Crownsville Hospital

(Hospital for the Negro Insane in Maryland)

1520 Crownsville Street, Crownsville, MD

Status: Former Insane Asylum; Partially Repurposed; Private Property (No Trespassing)

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History

This asylum was created by an act of the Maryland General Assembly in April 1911. Within the act it was stipulated that the facility not be within the Baltimore city limits. In fact, the site had already been purchased the previous year for $19,000 ($617,000 in 2024 dollars) in Crownsville.

Before this facility, African American mentally ill were generally chained up in the dark basements of prisons and almshouses.

The first patients arrived in 1911 but lived in a work camp; the first actual building wasn’t constructed until October 1912. Male patients were given hard labor and female patients would sew clothes for both other patients and the staff.

Due to the cramped conditions, and inability to isolate sick patients, smallpox, scarlet fever and especially tuberculosis took a terrible toll on the patients. There was, of course, a separate State facility for all white patients in other asylums who were sick.

Due, in the most part, to tuberculosis almost 40% of the patients in this facility would die in the first half of the 20th century.

The facility was constantly overcrowded and understaffed – often just 2 doctors and 15 nurses – but by the 1940’s this had reached a crisis point. As an example, one night in 1945 90 criminally insane patients were being cared for by only 1 staff member.

Until the 1950’s lobotomies were frequently used just to make the mentally ill easier to care for.

Until 1948 all staff at the facility were white. Until 1952 the hospital was forbidden to hire any non-white staff for direct patient care positions. This directive was from the Maryland government.

In 1954 the superintendent of the hospital transferred 15 children under 6 to a white training school. He was severely reprimanded – once again by the State government – and eventually had to resign.

Forced unpaid labor was considered part of a patient’s treatment and those too ill or unwilling to work were forbidden from leaving the buildings and getting fresh air on the grounds. Female patients cared for other patients who were unable to care for themselves – including being unable to feed themselves – due to the massive staff shortages.

In 1964 an African-American superintendent was appointed to the facility. He organized free medications for day program patients and opened multiple training programs which included a number of international students.

These new staff members became outspoken against the State government’s policy of dumping patients in shelters, or just on the street, to alleviate overcrowding.

In the 1980’s – as with other institutions caring for the mentally ill – the creation of anti-psychotic medications led to a steady decline in patient population.

In 2004 the site was closed down with all remaining patients transferred to other Maryland psychiatric hospitals.

The old buildings still remain on the former campus – with a few being repurposed – but as of 2024 there no accepted plan on what to do with the site which is 447 acres.

A non-profit has been set up which seeks to renovate the campus and open the buildings up for new tenants but, as with many other similar situations all over the Country, money is constant issue.

 

Paranormal Activity

Apparitions of both staff and patients are reported both on the grounds and in the empty buildings. Ghost faces are seen looking out of the windows.

Unexplained noises are frequently heard in the buildings including disembodied voices; phantom footsteps; screaming; crying; laughter; loud bangs and anything else you can imagine.

Time and dimensional slips; objects moving on their own including opening and closing of doors and windows; electrical disturbances; touches, tugs and pulls by unseen entities; feelings of being watched; light anomalies empathic sensations of fear and sadness.