven is nothing but a warehouse for the retarded.” The residents were here because schools failed them, educational institutions simply refused to teach them. Parents either couldn’t, or didn’t want to, take care of these kids. As time wore on, the complex became almost a dumping ground where unwanted children and adults were dropped. Many residents should never have lived here, such as those who were deaf, epileptic, or dyslexic. In 1974 a nearby orphanage closed and 20 children were moved to Forest Haven and reclassified from “orphans” to “retarded;” that was the end of the search for another orphanage. A 1994 article said, “As patients died one by one, a Washington D.C. home for the mentally retarded became one of the nation’s most deadly institutions.” Photo #2 by Forsaken Fotos

Aerial of abandoned Forest Haven Asylum 39.098765,-76.786328 2nd St Laurel, MD 20724

Zoom out. You are here. Aerial of abandoned Forest Haven Asylum, at 39.098765, -76.786328, 2nd St. Laurel, MD 20724. The administrative building on the left has a half-circle driveway; inside there were doctor offices, dental examination rooms, and x-ray rooms with a chapel that could seat 200 built directly behind it. Electroshock and hydrotherapy happened in other buildings, but some of the 22 buildings included five dormitories with happy-sounding names like Beech, Dogwood, Elm, and Poplar cottages. The complex had a cafeteria and recreation center, a theater, a gym, basketball courts, a baseball field, a playground, and classrooms to learn hands-on skills aimed at gainful employment. Others learned how to help out by milking cows or planting crops on the farm colony. Photo #3 by Pictometry Bird’s Eye / Microsoft Corporation

Morgue at Forest Haven

Morgue at Forest Haven. The extent of Forest Haven’s problems “has never even been exposed,” explained Justice Department expert witness Karen McGowan in a 1994 article. “Someone dies of aspiration pneumonia and they (state authorities) will say they died of heart failure or respiratory arrest or that they stopped breathing. Everybody who dies has stopped breathing or their heart has stopped. And so the real cause of death is often not identified. What we have here are quiet little murders. They’re killed one day at a time because people don’t pay attention and then no one finds out the real cause of death.” Photo #4 by © Jamie Betts

Downward spiral at Forest Haven

Downward spiral and into the belly of the beast that was Forest Haven. Funding dwindled in the 1960s and by 1972 there were two social workers for 1,300 residents. During the first abuse case taken to court in 1972, Forest Haven director R. Atkinson, testified that at least 50 school-age kids could have lived at home with their lesser learning disability. By 1975, the asylum director admitted 400 Forest Haven residents “don’t belong here. One-third of the residents could benefit from training activities rather than the babysitting we give them now.” Photo #5 by © Rose (FroseN in Time)

Forest Haven hallway

Forest Haven hallway. Some of the most vulnerable people in our society were discarded and forgotten before being beaten, raped and tortured by their caregivers and other patients. In a 1994 article about Forest Haven being one the “most deadly institutions” in America, Mary Bray, an occupational therapist and expert for the Justice Department, stated, “Over 200,000 people in institutions who are immobile and rely on others for eating are at risk. Others such as the mentally retarded, high-risk infants, children and adults with developmental disabilities are also at risk. Part of the problem is that the parents and relatives of a good number of these people have long since forgotten them. So there is no one to make sure they are not neglected or abused.” Photo #6 by © Darryl Moran Photography

Neglected Forest Haven and neglected patients

The photographer wrote, “Forest Haven was a children’s developmental center and mental institution in Laurel, Maryland. It was notorious for its poor conditions and abuse of patients. It opened its doors in 1925, and was shut down in 1991 by a federal court. There have since been numerous civil and class-action lawsuits involving patients and employees. During the early years, it was considered a state of the art facility. With a good reputation, this hospital set the standard for other states to follow. With declining conditions decades later, many patients filed lawsuits against the hospital for reasons of abuse, neglect, poor living conditions — even medical testing. A small morgue was all that stood between the patients and a cemetery on site where graves had been repeatedly uncovered by erosion.” Photo #7 by Jack Says Relax

