Sunday, January 26, 2014

Standing Inside the Asylum

Here it was, my chance to finally get inside one of these beautiful, decaying buildings on the grounds of the former Northern Michigan Asylum. You probably don't often combine the words beautiful and decay in a sentence, unless you are a photographer or a history lover. I happen to be both. To me the stories lie in the undone, the unrestored, in every piece of chipped and peeling lead based paint.

I stood on the threshold of Cottage No. 34 bursting with excitement for the opportunity to explore, photograph and hear the stories.

As chance would have it, I actually did a little shooting around the outside of Cottage No. 34 earlier that morning, not knowing at the time that this would be the building I would get to explore on the  inside a little bit later on.

The first thing I noticed when I stepped inside, aside from all that glorious peeling paint, was the cold. It was colder than a meat locker.  Definitely colder than outside. In short order, my feet, even inside my trusted Paisleys felt like blocks of ice. Unwilling to be deterred I moved in and started to explore, all the while staying tuned in to the history that Joe was sharing.

Cottage No. 34
Act No. 121 of the Public Acts of 1899, allowed the construction of a hospital for acutely insane or "curable" male patients. Cottage No. 34 was constructed at an approximate cost of $20,000. Construction was completed in 1904. It was an "open" cottage, meaning that it was a cottage that was unlocked and without grating over the windows and occupied by patients who had the freedom of the grounds. Many of the patients living in this cottage worked in the greenhouse and garden areas.

In 1964, the hospital with the aid of a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, established a vocational activities program for children and young adults. The grant funds allowed the remodeling of the cottage to house the program. 

*from the book Northern Michigan Asylum

They have quite the problem with people breaking in and spraying graffiti on the walls.

Lovely old radiators.

Transom windows equal window love!

Curved radiator and more graffiti. This rad was in the curved tower that I showed earlier in the post.

Each end of the cottage also had a tower, unusual in the cottage designs here.

I couldn't resist a shot of the bathroom.

I admit for a while I wasn't as tuned in to Joe as I should have been. I was too busy taking photographs.  Although the low light situation inside created a challenge, I did the best I could with what I had. I had a good low light wide angle lens and set my ISO fairly high so I could hand hold. I didn't get all the shots I wanted but that is a good reason to go back and take the tour again. Learn more and shoot more.

Leaving Cottage No. 34, I was actually happy to go back outside, hoping that my feet would "warm up" out there, because by this time I could not feel them anymore.

We next stopped outside Cottage No. 30 very briefly and then continued on the road that lead past the backsides of all the cottages.

Cottage No. 30

October 2013 
October 2013

January 2014
Patients living in this cottage were "working patients", assisting in the fields and grounds keeping chores.

Next stop was the backside of the Men's dining hall. Apparently the fan above the door here has not stopped turning since the building was built in 1915, wind or no wind. Spooky…

Finally we were going inside again, and there was glorious heat! I began to feel my feet again.

The Chapel is being restored as we speak and is due to open by May of this year.

This lower level, where the glorious heat was, was originally the kitchen for Building 50.  Here the food for the entire institution was prepared, except for the administration section and special diet patients. This kitchen was divided into eleven rooms, including a temporary room, sink room, steaming room, room for preparation of vegetables, (almost all the work done by patients), and a dining room for employees.

Joe, our tour guide talking to the group.

The original cast iron columns.

The original marble floor.

Above the kitchen was the chapel room, which could seat 318, and was also used for amusement purposes, concerts, dances, socials, etc.

A drop ceiling was installed some time in the mid 1900's covering up this beautiful wood work on the ceiling. The drop ceiling is being taken down and all this beautiful wood work being restored.

The Tunnels

Being Northern Michigan and getting lots of snow in the winter, people tunnels were built to make getting from one building to the next much easier in the winter.

People Tunnel

Steam Tunnel - housing large steam pipes to carry heat to the buildings from the on-site power plant. The steam pipes have now been removed. It was quite weird walking on a curved floor. Also Joe shut the lights off briefly when we first entered this tunnel. Let's just say pitch black doesn't do it justice.

The steam tunnel that we traveled through brought us back into Building No. 50 right where we began.

I have to say that this is the best $25 I have ever spent on a tour. I definitely want to take it again in warmer weather. Maybe Joe needs an assistant, I would work for free. Just to have the opportunity to shoot some more and learn more would be well worth it.


  1. Ohhhh Sarah!! This kind of stuff is right up my alley. The history and the story those wall could tell. And that peeling paint. Love that low to the ground perspective. You done good!

  2. I get just as excited as you do photographing abandoned buildings. Well done.

  3. A magnificent collection of photos and of only walls could speak...:)JP

  4. hi, it sounds like a very interesting tour...and your photography is all that peeling paint too!

  5. These are really great shots, and what a wonderful opportunity. I could actually "see" people from the past looking out of the windows to the land. And that steam tunnell. That is amazing. Loved all of the views that you got!

  6. So cool to experience the asylum tour through your eyes. Great pictures, loved the now to be restored wood in the chapel. Layers and layers of peeling paint . . . makes me wonder what the residents had for views while committed.

  7. This is a wonderful collection of photos! They really help to tell the story of this place. I got a sense of stillness and sadness, but nurturing, too. Thank you for sharing these.

  8. Fascinating post. Thank you so much for sharing.

  9. Very interesting... I am sure there are some wonderful ghost stories also.

  10. The tunnels are like a super bonus. Very interesting share; thank you. (btw - love love love the detail shots)

  11. LOVE such places. Nearby we have Eastern State Penitentiary that is very similar. Last year I Was there on a cold day and it wasn't too much fun!

  12. Oh joy what a treasure trove the green peeling paint and the gorgeous radiators. It's great that some of it is being restored.

  13. I really don't know where to start with this - it's all fab. I love the detail on the radiators and of course the tunnel is a gem. I like to think that those who worked in the garden perhaps found some form of escape from the reality of their everyday lives.

  14. Wow! What an experience! I love the radiators. I haven't seen one of those in years! I think my favorite experience would have been going through the steam tunnel!

  15. Standing inside the asylum, looking at the walls, I wonder what stories they could tell about the past residents? I wonder what happened to the men that were living there when it closed?

  16. Fascinating! I love it when they remove ceilings and expose previous goodies.


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