The Real Arkham Asylum

The Danvers State Hospital, also known as the Danvers Lunatic Asylum

The Danvers State Hospital, also known as the Danvers Lunatic Asylum

Arkham Asylum was first created by Batman writer and editor Dennis O’Neil in 1974. He named the asylum after a town in the stories of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft originally created Arkham as an apocryphal analog of Salem, Massachusetts. The Lovecraft story, “The Thing on the Doorstep” features the Arkham Sanitarium. Although the comic book version of Arkham Asylum is today portrayed as a psychotic madhouse and/or high-security prison, it had a slightly more whimsical vibe in the early days of the Batman comics. For example, the Joker kept a full functional lair beneath the asylum – his own skewed version of a Batcave.

Lovecraft’s inspiration was likely The Danvers State Hospital–also known as the State Lunatic Hospital at Danvers, The Danvers Lunatic Asylum, and The Danvers State Insane Asylum–was a psychiatric hospital located in Danvers, Massachusetts. Built in 1874 and opened in 1878, the hospital was designed by  Boston architect Nathaniel Jeremiah Bradlee on an isolated, rural site according to the Kirkbride Plan.

While the asylum was originally established to provide residential treatment and care to the mentally ill, its functions expanded to include a training program for nurses in 1889, and a pathological research laboratory in 1895. In the 1890s, Dr. Charles Page, the superintendent, declared mechanical restraint unnecessary and harmful in cases of mental illness. By the 1920s the hospital was operating school clinics to help determine mental deficiency in children. Reports were made that inhumane treatments such as shock therapy, lobotomies, and straitjackets were being used to keep the crowded hospital under control. This sparked controversy. In the 1960s, as a result of increased emphasis on alternative methods of treatment and community-based mental health care, the inpatient population started to decrease.

Massive budget cuts in the 1960’s played a major role in the progressive closing of Danvers State Hospital. The hospital began closing wards and facilities as early as 1969. By 1985, the majority of the original hospital wards were closed or abandoned. The Kilbride administration building closed in 1989. Patients were forced out to live on the streets abruptly and were given less than optimal future care. The entire Danvers State Hospital campus was closed on June 24, 1992. After abandonment, the wards and buildings were left to decay and rot for many years until the demolition.

 [parts of this article are extracted from wikipedia]