Lonely bed at abandoned Forest Haven

Lonely bed. According to a 1994 Los Angeles Times article, “During the early morning hours of Aug. 8, 1989, two detectives were summoned to the grounds of Forest Haven, Washington, D.C.’s institution for the mentally retarded ‘to investigate the report of a dead body.’ At the scene, they discovered the ‘body of a B/M (black male) . . . lying on his right side in his bed in a fetal position . . . .’ Their report further related: ‘He was wearing a hospital gown and white socks with red stripes. . . . There was what appeared to be dried blood on his mouth.’ The body was identified as that of Arthur Harris, a severely retarded young man known to his family and friends as Arkie, who had spent more than 17 years institutionalized at Forest Haven.” Arkie was 5 when he was committed and only 22 when he died. Photo #8 by Forsaken Fotos

Raped, beaten, abused, neglected patients at Forest Haven

A 1998 Baltimore Sun article about neglected Forest Haven being a magnet for vandals, arsonists and ghost hunters states: “Kevin Feeheley and some old high school buddies were driving to a party not long ago when they decided to take a detour to explore a haunted village they’d heard about near the headquarters of the National Security Agency. The rumor was that government agents accidentally killed everyone in a town east of Laurel with radiation, buried their bodies in unmarked graves and left without even cleaning up. As his car’s headlights swung around a bend, Feeheley saw evidence to suggest the ghost story was true. A cluster of buildings stood in a forest clearing with their doors gaping open and curtains lolling out of shattered windows. A stone slab announced that 389 people were buried in an adjacent field.” Photo #9 by © Darryl Moran Photography

Old school slide, abandoned Forest Haven

Old school slide. Forest Haven was the site of one of the top 10 worst cases of institutional abuse in U.S. history, said Tony Records, a Bethesda-based expert on mental retardation in the Sun article. Betty Evans, a plaintiff in the 1976 lawsuit, testified, “Forest Haven is nothing but a warehouse for people. Persons are sentenced to Forest Haven without ever committing a crime. And once committed, the only way to get out is to die.” And when those residents did die, “the staff dumped them into unmarked graves in a field near the administration building. Nothing told passers-by that there were bodies beneath the grass from the first burial in 1928 until 1987, when families raised a single gray monument as a memorial to the 389 dead.” Photo #10 by Forsaken Fotos

Creepy My Little Pony at abandoned Forest Haven asylum for children

“My Little Pony,” wrote the photographer. “Among all of the buildings and decay there was a small playground, which only made things feel more creepy.” Photo #11 by StudioTempura

Forsaken playground at Forest Haven

Forsaken playground. In 1991, 66 years after it opened and 15 years after demented details were disclosed in lawsuits, the federal government finally closed Forest Haven. By then there were hundreds of reported incidents of abuse, rape, molestation, neglect and extortion. About 1,100 residents were transferred to smaller and better-supervised group homes. Photo #12 by Lost Film / Jack Says Relax

An old abandoned bus at Forest Haven

Holiday Inn Express, an old abandoned bus. In 1999, the Washington Post told the story of Elroy, “a tiny, half-blind, mentally retarded, 39-year-old” who survived Forest Haven and was living in one of those allegedly smaller, better-supervised group homes. One room over from Elroy was sexual predator “the piranha: a heavyset Forest Haven graduate who, after being sexually abused as a youth, developed a history of sexually predatory behavior.” Photo #13 by StudioTempura

Roll of film left behind at Forest Haven

The photographer wrote, “A friend found a roll of film in one of the random rooms at Forest Haven and strung it up across a window to get some light behind it. It would be a massive understatement to say that I am more than a little curious to know the story behind this movie.” Photo #14 by StudioTempura

Nature trying to reclaim forgotten children asylum ruins

Nature trying to reclaim forgotten children asylum ruins. By 1972, there were over 100 job vacancies at Forest Haven; it was so understaffed that residents could not have training and medical attention. A Developmental Disabilities expert testified, “Congress only built Forest Haven in order to exile people with mental retardation from the nation’s capital and hide them in a rural area.” Photo #15 by © Darryl Moran Photography

