The Nathaniel White Murder House

Abandoned

I was wearing a dress that was soaked to the gills because only 40 minutes earlier, I had gotten stuck in the rain while exploring an old Borscht Belt hotel. To top things off, the blower in my car was not blowing warm air on me. It was unseasonably chilly and I was anxious to get home.   Until I realized that my GPS was taking me very close to this house, which was on my list to explore. In fact, I never knew that it was visible right from the highway.

Believe it or not, 15 years earlier, my mother and my aunt had sought out and explored this exact same house, without the benefit of google or GPS. They found it, and were creeped out. I didn’t learn this until after I had visited. Alone.

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Scared? A little.

The real horror was 23 years ago, when I was 14. The same age as Christine Klebbe, Nathaniel White’s youngest victim.

In 1992, Nathaniel White, inspired by Robocop 2, began his killing spree. “The first girl I killed was from a ‘RoboCop’ movie… I seen him cut somebody’s throat then take the knife and slit down the chest to the stomach and left the body in a certain position. With the first person I killed I did exactly what I saw in the movie.”

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He would go on to kill a total of 6 women in the area that summer.  Cousins Angelina Hopkins and Brenda L. Whiteside, whom he met in a Poughkeepsie bar, would be found bludgeoned to death in this abandoned farmhouse. Unsatisfied by the investigation, their families began investigating on their own. When the last victim was found, police suspected a connection, and he was soon arrested at the bar where he met the cousins, identified by Angelina Hopkins’ sister.

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White is currently serving 150 years to life in the Attica Correctional Facility.

 

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The farmhouse is one of the creepiest places I’ve been. I went alone, but you can hear and see the highway from the house. It still feels very isolated. The graffiti is dead-eyed and ominous.  Half of the lower floor is completely crushed; the rooms upstairs are brightly colored despite the peeling paint. The lighting would be pretty flattering if it weren’t illuminating a crime scene. Rushing back through the tall grass to my car, I still felt uneasy.

Two weeks after my visit, the house burned to the ground.

 

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For more photos, Click to enlarge:

 

Church of the Mystic Light

Abandoned

Once upon a time, long long ago, I dated a man with city tastes who lived in the middle of NOWHERE. It was cool though, for I grew up in the middle of nowhere too, just a different nowhere to be in the middle of.

We had been dating for too long by the time I first was able to go to his house. This was before having GPS on your phone. Heck, it was before there was much of a signal on this dark, windy, country street. I was nervous, excited, and ready to demystify this house of his. Driving up there, I felt a little giddy, and joked with myself that this felt like the beginning of a horror movie.

I passed this dark church several times, trying to figure out if, on my printed out directions, going STRAIGHT meant following the road that curved sort of to the right, or going literally straight onto another road.

The church didn’t look like much, other than a dark church in front of a dark sky, with a dark cornfield across the street. I didn’t know where I was supposed to go.  I called him from my flip-phone. (it was a new COLOR flip-phone, y’all!) I described the area. and he knew just the church I was talking about. I could hear the wind blowing inside his house, through the phone as I spoke.

“Are you by that creepy little church?”

YES.

For the next 6 months of our relationship, this church was always something we were curious about. It looked abandoned, but apparently was not. It had a funny name that made it seem like either it was run by hippies, satanists, or a cult. We joked that maybe if we got up early on a sunday, we’d show up there and hope that we didn’t burn or get sacrificed.

Fast forward to 11 or so years later. My current partner and I were hiking up in the middle of nowhere. The same middle of nowhere. Spontaneously, i decided to send the GPS down that same curvy road. As I passed a section where any love-struck, stupid, mind-wandering, 20-something year old girl on her way to a booty call might get confused on which road was straight and which was not straight, there it was. The creepy old church.

 

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It looked even more abandoned than it did 11 years ago. I pulled over and left the car running, left my boyfriend IN the car, and went to take a photo of it. A few of the windows in the back were open. I peeked in. Definitely abandoned! The double-wide outhouse (so you can hold hands while you poop?) was ALSO definitely abandoned. I ran back up to the front, and to my surprise, the door was open. Car still running, boyfriend still sitting in the car, I did a quick sweep of upstairs.

 

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the tin ceiling was covered in black mold. The chairs, the first time i was there, were arranged in a  circle, a few melted candles around. A burned bible. A hideous easy chair with a toy snowman and a bumbo the clown in it. A piano, an asian arch, a pulpit, a jack o lantern. Hymn books. The front vestibule had lots of free pamphlets on things like AIDS, safe sex, depression, and things like that. It seemed like a fairly liberal church. However, my boyfriend, I was sure, was stewing in the car, so I made plans to come back after work one night.

