• Sandi Crawford

Forest Haven Asylum



"One must wonder why the Federal Government has not leveled the land for better use but for now, the buildings are reminiscent of the abandoned city of Chernobyl…it seems as if everyone just stood up and left one day, leaving everything behind. Walking through those crumbling buildings is like exploring a time capsule..."

I have had a fascination with abandoned places and ruins for a long time. Through my quest to locate interesting locations to explore, I have found many places close to home with strange and fascinating histories and let’s face it, perfect spots for photography nuts like myself. For years I have dragged my three children along with me to explore old church ruins, the remains of abandoned schools, and what’s left of houses and old cars left in the woods to decay. My children, who once complained continuously, have cultivated my interest and have developed an obsession that rivals my own. This past October, my eldest son (who has become obsessed with hiking as well,) while searching for lessor known abandoned places in the area discovered one of the strangest, and by far the creepiest place I have visited so far.


Over by Fort Meade, the 30 or more abandoned buildings that were once Forest Haven Asylum remain, disintegrating and crumbling and while unknown to most, have become an obsession for others. One must wonder why the Federal Government has not leveled the land for better use but for now, the buildings are reminiscent of the abandoned city of Chernobyl…it seems as if everyone just stood up and left one day, leaving everything behind. Walking through those crumbling buildings is like exploring a time capsule…. The history of this abandoned institution is as fascinating and nightmarish as the decaying structures and rotting remnants of a beautiful utopia that slowly declined into a place worse than hell on earth.


History Lesson


Forest Haven Asylum in the 1950's Photo Credit: Alchetron

Forest Haven Asylum opened in 1925 to serve mainly residents of the District of Columbia and was initially a progressive facility well known for providing quality care to mentally ill or disabled children. Residents lived in a communal type farm environment and were training and support in a nurturing environment. For the first few decades that is.


By the mid-20th century, funding began to dissipate, and the institution was forced to deal with debilitating cut backs. Many of the quality programs the asylum was known for providing were discontinued and there were major reductions in staffing. Many staff members were replaced with unqualified workers who did not have the skills or experience to deliver the previously provided quality care. As the years passed the staff, unable to control their frustrations, started abusing patients physically and sexually or completely neglecting them. Eventually patients began to die at an alarming rate due to neglect and untreated resulting from abuse. Patients who died were quickly sent to the basement morgue and were secretly buried in a field next to the asylum. Apparently, the number of deaths were in the hundreds and there were rumors that medical experiments were conducted on some. Due to the controversy surrounding the treatment, disappearance and death of patients, the institution was closed in 1991.


Today the Forest Haven buildings still stand, rotting and decaying ruins that still contain rusted, rotted, and broken down remains of the original furnishings - beds, desks, chairs along with patient files, books, record albums, and painted murals. The walls are covered with graffiti, some defacing original paintings and other providing warnings and grim reminders of the horrors that once took place within those walls.


The burial field contains a monument built to acknowledge the hundreds of lives lost to unscrupulous means. Many who have visited have reported seeing children wandering through the halls and some have claimed they could hear the screams of former patients.


The Experience of a life-Time


Getting there is a challenge as well and ignoring the many Government issued “No Trespassing” signs can be difficult, especially when you are attempting to be a responsible parent. The path that leads to the asylum is creepy as well….as you get close to the road where the first buildings are located, the trees are covered with surgical masks, used by visitors to protect them from inhaling crumbling asbestos and black mold. Walking down that path and into the first building almost felt suffocating, like the energy was so heavy and dark breathing became difficult.


We visited the grounds twice in October, both times exploring a different set of buildings. We read old patient files, examined old equipment and left-over supplies, looked through piles of old books and records in what must have been the recreation room in one of the buildings, and sat breathless in an old chapel covered in graffiti and broken stained glass.


It was an experience…one like no other …one that stays with you forever. For days after, the dark, somber energy we felt walking through those halls remained…like the light within us was drained, taking several days to return to its luminosity.


Our return

We tried to return in April but, this time the guards were out in full force. A female guard approached us and at first tried to intimidate, threatening to take us into custody for trespassing. She quickly softened, telling us that recently a teenager who snuck into the asylum with some friends had fallen through the floorboards in one of the buildings since then, security had increased. I asked why the Government left the area untouched for so long. She didn’t have a response other than “maybe superstition...” Perhaps they feel that the sorrowful and suffocatingly morbid energy and the ghosts that roam those crumbling halls would remain even without the original structures…












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Sandi Crawford, 2019
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