Empty pews at abandoned Forest Haven asylum

Empty pews with “noise noise” spray-painted on the side. One of the mothers testified, “Once committed to Forest Haven, the only way out is to die.” Photo #16 by © Darryl Moran Photography

Therapy and wheelchair at Forest Haven, abandoned since 1991

Therapy. In a 1976 lawsuit, a parent claimed her child was admitted to Forest Haven by court order in 1959. At home she “could eat with a fork and spoon; now she eats with her hands. She “regressed mentally and physically at Forest Haven.” A boy, age 13, “could read at the third grade level, hang up his own clothing, and cook simple meals.” He too regressed. Another 21-year-old plaintiff could bathe himself, but lost that skill at Forest Haven. Case after case detail the abuses and neglect. Photo #17 by © Darryl Moran Photography

Lost Souls at Forest Haven

Lost Souls at Forest Haven. One legal complaint alleged, “Doors are often locked without reason so that the residents’ movements are unduly restricted. Residents are forced thereby to regard themselves as prisoners rather than as people in need of special care and treatment.” Photo #18 by © Darryl Moran Photography

Nothing on TV, abandoned Forest Haven

Nothing on TV. Another mother told how her mentally disabled 8-year-old girl died while strapped to a bed; another female suffered burns, bruises and lacerations before she died in a urine-soaked bed; yet another died due to complications after caretakers left her strapped to a toilet. The atrocities rolled on and on. “Staff members locked dozens of residents, naked except for adult-sized diapers, in rooms stripped of furniture other than wooden benches.” Photo #19 by © Darryl Moran Photography

Overgrown Forest Haven

Overgrown. Google Map directions show this asylum was only 4.1 miles, about 7 minutes, away from the NSA and about 20 miles from downtown DC. It’s one of the city’s dirty little secrets but the decaying buildings still stand in part due to experts suggesting it should remain as a reminder to stop such heartbreaking horrors from happening again. Photo #20 by Jack Says Relax

Horrific history of Forest Haven

We only know small pieces of the horrific history of Forest Haven. By 1994, the LA Times reported, “The ultimate death toll at Forest Haven may never be known. The problem dates back at least 20 years, according to city records and interviews, when the population of the facility averaged more than 1,300. Yet the Justice Department and city only began to monitor deaths there between May, 1989, and March, 1991, while the institution was in the process of closing and roughly 200 residents remained.” Photo #21 by © Darryl Moran Photography

No answer, abandoned phone at Forest Haven

“No answer. The first of many random phones we came across while exploring Forest Haven today,” wrote the photographer. As funding dried up, children and adults were strapped down or locked in rooms. With no activity, their physical abilities and their bodies withered away; many became bedridden. Photo #22 by StudioTempura

Asbestos hell at abandoned asylum Forest Haven

Asbestos hell. A class-action lawsuit in 1976 alleged, “Forest Haven – intended as a facility for treatment, education and training, subjects residents to physical or sexual abuse, provides virtually no treatment, has no training program and neglects basic medical care. Its old, deteriorated buildings are filthy, dimly lighted, uncomfortably hot or cold and pose safety and fire hazards.” Photo #23 by StudioTempura

Patient records at forsaken Forest Haven

Patient records. Everything was left as if administrators just ran out of the building, medical files and medical equipment, social security numbers and other sensitive records. It’s the perfect storm for identity thieves. If patients are locked away, then it’s unlikely they would discover their names, SSNs and identities were stolen and sold. The finger of blame for who disregarded the patients’ privacy rights shifted back and forth yet no one took possession of the historical records. Photo #24 by Forsaken Fotos

Forest Haven Children's Center 1976 letter, no privacy for those patient records

“Forest Haven Children’s Center 1976.” The photographer wrote, “Scattered throughout the rooms were old records dating back to the 60s and 70s including visitor logs, dental xrays, and deceased records.” Photo #25 by © Rose (FroseN in Time)