 

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And, so I did, but not before getting a little history on the place from someone who worked next door.

The church was small and only held services once or twice a week. There were only a handful of parishioners, and they were, well, weird, but very friendly. There was no running bathroom and the facilities were literally the outhouse around back. Hurricane Sandy, or maybe Irene, he couldn’t remember, hit, and the entire basement of the building was underwater. After that they pretty much never saw anyone from the church again, and it began to rot. Vandals stole the trippy sign outside with its funky name. Teenagers from the local high school came by to have seances. And the place continued to rot.

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So when I finally got in this time, the chairs were arranged in neat rows. Artificial flowers, which had been strewn around the place, were now neatly arranged. It almost looked like it was waiting for people to come to a service. There was yet another bumbo the clown sitting in the pews with the first one. I dropped my fisheye lens twice in here, ultimately screwing up its ability to focus AND scratching it up. Fortunately, I was able, a few days later, to fix the focus issue, at least for now.

 

Alas, I hadn’t planned on taking most of the last bit of daylight getting the history of the place, so, as the sun went down behind the stick-on minimalist stained “glass,” I packed it in after only about 10 minutes inside and vowed to come back.

 

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Come back, I did, this time with backup. We went downstairs, and lo and behold, I could see a water line around the whole downstairs, about 3 1/2′-4′ up, where the place was underwater. There was a kitchen, a small office, and a small living room/library area with lots of books, many of them on more liberal church topics, some of them traditional. And there were even more of those damn bumbo the clowns down here.

There were some photo albums of events that took place there, and I was very excited about this, but alas, the emulsion was all melted off of most of the photos from being underwater for so long.

I’ve been back a couple more times, and boy-howdy, does it get worse each time.

Click through for more photos:

Rutherford Stuyvesant Estate

Abandoned

In the rolling hills of Allamuchy NJ, once stood this expansive mansion on an enormous piece of property. The farmland below was called Tranquility Farms, and it and the mansion were home to the Rutherford-Stuyvesants, direct descendants of Peter Stuyvesant, of New York City Historical fame.  Visitors passed the farmland and came to an impressive gate, which led them up the hill to this mansion.

One thing: if you can’t handle profanities or really explicit descriptions of weird sex acts, you might want close your browser now. Ok.

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The 50+ room  mansion, built in the 1700s, burned to the ground in the 50s, was bulldozed in the 60s, and in the 70s became state property as a part of Allamuchy State Park. There, time and weather, and bored country kids with spray paint,  were not kind to the outbuildings and remaining architecture. One gentleman, with an axe to grind with Eminem, someone named Palmer, and a host of other characters, quickly took to covering every surface with his grievances.

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Not one orifice, body fluid, zoo animal, genital, sex act, family member, etc, were spared in his diatribe. His canvases were varied; walls, windows, ceilings, carpets, cabinets, boats, beds, barns., steps, shutters, shitters.  Some of his work can also be seen in the Hackettstown Slaughterhouse, only a few miles away, but its not nearly as prolific.

 

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That’s my Mom on the SS Mother F-er.

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My favorite building was an old red farmhouse with dormers and a cupola on top. Often, shiny black turkey vultures could be seen watching the countryside from the peak, or sometimes the chimney. This building was mostly spared the profane paint job- on the outside anyway. The inside was full of the mysterious artist’s ire about many celebrities, and people he knew in real life.

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Heckel and Jeckyl.

Over the years of visiting, the buildings started mysteriously catching fire and burning down, eventually leaving not much but a shed and the beautiful red building.

And then on one April evening in 2017, That too burned to the ground.

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I was able to visit one last time, just two days after the fire. I had gotten a new car and was taking it for a ride. The smoke curled around all that was left of the red building; a brick fireplace, a couple charred beams. No more were the insults to Palmer, Kerry, or Mrs. K. Standing there, smelling char as the sun went down and the crickets came up, I felt strangely not alone. I looked up to see one turkey vulture sentinel, unimpressed by the loss he or she was surveying. I have no doubt his companion was nearby doing the same.

 

Lusscroft Cabin

Abandoned

We had all heard the story before, when it was being told to our campers. But now, as a bunch of teenagers who were mostly counselors ourselves,  yet we all sat mesmerized on the built in brick benches in front of the fire, huddled, as Garrett told the story of Rudolf, a grieving mother who went crazy and sought vengeance on the counselors who’s negligence caused her son’s death.

 

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I was 16 years old in the 90s, and a volunteer camp counselor for one week every summer, but this was not a camp event. The same pool that the counselors were drawn from overlapped heavily with the 4-H Teen Council, and this was our Halloween Party.

