Nostalgia is the only friend that stays with you forever.”
This week my husband and I visited with good friends in beautiful Traverse City, Michigan. Because my friend knows how much I love photography, she took me to see the Northern Michigan Asylum, also known as the Traverse City State Hospital. This week’s photo challenge, Nostalgic, gives me a perfect opportunity to share the interesting history of this intriguing facility.
“Nostalgia, more than anything, gives us the shudder of our own imperfection.”
The hospital was founded in 1885 in response to a demand for psychiatric care. In its heyday it was home to 3,000 patients and over 500 staff. The facility no longer serves its original purpose, and much of the site has been renovated to house lovely shops, restaurants and condominiums. The parts of the site that have NOT been refurbished, however, serve as a haunting reminder of times gone by, and are much more interesting to a photographer’s eye.
“Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson: you find the present tense, and the past perfect.”
Owens Lee Pomeroy
As we wandered throughout the grounds, we were struck by a dismal, depressing feeling (probably helped a bit by the dreary, drizzly day), and felt terrible for how poorly the patients must have been treated. We have all read stories about psychiatric care in the last century – and how many people who were not mentally impaired were locked up anyway. We found ourselves thinking about unhappy spirits wandering the halls even today.
“Nostalgia, while feeling in vibe quite similar to love, is always at best detached, thus a little tragic.”
Imagine our surprise then, when we looked into the history only to find that the facility was quite the exception in its day. It’s first director, Dr. James Decker Munson, believed that beauty, kindness, comfort and pleasure were the best therapies for mental illness, and he insisted that patients were treated as such. Straightjackets and other restraints were forbidden, and patients were welcome to enjoy the beautiful gardens as well as to work in the facility’s farm and canning operations.
“Nostalgia is, by definition, the least authentic of all feelings.”
Enrique de Heriz
The buildings generated their own steam heat and electricity, and were totally self-sufficient. Eventually, in addition to the 13,000 square foot main building, they included 12 cottages and 2 infirmaries as well as several barns. Construction was made up of 11 million bricks, three-foot-thick walls and nearly 2,000 windows-all connected by a labyrinth of underground tunnels. The grave of the institution’s world-record-holding grand champion milk cow ‘Traverse Colantha Walker” remains on the grounds 🙂
Today, the facility is home to one of the largest historic redevelopment projects in the country. Nestled within 320 acres of prime parkland overlooking Lake Michigan, the main building has been converted to a mixed-use development community that has been featured in the New York Times and is viewed as a model of success nationwide. The firehouse has become a bakery, the potato peeling shack a cheesecake store, and the laundry a wine bar and coffee shop. Patient rooms have been converted to beautiful condominiums featuring the institution’s 13-foot ceilings and 9-foot windows.
“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
Listed first among the “Ten Most Haunted Sites in Michigan”, we prefer to think that the hospital was home to the most fortunate of patients, and that if indeed there are spirits they are happy ones. We can count ourselves fortunate that today’s health care system offers a wider range of therapies, although if you had been unlucky enough to be judged insane in the last century, you would have been best-served in a hospital such as this one.
NOTE: All photos treated using Nik Software’s Silver EFex Pro2 “Antique”