Please Rush, medical specimen left behind at Forest Haven

Please Rush, medical specimen left behind. The photographer noted, “In this room there were countless medical tools scattered and broken among the dusting rot of the building including sealed packs of specimen cases and old glass vials with swollen corks capping them closed.” Photo #26 by © Rose (FroseN in Time)

Overgrown and abandoned Forest Haven building

Boys lived in the Curley Building if they could not take care of themselves. If and when they could dress and feed themselves and were toilet-trained, the male patients moved up to the dormitory dubbed “Poplar Cottage.” Residents awarded with these graduations were supposed to gain more freedom and less supervision. In the 1970s, the asylum director told the Washington Post a consequence of being so horribly understaffed, “Workers here – because of frustration and lack of help – tend to abuse residents.” Photo #27 by Jack Says Relax

Computers, government waste at abandoned asylum Forest Haven

Computers, “government waste,” noted the photographer. Photo #28 by Forsaken Fotos

Wisdom on the wall of abandoned Forest Haven

Wisdom on the wall. “Most of the time we don’t communicate, we just take turns talking.” A Pulitzer 1999 article mentions Frederick Emory Brandenburg, one of the male patients “rescued” from Forest Haven and sent into “better” and more supervised care. “The corpse measured 66 inches from blue toes to jutting ears. In a beige house on Tenley Circle, a dentist-entrepreneur lugged this cargo down the stairs into the basement and laid it to rest by the washer. The body in plaid pajamas was that of a 57-year-old retarded ward of the District of Columbia.” There are dozens of heartbreaking cases of what happened to poor souls who were moved — thanks to institutional reform — into better “care.” Did some of them have anything but horrible lives until they died? Brandenburg’s child-size wheelchair is still at Forest Haven. Photo #29 by © Rose (FroseN in Time)

School's out at Forest Haven

School’s out. A 9-year-old boy was committed to Forest Haven because he was “impossible to control, mentally slow, and suffered from seizures.” His mother claimed “all of his teeth were knocked out” when she first visited him. On her second visit, she found him naked and lined up against the wall like other patients. The caretaker was hosing all of them down for “unruly behavior.” Photo #30 by Jack Says Relax

Class dismissed at Forest Haven

Class dismissed at Forest Haven where some children were committed because of depression, homosexuality, or had a habit of running away. The latter was determined by patient records found by urban explorers. Photo #31 by © Rose (FroseN in Time)


Explore. Urban explorers say it would take many, many visits to see all the buildings and the rooms within this compound. Photo #32 by StudioTempura

Red chair, abandoned Forest Haven, aka DC Training School

Red chair at the dilapidated institute aka DC Training School. By 1978, the DOJ joined the lawsuit. The “District agreed to relocate Forest Haven’s residents and began its most ambitious overhaul, ever, of its mental health system.” DCist added, “Over the next decade and a half, patients were moved to a network of group homes, facilities where they could receive the care they’d lacked for decades and be closely monitored by local and federal authorities. The horror of Forest Haven survived until the very end: in the last three years of its existence, the death toll continued to climb. Dozens of residents died of aspiration pneumonia – a condition the occurs when food enters the respiratory system – after having been fed while laying in their beds. Court orders were filed against the District, demanding that they improve conditions for the asylum’s dwindling population, but they were never enforced.” Photo #33 by © Darryl Moran Photography

An old busted TV in one of the many rooms at Forest Haven

“Television Rules the Nation.” The photographer added, “An old busted TV in one of the many rooms.” DCist continued, “After each death, the U.S. Park Police – who had jurisdiction, because Forest Haven is located on federal park land – were called in to investigate. Geared more toward policing D.C.’s monuments and government buildings, the Park Police had no experience investigating medical malpractice or neglect. Finally, on September 29th, 1991, the last of the asylum’s 15 residents were relocated.” Photo #34 by StudioTempura

