Brian Oh: {food, travel, photo}

Haven Fall

I'd seen a number of articles and photo essays on the abandoned Forest Haven asylum in the past few years (like this and this). So when the DCist ran another one a couple of weeks ago, I figured I'd drive up to Laurel and check it out for myself. I won't attempt to provide any sort of historical or journalistic context for my photos. That's been done before. It was enough to walk through the derelict and abandoned hallways and rooms and experience the supreme eeriness of the place.

Getting to Forest Haven turned out to be much easier than I had anticipated. Finding clear directions for getting to the complex was difficult (since you can't drive up to it due to security gates), but it was actually very straightforward. For the curious: park at the moose lodge on Fort Meade Road in Laurel* and walk straight north through the woods following the power lines. After about 3/4 of a mile, you'll begin to see a number of the ancillary facilities. The main building is hard to miss once you emerge from the trees.

It was a frigid, windy day when I found myself at Forest Haven last weekend. From a distance the facility doesn't appear rundown or unusual in any way. As I drew nearer I began to see the broken windows and decades of accumulated debris. The road leading up to the main building was overgrown and potholed. The only sounds piercing the uneasy hush were my footsteps and breath ragged from the cold. As I entered the building and walked carefully through the wreckage of the asylum, I found myself trying to make as little noise as possible so as not to disturb the silence. When the wind would disturb something down the hall, I would pause lest I encounter one of the addicts that are said to inhabit the building.

Room after room of discarded medical equipment, books, clothes, and random miscellany give the impression that the former occupants picked up and left at a moments notice. Some rooms seemed blackened as if burned from the inside. Newspapers and magazines from the 80s and 90s reference events and products that have since faded from memory. Behind the main facility, a massive pile of weathered furniture and computer equipment bleached in the sun. A few yards away sat an upturned piano. Its keys so faded from exposure they were just molding pieces of wood. The rotting ribcage of a wooden carcass. From the outside, an open doorway to the basement was partially obscured by rubble, save for a metal door laid on its side like a bridge across the rocks into the murky inside that let out a loud metallic bong as I stepped across it. Just past the door and down a hallway to the right was a cluttered room with meager light from a small overhead window that looked as if it had been submerged under water for years. A solitary white roller skate sat on a rusted table. The room led to another, narrower space. It was the morgue. A stack of four body drawers occupied half of the room with what appeared to be a stained sheet or body bag hanging from the third space up. Caution or cowardice kept me from inspecting any closer.

As I made my way out of the facility and back toward the woods, a small herd of deer burst through the bushes and vanished into the trees. A startling and sudden display of life as I departed a place steeped in the memory of tragedy.


* - I was recently contacted by the Moose Lodge who informed me that they've begun towing people parking there to visit the Asylum. So you'll have to find another spot to park.