930 Willowbrook Road, Staten Island, NY

The Campus of the College of Staten Island and the Surrounding Area now Stand Where the Willowbrook Was

Status: Former State Institution for the Developmentally Disabled; Formerly Abandoned; Partially Repurposed; Partially Ruins


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In 1938 plans were made by the New York State government to build a large facility for developmentally disabled children. They choose a 375-acre (152 hectare) site on Staten Island. Construction was completed in 1942 but it was immediately taken over by the United States Army due to World War II.

While under Army control it was used as a veteran’s hospital and a POW camp. Once the war ended in 1945 there was some debate as to whether it should be permanently converted to a veteran’s facility or used for it’s original purpose. In the end the Governor of New York State made the decision and Willowbrook State School was born in 1947.

It was designed to be a humane center for the care of disabled children; something, due in a large part to the New York State Government, it completely failed at.

By the 1950’s most children admitted to the facility were coming down with Hepatitis – most often with Hepatitis A - and one doctor, who was obviously completely untroubled by a conscience or ethics, decided this was the perfect environment to perform tests in. At the time it was known that Hepatitis was a virus but no one understood how it spread.

Dr Saul Krugman – stating patients had a 90% change of getting the virus anyway – purposely infected children by putting stool samples of sick people into the children’s food raising that to 100%. A lot was learned about the virus and how to inoculate against it but at what price? Public outcry finally put an end to the – sometimes fatal - experiments on children in the 1970’s

Until his death Dr Krugman defended his work.

By 1965 the facility contained over 6,000 children – despite being built for only 4,000 – and the ratio of staff to patients was deplorable. One nurse might have the responsibility for 100 children in multiple buildings. Needless to say, the facility quickly turned into what Senator Robert F Kennedy said was a “a snake pit”.

Doctors, nurses and other staff who complained and fought for patient rights were fired by the State. The same State who started massively cutting funding from the 1950’s until the institution’s closure.

A reporter, Jane Kurtin, got inside the buildings with staff help and got the first public photos of what was happening inside. In 1972 Geraldo Rivera got inside with a doctor’s help and filmed the terrible conditions – naked children sitting in their own filth, obvious and terrible evidence of brutal physical, emotional and sexual abuse by both the staff and other patients and they even got an interview with a patient with Cerebral Palsy whose mental faculties were fine (he just had trouble communicating) – and brought the situation to the public’s attention on a national scale for the first time.

This was quickly followed by a Class Action Suit against the State of New York by the parents of the children. In 1975 a consent judgement was signed which began the path leading to the Federal laws we have now to protect the rights of developmentally disabled people.

In 1983 the State of New York announced that Willowbrook would close by the end of 1986. The last children left the facility on September 17, 1987 leaving behind a decaying campus.

In 1991 a retired NYPD detective wrote a book saying that Building 2 was filled with toxic and explosive substances and jars containing preserved human organs. He also stated local officials were covering it up.

From 1974 to 1987 several children were kidnapped and murdered on Staten Island. The killer was only known by the name Cropsey. One of the children, Jennifer Schweiger, was found adjacent to the abandoned campus in Willowbrook Park neither the camp of one Andre Rand – a former attendant at Willowbrook School – and he was charged and jailed for the murders despite there being no physical evidence linking him to the crimes.

In 1993 the College of Staten Island opened on the majority of the old Willowbrook Campus. Other reclaimed buildings on the former campus are used by the New York Department of Mental Hygiene. The remaining buildings still lie abandoned and decaying.


Paranormal Activity

Students of the College have reported apparitions – presumedly of deceased patients – moving through the shadowed areas on campus. There are also reports of unexplained noises or hearing someone call you – sometimes by name – only to find no one there. Feelings of being watched and being followed are also reported on campus.

In and around the abandoned buildings there are reports of shadow figures, people being touched and pushed by unseen entities, electrical disturbances, light anomalies, phantom screams and voices and pale faces watching from the empty windows.

One person reported being followed home by an unidentifiable dark figure who stood in front of their house watching until daybreak.