Monday, February 28, 2011

Gaebler Children's Center, Waltham

(Pictures are taken in two days to show how demolition progressed)

Not telling what happened in Gaebler Children's Center is worse than not being willing to know or forgetting what happened in the Waltham forest. I have been hesitant to disclose the story. Together with pictures I took, I was considering keeping the story just in my memory. But you have shared a fraction of experience of the red brick, but you chose not to tell? Like many Atomic Bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki don't want to remember and tell their experience, it is understandable that some of the ex-students are not willing to tell their experience. Some past is too painful to remember. Some past is regarded as the best not to talk about to avoid troubles. That’s not what I’m talking about.

As an outsider, I don't bear the burden many students may have. I have to have guts to tell a story of a woman who spent two years inside of the red brick. I hope sharing a little piece of information I gained through the conversation helps understanding and remembering what happened in the recently demolished psychiatric hospital for children.

Located nearby Metropolitan State Hospital (a public psychiatric hospital for adults, now a condo), Gaebler Children's Center in Waltham, MA was established in 1955 as a state psychiatric hospital the patients between 6 and 18 years old. The center was closed in 1992 and left abandoned for 18 years. The demolition project was finished in the late November, 2010.

On one cold, gray autumn afternoon, I was exploring the nature path in Waltham. The demolition project was almost finished. As I passed by a couple, we greeted. Like people say hello to each other in the woods.

"Quite a sight, isn't it?" 

Looking over the 1939 Warsaw like red brick building, our conversation naturally went to Gaebler. They asked me whether I'm from a newspaper company. I told them I'm a blogging person. After carefully examining my camera and face looking at the ruin, the woman said:

“I used to be there.”

It was surprising. But what soon came up to my mind was the cross at Metfern cemetery, a final resting place for some of the patients for Metropolitan and Fernald State School between 1947 and 1979. Dedicated by the former Gaebler children, the cross was accompanied with a very thoughtful note: Though your names are not known, Your lives will never be forgotten...

I was very curious about her life in Gaebler. While I anticipated the possibility of her hesitance telling the story to a complete stranger like me, she started talking about her experience in a quite open manner. But facing the building which would cease its existence quite soon, there was a tone of fervent obligation in her voice. The skeletal state of the building seemed to bring lucid memories back to her as well.

After the closure in 1992, the building had been boarded up to prevent trespassing. But while demolition was going on, the boards were removed, revealing the interior that only a few knew before. She pointed out an interior of a room visible from us.

“Do you see the room with a rainbow?”


“That was my room.”

It was as if she was reading my thought; I was obsessing about the rainbow room since I had noticed the painting a month ago. I was imaging what if I had been involuntarily sent to Gaebler and stuck in a room with such a "cheerful" painting. It would get on my nerve if adults thought I could be appeased by a fake rainbow. 

My mind was spinning like a doped-up hamster on a wheel, but what I did was lamely keeping a straight face to her. It was very Japanese movement of me, but why didn't I tell her? Because compared to her experience, my casual daydreaming is nothing.  

After introducing her room, she described her experience.

She spent two years in the institution in the early 80's. It was a hellish two years, it was virtually a prison or worse for her and other kids. She built many lasting friendships which helped her to get through, but the bad memory exceeds the good one with friends.

As a teenager girl, her mother's illness took a heavy toll on her. The stress coping mechanism was still developing, and she had a difficulty manifesting her anxiety and anger. The adults surrounding her were also upset by her mother's illness, and it was beyond their capacity to take care of her. That was how she was sent to Gaebler. She still questions their decision. And this is the question she has no choice but keeping tackling for the rest of her life.

Now married to an understanding husband, she firmly told me that she will not let her children experience the same, no matter what happens. I admire her strength to reflect her experience to such a positive, genuine determination. But not every children of Gaebler has the life path like her.

Every movement was restricted while she was in Gaebler. For example, she needed to go through a lengthy procedure to take a shower, even though her rainbow room was right next to the shower room. Once she was in the shower room, alone, they locked her in from outside. A simple act of taking a shower (and a vital act for a teenager girl!) becomes an enduring task.

