Through horror movies and TV shows, we’re often conditioned to think of former psychiatric hospital facilities as places to fear. The fact that many of these locations now sit abandoned doesn’t help—nor do the stories of overcrowding that circulated before deinstitutionalization began in the mid-1970s.
On a recent trip to Buffalo, New York, I decided to confront my own fears and visit the Richardson Olmsted Campus, once home to the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane. Unlike many of the other former asylums currently surrounded by rusting fences and “No trespassing” signs, the grounds and several buildings of the Richardson Olmsted Campus are open to the public.
There are 13 buildings in the complex: Three have been repurposed into a luxury hotel and the remaining 10 are still in a state of suspended ruin, abandoned since 1974. Public tours take visitors through two of the vacant buildings and into a renovated corridor of Hotel Henry. But more than offering a stunning before-and-after comparison, exploring the Richardson Olmsted Campus also provides an intimate glimpse into the complicated history of mental health care in the U.S.