Earlier in the day, I had hiked up the hill to the cabin in Roller Skates with duct tape over the wheels. I didn’t really think it out when I chose to be Tootie from The Facts of Life, both because of the obligatory footwear that were NOT appropriate for hiking up a mountain, and also, because I was not yet woke to the concept, and problems of black face. So I was, inappropriately Tootie to Lis and ChristaMary’s Blair and Natalie.

 

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Censored because I didn’t know any better.

 

Later in life I would try to retell the story of Rudolf,  but nobody could do it as good as Garrett could. He spoke slowly and deliberately, but conversationally. Matter of factly. In sync with the crackling logs and the katydids in the trees just outside. Rudolf’s son was killed because, like many slasher films before and after, horny teenager counselors flirting and getting it on instead of supervising.  She was driven crazy with grief and locked away. Slowly forgotten about, she lived in the dark and grew claws and became almost animal like. She escaped, forgot how to speak, and roamed the woods for the rest of her life, wailing and running through the woods, living on animals, waiting to exact revenge on counselors. The story was one part Friday the 13th, one part The Wailing Woman.

The cabin we sat in, warming our hands and drying our eyes, was no ordinary cabin.  At the time, it was owned by Rutgers Cooperative Extension, which ran the NJ 4-H program, which is why we were using it. It sat up in the woods, near the Appalachian Trail, as an offshoot of the nearby Lusscroft Farm. It was built in 1930 by James Turner for his brother Dr. William Turner. Much of the wood was scavenged from other houses. in the left alcove is a strange wood panel from Amherst Castle in Kent, England.  Built in “Arts and Craft” style, there was some whimsy in its design; outside there were concrete animals as decorations on the wall, and a cameo, possible that of Dr. Turner himself. The lodge itself overlooked the Kitatinny Valley.

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From 1956-1975, the lodge served as a dormitory for a Forestry program, but then it was used for various 4-H Youth programs, along with the farm (I myself was a counselor at the camp on the farm the first year I was a counselor!) until low enrollment in 1996 caused the camp to close (We continued to use the other camp, at Stokes.) and the EPA took ownership. At that point, the cabin in the woods was sealed up, and slowly began to decline.

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A lot of stories come from the generation of counselors before me. Stories of teenage seances happening there, possession, a creepy profile on the outside of the building that would laugh a demonic laugh at night, and a story about how the house was built with coffins (and corpses) embedded in the wall. . While a quick look and think at the thickness of the wall tells you this is logically not possible, the strange oak panel does resemble a pair of ornate coffin ends.

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I visited the cabin on a hike this spring. Looking forward to seeing the owls and cameo on the facade, I found the doors easily opened. Inside smelled like a dead animal. The floors had giant holes in them (no doubt probably with dead animals under them.) The loft, while seemingly in good shape, seemed underwhelming because most of the natural light was blocked off by boards on the windows.

What the future holds, for this building, I don’t know, but NJ is not very good at protecting its historical buildings.

 

For now, it sits in the woods, forgotten, like Rudolf.
Click a thumbnail for more photos:

Mary Ann Perigo and the Secret Garden House

Abandoned

One day,  in the early 90s, some friends and I were wandering around the Delaware Water Gap area. We came to a graveyard on Old Mine Road, with lots of old graves. I loved old graves, loved seeing the people that lived long, long lives, and the ones that were cut super short, and wondering what their stories were. In this graveyard, the graves were mostly much older, but there was a really unique one, for a veteran from the 70s or 80s that was made of lucite.

A single stone far away in the back caught my eye, and we headed back there. It was the grave site of a Mary Ann Perrigo, who died in the 1800s at 14 years old. On her grave was a dirty doll with blonde hair, and next to it, a bag with a note in it, and a photo copy of a handwritten memo.

I can only paraphrase the note, but when i read it, I got chills. It read:

Dear Mary Ann,

As I sit here, and close my eyes, I can almost feel your breath on my neck. It is very still, and if I concentrate, it is like you are right there beside me. Perhaps you are. Love, the Gracious Ghost”

The second piece of paper was a photocopy of someone’s handwriting, with a single sentence:

Mary Ann Perrigo was killed by a wagon train on Old Mine Road.

For years, I wondered who this girl was, why she was there, where the rest of her family was, how she really died, and who was sitting at her grave, bringing her a doll, writing her letters, and hoping she would appear.

I visited several times a year. I was hoping I would run into the letter-writer, but I never did. The second time I visited, around 1995, there was a teddy bear added to the grave.

