Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Asylum Tour

The trip had been planned for a few months, but the tour was a last minute thought. When Glen and I were in Traverse City in October we were able to do some photographing outside the former Northern Michigan Asylum. When I was doing research for my post Standing Outside the Asylum, I came across Brown Paper Tickets' site which hosts guided tours into some of the unrestored buildings and the underground tunnel system.

As we were standing in the lobby at church the Sunday before our departure talking with the couple we were going with, I suddenly remembered this tour.

I jumped on-line as soon as we got home to check and see if any were running while we were going to be there. Indeed there was, both Friday and Saturday. Delighted I quickly booked the four of us for the 1p.m. tour on Friday.

We arrived promptly at ten minutes to one, just as the brochure asked. Frankly, I love being early anyway, what better way to make a good first impression and chat up the tour guide ahead of time. You never know when that little relationship building will come in handy.

There were eight of us on this tour, perfect! A nice small number. Easier to ask questions that way and sometimes you can get a few more places with a small group.

Our tour guide, Joe, was amazing. It became apparent very quickly that he has a great love and passion for the Asylum, both the renovated and unrenovated parts.

Our tour started in the lower level of Building No. 50, the massive main building that has been restored. This lower level houses boutique style retail shoppes, all very artsy and unique. My plan is to get back up to Traverse City and the Asylum later this Spring, when the snow is gone and the temperatures are warmer, and do a more in-depth post on Building No. 50.

We did not stay long in this finished building, our goal was the unfinished buildings.

We trudged off through the freshly fallen snow. Our first stop was Cottage No. 40. This cottage was constructed in 1898 at an approximate cost of $25,000 for the purpose of housing 100 irritable or noisy male patients.

Yes, this picture was from October, we did not stop in a good spot for me to get a good shot of it.

Joe, our tour guide, grew up in Traverse City and spent some of his boyhood days hanging around the outside of the Asylum while patients still occupied the cottages. Joe told us the story of a day when he and some friends were standing outside Cottage No. 40 when a male patient came to the window, saw them and started screaming. The man disappeared only to return a few minutes later and started pushing  something through the holes in the window grate. The boys moved closer to see what it was the man pushed through. They discovered pieces of bread. Obviously the patient was concerned for them and was  trying to feed them.

Yes, again from October
From Cottage No. 40 we moved on to Building No. 22 the Men's Dining Building. Drastically out of place with it's flat roof and more mid-century style is was actually constructed in 1915 and located between Cottage No. 40 and Cottage 28. This building served all the male patients on the south side of the hospital grounds. Prior to the construction of this building each cottage had its own kitchen and dining room.

When a Moving Picture Machine was given to the state it was installed in the dining room. When the dining room was not in use for dining, it could be converted into an assembly hall and comfortably seat 600-800 people.

Moving on, the next stop was Cottage No. 28. This cottage was designated for 50 male geriatric patients when it was completed and opened in 1891 at a cost of $13,800. Unlike all the other cottages its tower is on the center of the roof instead of at the sides or corners.

One last outside stop was at Cottage No. 32, a former Tuberculosis ward. The windows are either bricked in or replaced with barricade windows to try and keep vandals out.

It was quite chilly outside and a little snow was starting to fall, so nobody had a desire to linger.

Next up the Inside Tour…

*I divided this tour into two posts because if you are like me, my attention span is short for reading posts, so not to overwhelm, it is better read and enjoyed divided up.

**Historical information came from the book Northern Michigan Asylum by William A. Decker M.D. a most delightful book filled with history and period photographs.

Linking up with my friend Helen for her Weekend Walks blog party


  1. Your asylum visit post are inspiring me to take a look. I have been curious each time we have been in TC.

    I smiled at your wanting to be timely, first impressions are important. Remembering the "first impression" I must have made when we first met up!

  2. Interesting tour. I love the images, too!

  3. What a fascinating place to visit. I love your writing Sarah, you have the ability to make the reader feel like they are right there. Looking forward to part two.

  4. Oddly enough I was ready to keep reading. LOL

  5. Like Roxi, I didn't want this to end. I look forward to more.

  6. I remember your visit here in October and look forward to your story and the indoor tour. Thanks for taking us along.

  7. How exciting that there was a tour available while you were there! I'll be looking forward to seeing the inside. Buildings such as these are interesting in structure and stories, but they do seem to have a chill about them.

  8. Thank you for taking us on the tour. I love looking around buildings like these and the stories behind them. My first ever job was working within an asylum before they were closed in the 1980's. A tough thing to do when fresh out of school. The smells and the sounds were quite frightening, even for those without a mental disability. I am looking forward to the remainder of your tour.

  9. Fascinating Sarah a great idea for the finished building to be used as retail. I love the shot of the frozen icicles on the pipes and roof it really conveys coldness and desolation. I'm looking forward to the next chapter...

  10. Your writing style keeps me glued to each new photo and description! Eagerly awaiting the glimpse inside and more history!

  11. So interesting, but sad and chilling at the same time.

  12. I think it's interesting that there are tours of this old asylum. Super place for photo ops! I agree with Nancy that it's a bit chilling...but still I want to know more. ;))

  13. I am so glad you got to go back. And get out of the house. Today I am attempting my walk, just tired of being stuck in the house. I hope my camera works in this cold...

  14. I am drooling. I would LOVE to go on this tour. I think you should go back one day by yourself-and you could focus even more on your photography (not suggesting you didn't, but I know how it is when others are waiting on you). Love seeing this. I love that shot with the curtains hanging outside from the broken windows. What a gold mine of a place to capture.

  15. I would like this tour myself. Great shots and I am looking forward to more.

  16. Sarah, you find the most interesting places to photograph! It's interesting that part of it has been rehabbed and is being used commercially, though honestly I'm still a little freaked out at the "asylum" history. Still, it's so much better than letting old places just fall into the ground. My favorite image is the closeup shot of the tower. It must have been cold - it looks like it was snowing.

  17. Wow, very nice follow up Sarah. Thanks for sharing more. Aloha

  18. Wow. What an incredible place for you to visit and photograph. The cottage in the next post, in inside, was really moving. Just yesterday, I found out that my mother in laws father was in an asylum at the end of his life. Mental health...and how they were kept and treated for so many years is tragic. But, what could they do without medicines like now? And, we still have SO FAR to go. Poor souls.

  19. Wow- a fantastic place to visit and photograph! When I visit old places like this I often wonder who had trodden the same path before and how they lived.

  20. Fascinating! Can't wait for more...but thanks for dividing in two.



Thank you so much for visiting today and taking the time to read my thoughts on life. :)