There was no AC available. The 1955 building filled with asbestos would have been an awful place to spend a summer. Opening the windows wasn't an option; the children had no control over windows. It's such a basic, basic act that I never thought twice about when I was a teenager. Somehow I'm very particular with windows and I would go nuts if I was told I couldn't open windows by myself; I'm aware that people who engage with psychiatric care may think I'm naive, but for that specific reason, if I was sent to Gaebler, I wouldn't recover well...

Together with a tiny playground, there used to be a pool in the property. But the pool was regarded as a privilege only available for “good kids”. So "bad kids" blankly stared at the good ones in the pool from a stifling room with possibly closed windows. I'm no expert in psychiatric care, but I can see the pool activity may be restricted as safety measure. On the other hand, I can clearly say such a punitive use of privileges is not a treatment. She didn't particularly mention, but the facility was possibly overcrowded. Many staff could have been overwhelmed, and had little capacity to control the situation in order to recover the kids to society.

They used to sedate her with antihistamines. My understanding of the medicine is as an allergy reliever... Added Mar. 5: In addition to Benadryl, the staff gave children Thorazine and Valium. If the children were psychotic or suicidal, or if they were simply deemed as disobedient, they tied them up and put into the 2x2 seclusion room. The fear of being dumped into the space loomed like 1984's Room 101. Like a random dice game, there was a little predictability of the possibility of being kept in the room:
the staff at Gaebler through the use of seclusion, kept us in fear and a constant double bind. Apparently there was no clearly defined or enforced policy to guide and prohibit the use of it...Seclusion and the threat of it empowered the staff as the absolute authority. One could never be sure when or how it would be utilized by them. -- From Gaebler, Hell and Back by Andrew Palmer
Literally across Trapelo Road, an identical fear had been prevailing at Fernald School, a state run institution for children with developmental disability. According to M. D'Antonio's The State Boys Rebellion, Ward 22* was the Fernald boys' seclusion room during the 50's. However, from what I read from Alex Beam's Gracefully Insane, the patients at nearby McLean Hospital -- a privately run psychiatric hospital of which campus is landscaped by Fredrick Law Olmsted -- did not experience the identical treatment.

*the misuse of Ward 22 was rampant during the 50's due to the overcrowding and increase in the number of mismatched boys institutionalized due to learning disabilities and/or the lack of proper prior education. 

However, there is one similarity between McLean Hospital and such a state institution; underground tunnels. When McLean was planning to build a new campus in Belmont in the end of the 19th century, the idea of connecting separated wards and other buildings by underground tunnels was proposed by Olmsted and his partner Calvert Vaux. The ones in Danvers State Hospital were made infamous by the movie Session 9, but passages in McLean are less known.

No name gravestone at Metfern Cemetery

She told me Metropolitan State Hospital and Gaebler are connected by underground tunnels. The distance between the two is about 0.6 mile (1km) with steep hills. I wonder why they needed to connect the two; doctors and nurses in double shifts? But I couldn't help thinking about the possibility of the tunnel being used to carry the deceased from Metropolitan to Metfern Cemetery. The cemetery is only 0.1 mile (200m) apart from Gaebler. More than 300 patients are buried in the cemetery, but  there is no paved road access to get there; just narrow, hilly dirt trails in the woods. Things wouldn't have been awfully different when the cemetery was active.

Note: now you should wonder how close together those institutions are; check out my map...  

“You know what?” she said.

"When I was locked up there, the world seemed so small. But now I see the walls are removed, it is such a huge building. When I was there, it never occurred to me…”

The walls she banged so many times are now removed.

“Ha, nobody will hear you!" the stuff used to yell at her when she was banging the wall.

Indeed, the walls were well insulated. But there was a certain room she constantly heard banging and screaming noise. She thought she must have been hallucinating, but her friends also heard the same.

Eventually, a series of law suits during the 80's helped improve the condition at Gaebler.

She thinks back to the pre law suit time, “Back then, they didn’t know how to treat kids with problems. They simply locked them up.”

I asked her a question, “You said they drugged the kids to shut them up, not to treat them. Do you think other kind of treatment, like counseling, would have helped you and other kids?”

“No, I don’t think so. There were counselors, and we supposed to talk to them. It didn't help me.”

 I questioned her about the counselors because Andrew Palmer's depiction of counselors as authoritarian, cruel figures didn't match my stereotypical image of gentle, patient, and warm listeners, say kinda hippie type. At Gaebler, everything was upside down.