Abandoned Forest Haven asylum

DC “Mayor Vincent Gray – the director of the DC Department of Human Services at the time – shared one final memory upon Forest Haven’s closure. ‘The place was inhumane. It was a very negative experience,’ Gray told the Washington Examiner, adding that his most ‘vivid memory’ of Forest Haven was seeing nude residents paraded outdoors to be hosed down by staff members.” Photo #35 by © Darryl Moran Photography

Abandoned since 1991, Forest Haven

Betty Evans, mother of Joy, told Judge Pratt about the “constant physical abuse her daughter had been subjected to” like chipped teeth, bruises, scratches and a raw back to name a few. “Dogwood, the cottage where Joy lived, was a veritable snake pit. I once witnessed a nurse open the cottage door only to find 80 half-clad screaming women come running to the door; the nurse quickly closed it shut.” Photo #36 by © Darryl Moran Photography

Purgatory at abandoned Forest Haven

“Purgatory. A chair sitting amidst the chaos of Forest Haven.” Sometimes both children and adults were kept in cribs. Not all the workers were “monsters” and they were not told about the dangers of feeding people while they were lying flat in bed. A social worker testified, “it would take me 20 to 30 minutes to properly feed one (resident). A lot of workers were required to feed eight or 10 residents in that time. And it’s made quite clear to them that they’ll lose their job if they don’t get all their people fed.” Photo #37 by StudioTempura

Finger eating fans and reserved for chief parking, Forest Haven

Finger eating fans and reserved for chief parking. The Times investigative report claimed the judge blew off the negligent medical care given to Forest Have residents, even after the DOJ entered testimony from a registered nurse that stated, “Meal times remain a nightmare in terms of aspiration risk . . . . I continue to be horrified at the feeding techniques . . . used by staff. The sound of coughing and choking permeates the area at mealtime.” Many deaths later, the judge denied there was a “nexus between Forest Haven and dying.” Instead, the judge believed people with mental retardation “are going to die quicker and die more often than other people.” Photo #38 by © Darryl Moran Photography

Shop class or maintanence

Shop class or maintenance. Attorney Joe Tulman challenged the judge: “‘All I’m saying, your honor, is if they put me in that bed and didn’t move me every two hours, or if they put you in that bed and didn’t move you every two hours, we would end up with a high chance of dying of aspiration pneumonia. It has nothing to do with mental retardation.’ But Pratt remained unconvinced: ‘You will agree that the reason they are there in the first place is because of mental retardation?’ he asked.” Photo #39 by © Darryl Moran Photography

Surreal setting at abandoned forest haven

Surreal setting. “Tulman was now beside himself: ‘There was a case of a twisted intestine in one of the deaths. . . . If you go out and look at these folks, Your Honor, many of them have teeth that are gone. Why do they have teeth that are gone? . . . The reason these people’s teeth are rotting out is that they’re regurgitating their food constantly.'” Photo #40 by © Darryl Moran Photography

Piano at Forest Haven

The judge was also told, “People are getting sicker and sicker out there. . . . They’ve got somebody out there now who is bleeding internally. The best they can do about it is say, ‘Golly, gee. She’s bleeding internally.’ . . . This court now has the power to do the things that need to be done. You have the power to keep people from choking; you have the power to make sure people get their medical care.” Instead, the judge “closed the hearing.” Photo #41 by Forsaken Fotos

Forest Haven, doors open wide

More people died. “On May 15, 1991, Judge Pratt finally responded to the request made almost two years earlier by the Justice Department. He refused to impose sanctions. On Oct. 14, 1991, Forest Haven closed its doors forever.” Photo #42 by Forsaken Fotos

Dentists practicing in the shadows

The photographer wrote, “Say AAHHH!!! Shadows casting long illusions of old dental equipment and cracked brick walls gave no comfort to what form of torture must have happened here. But then again, I’ve never liked dentists…” Patients’ records show that many residents lost teeth, but few saw a dentist. In fact, most were “inappropriately drugged, physically restrained and were not receiving proper medical care.” Photo #43 by © Rose (FroseN in Time)

Misspelled directions for Psycho Rooms

Misspelled directions for Psycho Rooms. So ends this sad tale. Photo #44 by © Rose (FroseN in Time)

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