Weekly Photo Challenge – Nostalgic

Nostalgia is the only friend that stays with you forever.”

Damien Echols



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.”

Emil Cioran

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.”

Jake Wilson

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.”

Marcel Proust

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.

To see more Nostalgic entries, click here.  Also posted in Frizztext’s AAA Challenge for Asylum.

NOTE:  All photos treated using Nik Software’s Silver EFex Pro2 “Antique”


153 thoughts on “Weekly Photo Challenge – Nostalgic

    • Thanks Sherry – I was very glad I did, it made me really happy to see the concepts that the doctors there had implemented so long ago. Thanks for your lovely comment!

  1. T
    Couldn’t help but think of Who Flew……..when I saw these great pictures and your comments. Since we recently saw it again I wondered where was Nurse Ratched , Chief and McMurphy . Nostalgic for sure. Love your photos but me thinks the writing is even better.

  2. Stunning shots indeed Tina and it certainly gives off that ‘nostalgic’ feel to it hon. You’ve captured it beautifully as usual! Thanks for sharing. 😀

  3. WOW….EERIE….especially the ‘grated windows’…..was relieved to find that it turned out to be a positive environment!! GREAT EYE!!

    • Thanks April! Apparently the windows were designed especially to convey a feeling that they did not prevent the patients from leaving (altho of course they did), vs bars on the windows. Thought that was a neat factoid!

  4. Tina, I love this post – what great photos depicting nostalgia. The history is fascinating along with your commentary. The labyrinth of underground tunnels does make me wonder about those spirits wandering the halls!

    • Thanks Jack! Somehow I don’t think it’s on the Girls Camp tour LOL! It was a fascinating visit tho. Suzie and I went a bit crazy with the cameras 🙂 Would have loved to go inside – apparently they used to have tours but had to stop them because of the lead paint used everywhere.

  5. Thanks for taking the high road approach and glass half full attitude as you shot these photos… Not an easy subject for any of us and you found a redemptive lens… God bless u T.. Linda

    • Thanks Linda – yes a very challenging subject and one not very well understood. We were delighted to see we were wrong to assume it had been a place of horror!

  6. A comprehensive narration on the many facets of Nostalgia. Damien Echols’s quote is indeed so true “Nostalgia is the only friend that stays with you forever.”
    Many thanks Tina.

  7. A nostalgic post with the added historical information to show true human caring Tina . I could imagine that Dr J Munson came across opposition to his enlightened way of treating those with mental health illnesses so it’s good to hear of its success . If only we could have more of the same nowadays . Still so much ignorance .
    Perfect images with the effect you have chosen to use and quotes to evoke Nostalgia .

    • Thanks PT – yes mental illness is still a world of mystery, isn’t it? I had an interesting conversation with a friend who is a psychiatrist the other day and was fascinated by some of his stories. So much pain out there, and so much of it caused by the very drugs that were developed to treat it :-(.

  8. Such a heartening story, Tina. New life for an old building, and good to know that asylums were not always the dread places we imagine. In fact it sounds as we might have a few things to learn from Dr. Munson – kindness and creative pursuits rather than the chemical cosh. Hm.

    • Thanks Tish – yes, quite an interesting approach. Unfortunately I think today’s issues are more caused by rather than cured by the drug culture 😦 . Sadly, addictions create a whole new set of problems for the patients and their caretakers.

    • Thanks so much for your comment Ileana! Cioran popped up in my search for nostalgia quotes. I hadn’t heard of him before but he’s quite the philosopher. Happy you recognized him!

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  12. Thanks for the history – you sure wouldn’t think something at that time would be progressive in its treatment of mental illness. You did a great job both with the composition and the sepia tinting of the photos – I enjoyed looking at them very much.


  13. What an interesting subject and such a creative way of sharing it with us. I loved the architecture and color tones. For some reason the peeling banister, and the ‘No Trespassing’ door…. as symbols of decay and parts of life forbidden to some , were very moving. Thks T! AND thank you Jeannie for showing it to her so she could bring it to us.

  14. Lovely photos, and it’s so interesting that the history showed that the ideas behind the hospital were more progressive than one would have imagined. Beauty, kindness, comfort and pleasure? They don’t sound like today’s prescriptions – I’m sure individual doctors and therapists utilize those qualities in their work, but how nice it would be if people dared to talk about that – a revolution in psychiatry, possibly!

  15. What a happy ending to what began as a haunting story & photos; especially relevant to me in my work in a children’s psych hospital where I am trying to phase out some restrictive practices. And yes, we have a garden where the children cultivate both their mental health and beautiful flowers! Thank you for sharing this.

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  17. How wonderful to read about Dr. James Decker Munson, believed that beauty, kindness, comfort and pleasure were the best therapies for mental illness… Thank you for sharing the story!
    Have a great weekend, Tina!

  18. What an interesting topic! Which was made all the better through your narrative plus the great black and white photos. Great job!

  19. Wow, Tina. Interesting. There is a place like that in Morristown, NJ and it is big and eerie. I would like to think the founder of that place was as kind as the one you wrote about. The color tone you used was perfect.

  20. It was a fun day watching the photographer enjoying her work. Even more satisfying is reading this blog. What a grand place with an even grander mission. Thanks T for capturing it in your photos and bringing its history to light.

  21. Tina These were really interesting. Love the historic story they told. Thank you. Hot and steamy down here right now. Playing today with the girls at River. Enjoy. Say hi to the Michigan crowd. Stay safe. dar

  22. I love the photos! I was also delighted to see the wheels turning during the process from idea conception, work in progress, and finished blog! Quite the exciting day for me. Suzie

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