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Eventually, this became the spot I would go to if I skipped school; wandering around here at the time between when my parents would arrive home and when I would arrive home. The old houses on the road, abandoned leftovers of Eminent Domain from the Tocks Island Project, fascinated me.

From Wikipedia:

A 1950s proposal to construct a dam near Tocks Island across the Delaware River was met with considerable controversy and protest. Tocks Island is located in the Delaware River a short distance north from the Delaware Water Gap. In order to control damaging flooding and provide clean water to supply New York City and Philadelphia, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed building a dam. When completed, the Tocks Island Dam would have created a 37-mile (60-km) long lake between Pennsylvaniaand New Jersey, with depths of up to 140 feet. This lake and the land surrounding were to be organized as the Tocks Island National Recreation Area. Although the dam was never built, 72,000 acres (291 km²) of land were acquired by condemnation and eminent domain. This inciting environmental protesters and embittering local residents displaced by the project’s preparations when their property was condemned. After the Tocks Island Dam project was withdrawn, the lands acquired were transferred to the oversight of the National Park Service which reorganized them to establish the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

The houses were old and interesting in their own right and there was one in particular (which plays heavily in the film above) that I loved. It was a stone house that had a small greenhouse attached to it, a pink carriage house, detatched from it, and a secret arch that lead to a garden area, complete with a small bridge. This area thrilled me as much as the cemetery did, but the house and carriage house were sealed up like for knox; I had to be satisfied with the grounds.

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A few years later, in college, we made the film above about Mary Ann and used the Secret Garden house as a backdrop.

As the years went by, and Mary Ann was featured in Weird New Jersey (I submitted an early letter and a photo, as did one other person at the same time.) the grave stone got harder and harder to read as weather, and people touching it eroded it.  The grave site became littered with more mementos for the dead girl that no one knew. Rocks, coins, flags, tamagotchis, eventually it looked like a garbage can. And the little blonde doll eventually disappeared.

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One time, my mother and I went to visit the area. There was a board that was loose in the secret garden house, and we were able to walk inside of just one room- it had blue shelves built into the wall. I was thrilled, but the next time I was there, it was closed up. This may have been one of my very first “explores.”- I just didn’t know it.

Over the years, Mary Ann’s grave got trashier and trashier looking, with cheap baubles and nicknacks littering it. The stone became completely illegible, and was replaced by a new one donated by the Sandyston Township Historical Society.

 

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Some historians have dug up some really interesting information about Mary Ann, that you can read here and here.
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The Secret Garden House is in a sad state of repair, and I fear it will be gone soon. There is a giant hole in part of the house, big enough you could drive my Hyundai into it. If other doors weren’t already open, I would have walked in through the hole. The plank flooring is all coming up, the railing on the staircase, which must have been impressive at one point, was gone. The third floor is nothing but holes leading down to the second floor. The blue shelves I had seen 12 years ago or so were still there. I didn’t see a kitchen, but there was one room I didn’t get to. There were several fireplaces, one with shoes hanging from it. The bathroom had very colorful wallpaper, and was exposed completely to the elements. The garden area was way overgrown (but its always been, as long as I’ve been there, and trash is all over. The Carriage House was open too, but full of murky gross water, so maybe next time. If it still stands. The last time I was in the house, there was the corpse of a mother bear, pinned by debris, and what looked to be a dead cub or cubs. They had probably spent the entire winter and then some, dead, in the house.

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Here are some photos of the Secret Garden House:

South Middle School

Abandoned

Would you believe me if I told you that I lived, for 6 years, less than a block away from an old art deco middle school that was abandoned and shuttered, and never did anything about it?

Its true. Upon the dissolution of a relationship serious enough to share a small space with another human being,  I moved home for a couple months and then moved into a large apartment in an old house in Bloomfield, NJ, by myself. The apartment was owned by the family of a friend of mine. I took my 1000 square foot place and turned it into a place that was mine and mine alone. During the time I lived there I had a lot of excellent adventures, both with and without friends, but somehow, I never ventured to the school up the street. I was barely interested. Abandoned places interested me, but I could barely buy groceries- making bail on a trespassing charge was even less interesting to me. It also never occurred to me back then that “regular” people could enter giant abandoned places. My world of abandoned adventures really started and stopped with little houses in the woods.

Years later, while running errands, I found myself in Bloomfield, and I ended up parking within shouting distance of both my old house and Bloomfield Jr. High School.

 

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Bloomfield Junior High School, or South Middle School, was opened in 1939, as a magnet school for the arts. In the front of it, you can see the terms “THEATRE” “MUSIC” and “SPEECH” carved into the walls.

