X-Files Photo Shoot

imageOur 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.”

“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.

Creepy.

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 imageScully-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.

My mother had been a switchboard operator at the hospital. imageOver time, she became the switchboard supervisor.

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.

34 thoughts on “X-Files Photo Shoot

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    1. Standing or not, these place bring creepy thoughts to mind. There are places like this everywhere and like you say, you know exactly what they are. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  1. We had Agnew State Hosp. many years ago. I grew up with stories of it being haunted. Most of the land was sold to developers and those building were torn down, but it’s not been abandoned. Property is a precious commodity here. Now it’s an office complex, and homes! I’m not positive, but some of the hospital may still be there working.

    Every time I pass by the land I think…”it’s still creepy, and haunted!” Somethings take awhile to outgrow I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I so enjoyed your post Dan. Going back to places like that which were at one time so much part of our lives can be quite an experience. Loved the images. Amazing how nature will always reclaim her ground.

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    1. Thanks Don. It was good to find a connection but I’m ready for nature to take this place back. I can’t say that I’m in favor of development though. I’m not sure if want to live or work there. Some people spent their entire lives there. Others, their entire careers. I am glad that the history was documented.

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  3. Things crumble, and we are always left with only memories of them. Roads taken over by weeds, lonely leafless trees dying by the roadside, piles of rock and metals, defunct hydrants, etc–to remember that a great building was once there in which life actively went on and from which people made a living inspires a deep sense of nostalgia . One is also apt to be struck by a sense of impermanence of the hand of man. At the end, all we have are memories.

    While watching a National Geographic video, I saw remnants of a WWII war tank under the ocean, and was shaken by the thought that it had been a remarkable achievement to those had built it and those who had operated it. It had been a dream realized. Even a source of great pride. Yet there it was rotting impotently under the sea, the makers forgotten, the operators gone. I was chilled.

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    1. It is chilling to see significant portions of your past reduced to rubble and reclaimed by nature. Conservation of mass and energy doesn’t mean that things stay the same. Thanks again Peter for extending the story here.

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    1. Thanks Maggie. I actually thought about taking the cornerstone but it was pretty heavy and we were a long way from our car and I wasn’t really sure why I wanted it. It is sad. I think it would have been scarier if the buildings were still standing, but from what I’ve read, we wouldn’t have been able to get on the site if that had been the case.

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  4. Another great post, and I think I could channel a lot of your emotions from that day. Mental institutions notwithstanding (i have no experience with them) your photos and journey into your past seem to evoke the same kind of melancholy and sense of diminshment I feel when revisiting old haunts (no pun intended).

    Even when memories are good ones, the physical locations and structures are gone, replaced, dilapidated or always smaller in stature than I remember them being in my past. The people in the memories, including me, have undergone the same … disappearance …

    This post so neatly – in photos, words, seeking more info about parents’ pasts, your former job, and Faith witnessing the remnants – it’s a big part of what these later years are about for those of us who are thinkers, ruminaters, musers. Passing the torch in our most elemental way – with our nuclear family.

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    1. Thanks Sammy. I think you summarized that day better than I could. I’m going to forward your comment to Faith and tack on “what she said.” Thanks again for stopping by, commenting and helping me explain the very curious emotional day I had. The church basement (pictured in previous post) is a great example of a place I remember being so much larger than it is. The last time I was in the basement, I was probably 10 or 12 and the room seemed cavernous. It was filled with women, many of whom were smoking, all of them playing Bingo and talking. We walked in a few weeks ago and I was like: “what? this is it?”

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  5. You’re right, Dan. A setting like this would be perfect for an X-Files. I’d really enjoy knocking around a place like this. Glad you included so many pics! Speaking of creepy story ideas and abandoned hospitals, you may want to check out the movie “Session 9” sometime. O_o

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  6. Dan – really chilling post! in a good way – and I enjoyed traveling with you and your daughter. Also – my husband and I were just attacking about phones and the times of switchboard operators and we shared how we knew little of them – mostly from movies. I will have to show him this post – because the wire rubble is quite a thing to view.
    I am not sure of the correct term today, but we used to call them mental hospitals too – great post!

