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What Should We Do With Abandoned 'Insane Asylums?'

A group is arguing for the adaptive reuse of 19th-century mental hospitals.
The former mental hospital in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, now houses an artists residency program, but long-term plans for the campus are up in the air.
The former mental hospital in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, now houses an artists residency program, but long-term plans for the campus are up in the air.Courtesy of Robert Kirkbride

The 2001 horror movie Session 9, set in the abandoned Danvers State Mental Hospital in Danvers, Massachusetts, tells the story of five workers who become caught up in the history of a patient who once lived there. The terrifying, murderous past becomes the equally terrifying and murderous present against the backdrop of the dilapidated structure, which operated as an asylum from 1878 to 1992. The film crew reportedly deemed the building so chilling that it merited no additional set design.

While the film does unnerve viewers, it also offers insight into the stigma surrounding “insane asylums”—a reputation working against the preservation of these historic structures.