Possible asbestos removal gears on the trail

The town considered converting the school into other uses, but it appeared so much asbestos was contained that it proved too costly to rehabilitate the building. The contractor spent quite a time in removing asbestos before knocking down the building. She emailed the town inquiring the future of the building; she's still waiting for the reply.

She is basically happy to see the building is on the process of demolition; this is the place she spent two hell years, the experience that she would never be able to shake off from her memory. On the other hand, she is afraid that the demolition also means people are forgetting, or actively trying to erase the memory about the children of Gaebler. Demolishing a building is dead easy, but irreversible. She wanted the building converted to something rather than destroying it. I asked,

"What kind of conversion did you wish, like the condos they turned Metropolitan State Hospital into, or maybe a museum about the school?"

"No, I wanted the building converted to something like a school...a school for kids..."

The blazed site will be the part of the existing nature trail. No more mystery in the woods. No more creepy off limits. No more nuisance. Out of sight, out of mind.

Locate the site of Gaebler Children's Center @ Google Map

Gaebler, Hell and Back by Andrew Palmer (based on his experience at Gaebler in the mid 70's.)
Gaebler Children's Center @ Opacity
State Boys Rebellion by  Michael D'Antonio
Gracefully Insane by Alex Beam

About demolition:

Friday, February 25, 2011

Old Stone Church, West Boylston

A village sunken in a man made reservoir stirs lots of sentiments about the cruelty of modern industrial society. However, a brilliantly weird Japanese manga, Utsurun Desu. challenged our sentiment in a hilarious way.

A young couple standing together on a reservoir shore:

Woman: "My village has sunken by the dam."
Man (in a surprised tone): "So, your home is under the reservoir..."

Next scene, she suddenly wears a diving suit a la Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, and dives into the reservoir with the boyfriend. When they reach to the bottom, the parents and villagers with diving suits greet and welcome her back while they plow the field on the lake bottom.

I wish this was the case with the Wachusett Reservoir. Parts of the towns of Boylston, Clinton, Sterling, and West Boylston  were submerged by the Wachusett Dam completed in 1905. The Wachusett Reservoir was filled in 1908.

Wachusett Reservoir

The Old Stone Church is a memory of the pre-flood West Boylston. The church was belonged to Baptist Church. After the church had burnt down by the fire of 1890, a new church was built in 1892 at the same location. The fire also attacked a Catholic church called Saint Anthony's located right next to the Baptist church, but the church was never rebuilt on the same site.

Left: St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church, Right: Old Stone Church
The Catholic church must have been on the left ground

However, only five years after the completion, the church faced another trouble. The construction of the dam began in 1897, and the last service was held in 1902, six years before the reservoir was filled.

I wonder when they started rebuilding the church, didn't they hear about the rumor of the dam construction? Were they against the construction, showing their spirit by building the new church? Why wasn't the Catholic church rebuilt in the location? It all depends how the town meeting and planning were conducted in the late 19th century.

From Google Map

The above is a map of present-day West Boylston. The blue balloon is the location of the Old Stone Church. The below maps are the ones of West Boylston in 1892 and 1917; you can see which part of the town was submerged by the dam.

1892 Map of West Boylston, from MyTopo Historical Map
1917 Map of West Boylston, from MyTopo Historical Map

The community along Nashua River was swallowed by the reservoir. What caught my attention is the presence of the Massachusetts Central Railroad on the bottom right of the 1892 map; the railroad is gone in the 1917 map. Since the MCER is a short line railroad company established in 1979, the map probably indicates the Central Massachusetts Railroad ; the CMR history shows that the line under the reservoir was discontinued in 1900.

Thinking about the manga I mentioned in the begging, I cannot help imagining the underwater railway operating! I'm optimistically certain that some railroad remains are accessible by the public trails. It sounds like a great summer project. Yes, we should visit here again during the summer.

Look at the white hoodie threads. They are trailing not because the owner of the hoodie is practicing a hyper fast sweet move but the wind is so blustery. The church created a nasty funnel of wind from the reservoir. We should evacuate to the church.

Church interior
Belfry tower

All the windows are removed, creating wind whirls inside. The wind is kinda worse here... There is nowhere to hide!




A pigeon on a boarded dormer

Bunch of pigeons were sticking on the walls to avoid the cold and wind. They were looking at us, seemed to be alarmed by the presence of humans screaming from cold.