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    1. I had planned to include a link to this video showing switchboard operators at work – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDTrWRGqpaY My mother had worked on a board that large when she worked for a department store in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, I had to edit that out to keep this story close to my self-imposed word limit. The board at the hospital was quiet a bit smaller. Ironically, one of the things I’m responsible for at work is the phone system. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment.

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      1. well thanks for the link – and regarding the “self-imposed word limit” – I know folks are mixed on those things, but I think it can be a very helpful boundary :)
        have a great week

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  7. It’s not at all the same thing, really, but I found myself thinking of ruined Manderley in the novel Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier as I saw your pictures. I enjoyed looking at your pictures, many of which capture the wistfulness you express in your account of the day.

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    1. Thanks Sandi. There are so many memories tied up in that place. I worked on the farm one summer after the State had been forced by a lawsuit to stop having the patients work. Some of the patients still came to the farm each day. The farm work was meaningful to them and they didn’t understand why they couldn’t do it. I felt so bad, as if I had taken their job. So many patients and employees, it was a huge operation and then it was gone. Thanks for your comment.

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  8. Dan, what a day you had on that trip! And what a post, poignant, funny, and creepy. The Youtube clip that you shared in the comment to ‘Y’ reminded me of the party line my grandparents had. Did you ever have those? The telephone line was shared by several houses on the street. You had to listen for your particular ring, to be sure the call was for you. There was a lot of “listening-in” – eavesdropping on others calls.

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    1. Thanks Jill. Yes, we had a party line with one other family until I was 10. The relatives we would visit every summer in rural Virginia had a four-party party line for as long as I knew. They were all related, so they would ask each other to cover their calls if they were going to be out and were expecting a call. Like a human answering machine.

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  9. I would swear that place is haunted, Dan. I got the creepiest feeling looking at the pictures as though the energy of that institution was still hanging about. Loved your story about the mail accident …. Hope you didn’t loose your job over that. I also used to go as a child to a Summer Retreat in buildings that used to be used as a TB Hospital. Again, like your pics, I was always feeling spooked as though spirits were walking about. Then throw in the fact that Lily Dale (a “psychic/spiritualist center” was at the bottom of the huge hill these buildings stood upon. Every time their bells tolled, my stomach would do flip flops. *goosebumps* GREAT POST!!! I really enjoyed reading this, Dan!!! (((HUGS))) Amy

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    1. If any place is haunted Amy I’d say this one is. Hopefully not by the ghost of the woman who hit my truck. I kept my job. My mom retired while the hospital was still running but the slow close had begun. Thanks for adding to the story with your own haunted venue.

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  10. Ooohhhh wish I could have joined you. Big X-Filess addict here. But it looks like a lovely piece of property. My Mom worked as a switchboard operator too. For Sears and the phone company awhile. Wow. We used to p,ay with an antique discard headpiece she once brought home. I had forgotten all about that. So sorry about that awful accident Dan. Thanks for the memories though….😊

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    1. My mom worked for Kaufman’s in Pittsburgh. 11 or 12 stories and the switchboard was on the top. I used to love to visit that room with her. I remember the activity and the noise. If you think about it, those (mostly) women were an early version of the store’s website – maybe better. All you had to do was call and ask. thanks for the comment.

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  11. We always loved to pick her up from work in the evenings because we got to go to the Sears candy counter and pick out a treat! I usually got chocolate stars..good times indeed. Yes, they were the ehartbeat of those companies Dan.

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  12. I knew a place in Lonavala, not too far from my sister’s. It was a torn down bungalow. The people used to believe that something wrong happened and since then the place has been cursed. Many tried to replace it with a new bungalow, but either some construction accident would happen or someone would die. Finally, a couple managed to built their home there and guess what one morning the couple was found dead. autopsy reports said they both died of severe heart attack which was quite surprising. However, so far no one has seen any ghost there or witnessed any paranormal activity, but that particular piece of land still remains empty.

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      1. Guess what? I used to hide in that bungalow when we all cousins used to play hide and seek. It is only when I was told not to go in there, I almost pissed in many pants. Did I just went and hide in a haunted bungalow? Surprisingly, I experienced nothing in there as long as I didn’t knew. Now, that I know, my mind plays tricks on me.

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