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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Can New Owners Silence the Screams at Adams' Haunted Hospital?

Advocate Weekly- These Mysterious Hills

By JOE DURWIN

The former W.B. Plunkett Memorial Hospital in Adams has not been a hospital since before I was born, and until recently, hadn't been anything else, either - which put it in an interesting position, for an empty, abandoned hospital is a magical thing indeed.

A building like Plunkett, left dark and boarded up and bereft of human activity, is practically begging to become overgrown in shadowy tangles of rumor and lore.

By the time I first heard about it in the early '90s, the "old asylum in Adams" was a source of mystery to many Pittsfield teenagers, and a frequent site of the youthful practice known to academic contemporary folklorists as legend-tripping, and to everyone else in straight society as trespassing. A spate of publicized arrests in 2003, followed closely by the development of the property into condominiums by Scarafoni Associates, ultimately ended this practice, and lead to even more frequent disclaimers and warnings about private property on popular ghost-hunting Web sites.

But for many years before that, the intrepid told tales of ghastly sights and sounds, of echoing screams and apparitions of patients who had died horribly there. The first person who ever showed me the foreboding hilltop building on Edmund Street told me quite matter-of-factly that one part of the place was haunted by a legless ghost that could be heard groaning and crawling along the floor.

In more recent years, someone claimed on an Internet message board to have a photo of a spectral woman taken inside the hospital. When I tracked him down, he declined to let me have a copy, citing the potential legal implications of his having it.

W.B. Plunkett died before the hospital he had built first opened in 1918, and it was subsequently completed by his brother C.T. Plunkett. It was a thriving institution for several decades, though perhaps disappointingly for some, never an asylum for the insane - at least, no more so than your average hospital. The hospital fell into decline in the late '60s and early '70s. Amidst and among other problems, in 1970 its administrator and his wife, the head of nursing, became embroiled in scandal when he was convicted of possessing thousands of pornographic photos and "letters pertaining to wife-swapping practices" and was asked to resign. The hospital limped along for a couple of years before its license was suspended in June of 1973.

For most of the time since, its been informally labeled haunted. But then, that doesn't come as much of a surprise; you can't swing a dead psychic black cat without hitting an abandoned/haunted hospital or asylum in New England. Most of them even basically look alike. Meanwhile, a quick Google search for haunted hospital yielded a couple million results.

And why not? Sure, people live in their houses, but they do an awful lot of their dying in hospitals. Some of them quite horribly - a cursory search of local papers turned up dozens of obituaries of people of all ages dying painfully after fires, accidents, etc., including, interestingly enough, one North Adams man who perished of shock at Plunkett after a train crushed his legs. Perhaps some of all that has to seep into a place, linger in its pores a while.

Now that it's no longer a boarded-up bastion of shadows and busted piping, but an elaborate development with 13 occupied units, is it still haunted? As Dave Carter of Scarafoni Associates informed me with admirable simplicity, "We have not had any reports of ghosts at Plunkett Hill Condominiums."

Time will tell.


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Joe Durwin is a mystery mongerer who would like to see things done with a lot more of the great old creepy buildings sitting empty in the area. Send weird stories, ghost photos, cursed artifacts, or pernicious rumors to joe@durwin.net, or write him care of The Advocate.

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