Our daughter Faith was a big fan of the X-Files when the show was on in Primetime, so the conversation we had while driving in Bridgeville, PA didn’t come as a surprise. As were leaving a Mediterranean Food Festival at my father’s old church, I was feeling a bit nostalgic. I hadn’t been in that church since my grandmother’s funeral in 1972. Faith asked if there was anything else in my old home town I wanted to see. I didn’t really want to see anything but I wasn’t quite ready to leave.
“Well, we aren’t very far from Mayview.”
“The state hospital where my mom worked. My dad delivered mail there. I used to deliver mail there. I worked on the farm one summer and Barb (my sister-in-law) worked there. In fact, I think my brother met her there (while visiting, none of us were residents).”
“A mental hospital?”
“Well, it’s been closed for years. They tore the buildings down but they haven’t decided what to do with the property yet.”
“Ooh, let’s go!”
Yes, let’s go. Let’s go walk around the grounds of a long since abandoned
mental psychiatric (1) hospital, crawl around on the rubble and reminisce about the good old days when the state saw fit to care for mentally ill people(1), albeit often in questionable fashion. Let’s do that.
That’s the only way to describe the feeling as we walked past dead and dying trees, on a road that was being reclaimed by nature, prompting me to say:
“This is like a scene from Life After People”
To which Faith replied: “Ooh, I love that show!”
The trees, the brush and the meandering nature of the entrance road quickly removed our car from view. Silent, alone (at least we hoped we were alone) under rather ominous skies, we walked toward the old Administration Building. That’s where my mom worked. I think that’s where Barb worked and it’s where I delivered the mail and collected the outgoing mail. It’s also where I had an accident while driving a mail truck. More about that later.
We passed the remnants of a building I didn’t remember. In Scully-like fashion, Faith began climbing over the broken bits of brick and concrete – always in search of that perfect photograph.
We were still about 100 yards from the admin building, as the road curved further around to a larger scene of destruction. We were entering the part of the hospital grounds where most of the “modern” buildings had stood. All gone. Destroyed. All memories buried in the rubble. Well, maybe not all memories.
For younger readers, the switchboard was where incoming calls were received and routed to their destination by connecting plug-wires to the destination’s corresponding socket. Mayview’s switchboard was a bit larger than the one shown here.
As we tromped around the rubble of the admin building, it occurred to me that we should be able to locate the conduit and phone wires that were concentrated at the switchboard. Every phone on the grounds was terminated that that nexus. I thought that if I could find that spot, I’d feel that something had survived. I’d feel connected. I’m just not sure why that mattered. Check out the pictures for the rest of that story.
About that accident: When I was delivering mail, I sometimes came in the back gate and turned left into the admin building crossing a wide tree-lined median as I did. Those trees and the cars parked along the side blocked my view of oncoming traffic.
Mail trucks are right-hand drive vehicles so you are closer to the parked cars on your right. Turning left was dangerous. It was one of the things they taught us in the one-day driving course we had to take.
Anyway, not being able to see well, I pulled out a little into the travel portion of the lane and immediately got smacked by a woman’s car. She was driving pretty fast, probably above the posted limit, yeah, I’m sure she was speeding. Since Mayview was a state hospital, the State Police came to the scene. When asked for my license, I presented my Federal Driver’s License – that was something else they taught us in that class:
“In the event of an accident, only give the police your Federal Driver’s License.”
When asked for insurance information, I just stood there with a dumb look on my face. The officer called the Post Office. The supervisor on duty drove out. A lengthy argument ensued. My supervisor got all the information from the woman. The woman, got, nothing, from us. Well, she got something a little later.
One of my jobs that summer was to deliver Special Delivery and Certified mail, the stuff that needed a signature. When I got out of my truck at the woman’s house a few weeks after the accident, I could see her still damaged car in the driveway. I recognized the item I was about to deliver; it was a citation from a Pennsylvania Court. When a young girl answered the door, I handed her the letter:
“This is for my mom; do you want me to get her?”
“No, honey, that’s OK, you can give it to her. Have a nice day!”
(1) No offense intended. The way we have referred to such institutions and the people therein has changed over time. Since most of them are gone, I’m not sure what the proper terms are today.
Pictures – The upper photo is the entrance to the hospital grounds. The center one is Faith, on the run to a photo-shoot. The photo of the switchboard operators is courtesy of Boston Public Library on Flickr under Creative Commons license.