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Taunton State Hospital


Taunton State Hospital was once a lovely example of the massive Kirkbride asylums that once dotted our countryside. Hospitals of this type were self-contained cities, but as with many of these amazing buildings, most of Taunton was shut down in 1975 and left to the elements. Fire and water revised Taunton, changing one's focus from the elegance of the mid 19th century architecture to the tragedy of its undoing. Despite its historic, architectural, and social significance, Taunton State Hospital was demolished in 2009.

Visiting Taunton was one of the most daunting tasks I've undertaken. Though the fence was wide open for a time before it was torn down, when i went there was still the 15-foot 'climb-proof' fence surrounding it, motion sensor cameras, and department of mental health police stationed on the property. As chronicled further in the individual photograph descriptions, we went at four AM. I didn't think I'd be able to make it over the fence, but Ryan and Justin gave me a boost and before I knew it I had scrambled down the other side and was hiding in the tall grass, waiting for the others to join.

We watched the sun rise over the ruins of the auditorium and cafeteria on the steep slate roof, and spent the day in a building I could have visited hundreds of times and never fully cataloged. Several times throughout the day we had to hide from DMH police. At one point we spent an hour in a perilous spot in the attic peering out of a cupola etched with the names of builders who had no doubt passed long ago. Another, one of the others in the group walked by an officer directly on the other side of a collapsed wall: suddenly we all were running, further and further into the darkness of the basement. Ryan led us into a tunnel maybe three feet high, where we sat and waited some more with aching backs and lungs full of dirt and dust as he watched through a grate above for signs they had left.

I think back about it sometimes and it seems like something that must have happened to someone else. Taunton was so much larger than life, so amazingly unique. I couldn't have climbed a fence like that and made it past the cameras and police, could I? I couldn't have spent the day in a building that enormous and decayed, sprawling off forever like the ones I've dreamed of since I was a child, or hidden in cobweb covered tunnels that had been abandoned for decades. But somehow I did, and my pilgrimage was met with a vision of something both fearful and divine. It was too much to translate in any medium, an experience far too powerful to ever be communicated to anyone.

I never saw Taunton State Hospital again. It has taken my story and hundreds of thousands of others with it to wherever old buildings go when they are bulldozed, but I will carry that day with me in my heart as long as I live until I too am gone. Even after I am no longer alive to carry it, that point in time will remain, perhaps hidden but intact nonetheless. I still have the pictures, though. Fleeting and inadequate as they are, they are the only tangible record I have to present to you of a place I believe to be conclusive proof that nothing ever dies.

If you'd like to learn more about the story of Taunton State Hospital, it is a featured chapter in the new Abandoned America book Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online booksellers across the globe. For more information on where to get it or how to purchase a signed copy follow this link. Photographs and unattributed text by Matthew Christopher. For more images click the thumbnails below.