I can’t find much of the history of the school while it was active, but it closed in 1987 and has been shuttered ever since. Much of the interior is gutted, but it still looks very much like the halls of the schools I attended, but fancier, with its glass block entrance ways.

 

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Much of the buildings exterior is covered with greenery, and it was easy to slink in and forget that you are just a mile or so from Newark. When I visited, there was one point where I was surrounded 360 degrees by green lush- a welcome thing, as spring was just beginning and winter kept rearing its head. I found a weak spot, and entrance, and slipped through the boards into what looked like a dark, creepy school.

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If the hallway was dark in one direction, it was beyond black in the other direction. All of the windows, save where I got in, were boarded up, some affording a little bit of light through the cracks at the top. I checked out a couple of rooms near to where I entered, promptly got the jim-jams, and left, vowing to return.

 

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Two months later, I took the day off to help a friend- under the condition that she keep me company while checking out an old building. So, off we went, where it was even greener now that it was June.

 

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We wandered the halls for quite some time. Occasionally we’d hear a noise, and I have to wonder if people live in here, being so close to Newark. At this point in my life, I had never run into a squatter before. That would change someday, but not today.

The halls were very, very dark, and there were so many staircases that it was easy to lose track of where you were. There weren’t any desks or chalkboards or remnants of the days when the bells rang clear and crowds bustled in the hall, and we never made it to the gym or the cafeteria. But it was all worth it, once we came upon the auditorium on the second floor- covered in bird shit, with a blinding shaft of light from where the windows were not covered, it was a sight. A few birds were loose in it and their wing-flaps echoed across the stage.

 

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What it must have been like, to be an urban kid, selected to go to this special school, on that stage, in that light, voice booming, during a school performance. Some people go to abandoned buildings hoping to find haunted things, but to me, these kinds of things are the real ghosts- moments that were and aren’t anymore, that we get a quick glimpse of before we blink our eyes and return to the muck and the mud and the smell of mold and bird shit.

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My friend started cursing out her camera phone for not focusing on a bird that was crossing back and forth across the auditorium, when I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach; I had only seen one way in (short of maybe traversing the boiler rooms in the basement- there were plenty of basement windows to crawl though, and I had no interest in that. Dirty puddles skeeve me out, especially the kind you can’t see that might be as deep as I am tall.) So, I told her we needed to leave. She was insisting on getting a shot of the damn bird that was still flying back and forth, its squawk echoing and adding to the mild panic that was starting to build.

 

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I’d like to say we found our way out right away, that my worries were for nothing. Barring that, I’d like to say we got lost for hours and it was a grand adventure, or at least found the gym, but really we just got lost enough for me to get bitchy at my friend.

Finally we made our way out. It was a pretty rad day, and I had just enough time to pop into another small, but favored, abandoned spot after dropping her off at home.

Over the past few years, there have been several plans to redevelop the building, most recently into urban housing. Nothing has really materialized yet.

And the Winner is…

Abandoned

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As mentioned awhile back, I couldn’t have been more excited that the film I edited, Greystone Rising, was selected as an official selection for the NYC Drone Film Festival. I met Jody on site at Greystone. She already had an editor for the project, but I wanted in. When my grandmother fell and broke her hip in NYC while visiting us, I sat in the hospital playing with some of her footage. We both quickly realized that we had the same vision, and created something I am very proud of. The icing on the cake was some spoken audio provided by interviews done by our friends at Antiquity Echoes. The result was amazing:

This was the first time I got to see something I did (outside of student projects in college..) on the big screen. Dave joined me at the Director’s Guild Theatre, where we were met by Jody and Mike, Christina and Rusty of Antiquity Echoes, Robert, who is a huge friend to the preservation movement, and Robert Kirkbride, a descendant of Thomas Story Kirkbride and another advocate for the preservation of these beautiful buildings.

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Our film filled up the screen and everyone was quiet as Greystone came back to life. Then, they announced the winner.

It was a wonderful moment for all of us. Every person in our group played their part in trying to physically save the building, or, saving it in some non-tangible way, whether through art or advocacy, entertainment or education, books, films, lectures. In a way, we (and I’m including a vast number of people I was lucky enough to meet who were not in this room!) really did bring Greystone back in a way.

By the way, Rusty and Christina have a book coming out about Greystone in a few months, its available for preorder at amazon. I expect it to be an amazing tour of the history, both good and bad, and the preservation attempts. I’ll also have a photo in there. If you are at all interested in Greystone, or scratch your head and wonder why I spent so much time staring at a building last summer in particular, please support my friends and preorder this book:

Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital (Images of America) https://www.amazon.com/dp/1467116491/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_hrBOBbSTJFJJB

 

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