Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Road Trip: Haunted Waltham, MA

Imagine a sterile hallway, painted a soothing shade of off-white to calm the frayed nerves of the patients locked behind metal doors. The eerie sounds of whimpering, crying, laughing, and talking, dampened by the steel, glass, and concrete, permeate the hallways. Down at the other end of the hall, a pair of double doors swings open and a pair of hulking orderlies escort a young patient, eyes glued to the floor, towards his windowless room. The reflection off the polished floor of the hallway shows the young man's dead eyes, limpid inky pools, like staring into a singularity.

These are the images that came to mind as I read about the Metropolitan State Hospital, one of the many supposedly haunted places within the town of Waltham in Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. As someone who has always been intrigued by the occult, digging through a variety of sites to locate some background on the exact locations of the various haunted places in this small suburban community tickled my sense of adventure. I was stunned to find so many potentially haunted places crowded into a single stretch of one single road, each location with its own rather sordid history. Out of sheer curiosity, and perhaps a bit of thrill seeking, I decided to take a morning ride to visit a few of these sites.

There are many roads that lead to Waltham, the majority of which run through various suburbs of the Boston metro area. Find the right time of day on the weekend and those roads can be ridden devoid of most traffic. I had the good fortune to come across one of those times and was able to enjoy a relaxing ride through lush greenery as I wound my circuitous path through several towns to finally arrive in Waltham. The town itself is largely residential, with a few blocks of shops that make up its downtown area. It is a small and quiet community, which makes the presence of several of these institutions all the more intriguing.

My first stop was, as it would turn out, my most prolific. Traveling down the road, I could see the sign ahead that indicated the Fernald School. The campus, which still actively serves as an institution for the developmentally disabled, covers a vast 186 acres of property and is composed of a large number of buildings, roads, and structures of all kinds that make the place feel much like a small self-contained town. Riding through the gates, there was an uneasiness in the air, exacerbated by the rather shoddy condition of the main paved road running through it along with the condition of several of the buildings. Piles of rubble, overgrown vines, boarded up windows, and a persistent silence made the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. The only sound, despite the presence of various recently driven cars, was the thrumming of my bike's exhaust echoing off the walls of the buildings.

Eschewing the main road, I gathered myself and started to tread down some of the side streets, trying to identify any signs of life. Passing an abandoned library, beyond a machine shop with several rundown and rusted vehicles parked next to shiny brand new maintenance trucks, I could make out the silhouette of a smoke stack at the bottom of the hill. Arriving at the rotting hulk of what appeared to be a plant of some sort, I stopped to capture the scene before continuing on.

Arriving back at the central point of the property, I saw a cluster of buildings to my right that warranted some further exploration. Graffiti adorned the walls of one building, but it was the building that was entirely surrounded on all sides that captured my interest. Without making any serious effort, I had stumbled across the infamous Waverly Hall, supposedly one of the most haunted sites in the state. The road in front of the structure was blocked on both ends by large concrete blocks, but the gap left between them was more than enough room for me to squeeze my K1200 through. Stopping at the front entrance, I left the motor running just in case as I looked around. Once again, I noticed that the eerie silence had returned, the only sound audible around me the exhaust hum from my bike. No birds, no bugs, not even so much as a gust of wind to rustle the leaves. Dead silence.

Seeing no way to access the building itself without hopping the fence enclosing it, I thought better of it and opted to shoot a few quick photos instead. Walking around the front, the dried leaves crunching underneath my boots, most of the windows were boarded up and someone had gone to extensive effort to keep people out of this building. Stories have been told of spirits switching on lights, banging metal, screaming in agony, but today, those spirits were quiet, if they even existed at all. As I departed from the shadow of the building, back into the sunlight, the warmth of the autumn sun washing over me felt good and flushed away any unsettled sensations from my brief moments in proximity to this place.

Leaving the Fernald School behind, I proceeded back up the street a bit in search of my next stop, the former site of the Middlesex County Hospital. Set back from the road, in what is now a nature preserve, the hospital itself has been demolished and all the rubble hauled away. The only thing that remains is a slab of broken asphalt where the parking lot used to be. A large water tower looms in the background and a dirt access road leads up to it. Stopping in the lot, I could once again feel that uneasy silence, as though Mother Nature itself was afraid to make too much noise for fear of waking the dead. With little to see, I quickly decided that it was time to move on again.

My final destination for the morning was the former site of the Metropolitan State Hospital. While the majority of the buildings have been torn down and the site itself converted to a number of residential condos. What remains, however, is the boarded up shell of the administration building, standing a lone vigil to what used to be there. This time, as a proper road runs right up to the site and serves to connect two relatively busy streets with the condo complex, there was no shortage of noise. The road in front of the building had long since deteriorated to gravel and the building itself was starting to follow. Taggers had decorated many surfaces of the building with artwork at points and the remnants of the structure, once part of a massive complex, felt rather meek in light of what had once stood on the site. It was, to say the least, an inauspicious end to the day.

Departing to head home, I reflected on the sights of the morning and wondered about all the things that had happened at each of these three places. Each has a history that includes numerous tales of violence, cruelty, and death, but if any spirits do remain, they were not making their presence known on this day. Still, it was hard to shake the chill the crept up my spine in some of the places and does make one think if perhaps there is something to the ghost stories that seem to persist around each location.

Nevertheless, my trusty K1200S was the perfect companion for the day, allowing me to enjoy the scenery on the way to Waltham, and providing a comforting sound in those moments of eerie silence. And had I come across any spirits, I suspect that the supercar level of performance would have allowed me to escape their clutches. With that last thought, I return home with an ear to ear grin plastered on my face.

Please be respectful of all property and laws if you choose to visit these locations yourself. Obtain permission before entering any locations that are not open to the public. Finally, be safe and be courteous.

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