I looked down, the ground was covered by their droppings. As I was avoiding them, I was remembering about a story about a legend level Chinese delicacy called mosquito eye soup. The ingredient is collected from bats' droppings in a cave because bats love eating mosquitoes but they cannot digest the eyeballs. What could I make from the Massachusetts pigeons'...

Looking at Thomas Basin section of the reservoir

The church had been left abandoned for 70 years, resulting the roof and walls collapsed. While the interior remains stripped, the structure was reinforced in 1977. Interesting that the church is a carefully maintained ruin like the A-bomb Doom in Hiroshima.

The original interior of the Old Stone Church, photo From West Boylston Historical Society
The current interior of the Old Stone Church

The original rose window and the benches of the church are still in use at Freemasons Boylston Lodge. According to the site, after Baptist Church had left the Old Stone Church, they relocated to Boylston Common, little less than a mile south across the reservoir. The masons took over the place in 1972, and the lodge interior still has a great resemblance to the Old Stone Church.

The Old Stone Church as a structure is abandoned, but what used to be inside is still functioning, being loved and proud by the people of West Boylston.

Continue to: Wachusett Dam, Clinton

Locate Old Stone Church @ Google Map

Click Picture to read the sign

History of the Boylston Lodge: Boylston Lodge
MyTopo Historical Maps of Worcester, MA (West Boylston is in the northeast section)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Wingaersheek Beach Mansion, Gloucester

I've never been to Wingaersheek Beach before. Well, it's an expensive beach during the season. We tend to go Plum Island instead. Finally I checked out the place during the off season. Well it's a good beach; it's shallow for a good distance from the shore, the sand is powder fine, and the water is clear. The waves are gentle and so quiet!

And there is a nice Spanish colonial, possibly Mission Style, red tile roof mansion on the shore.

the mansion of the right

The Mission Style architecture was in vogue during 1890 and 1920.  Like the railroad millionaire Benjamin P. Cheney Jr. built a summer home on Calf Island in 1902, there must have been a summer home boom in the early 20th century in North Shore and some Boston islands.

Annisquam Light

From the beach you can see Annisquam Light. The current lighthouse was built in 1897. A guidebook I have says I can walk to the lighthouse from the beach at a low tide. Well, it wasn't possible when I visited.

I decided to get as close as to the mansion. Leaving Brian at the beach entrance, I walked through tide pools and  rocks, thinking what is the current purpose of the building. Private residence, country club, hotel, etc. Either way, it must be belonging to the exclusive class.

After (relatively) close examination, my initial guess was a yacht club. It's off season and all the yachts was covered with fabric like Christo's installation art. Is anybody in the house?

The windows are partially boarded. Even such a gentle beach, the winter wind and wave aren't a polite thing. When the season comes, they'll be removed, right? But why aren't some rooms boarded? I guess some rooms are used by the seasonal maintenance personnel...Oh, this reminds me of the somewhat frozen, literally genius Jack Torrance.

I headed back to the entrance. I could see a long figure staring at me in a bored manner, shivering with cold.

"Hi, I'm back", I said.

"I was guessing you would come to me with 77 steps."


"But it was 80."


Locate Wingaersheek Beach @ Google Map

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fort Revere, Hull

(Pictures taken: Aug. 2010)

Winter is still going on. I realized I've been taking nothing but pictures with the sun. People tell you escaping from the reality is bad, but who cares; and now for something completely different...Something from summer 2010.

Situated at the tip point of the Hull Peninsula, Fort Revere sits on the area called Telegraph Hill. The fort was built sometimes around in 1775. Prior to this, a warning beacon had elected for the foreign attacks.

Brewster Islands
Click pictures to enlarge

From the fort, you can see Breswer Islands. Located on the outer Boston Harbor, the Boston Light on Little Brewster Island was elected in 1716 as the first lighthouse in North America.

Boston Light, Little Brewster Island

Like WPA towers in Boston area, the fort might have functioned as a watch out station for the German U-boats during WWII. Fort Revere was dismantled in 1947 and now functions as a public park and unofficial gallery for the local delinquents armed with spray paints.

Locate Fort Revere @ Google Map

Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands by Christopher Klein

 Kid, promise with grandpa. Don't smoke and spray paint marijuana.