“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” Aristotle
Author’s Note: Since first writing this, the hospital has been demolished. My most recent article features the most recent photographs I took of the facility.
***Note: Since I first published this post, a reader sent me a link for families to find their loved ones buried in the cemetery.
My husband and I visited this location in the dead of winter, in 30 below weather. I have Reynaud’s Phenomenon with my autoimmune disease and my hands and feet don’t react well in the cold, so I had to keep returning to the truck to warm my appendages in between pictures. Out of every place I have photographed, this one has stuck with me the most. I think about it at least once every week, of course the photographs of its broken windows, ragged curtains waving in the breeze hanging on my wall help to remind me.
The history of the place was what first attracted me to the hospital and the abandoned factor helped. I found the following history from Asylum Projects, as well as the two older photographs.
The reason for the establishment of a state hospital at Norfolk was because of the fact that there was no hospital located in the northern part of the state, the two hospitals existing being located, one at Lincoln, Neb., in the southeast part of the state, and the other at Hastings, Neb., in the southwest part of the state; the City of Norfolk is located in the northeast part of the state.
The first building erected in 1885 was a large brick asylum building, as constructed in those days. In the late fall of 1901 a fire destroyed most of this building. More information on the fire. It was rebuilt on the cottage plan, so that there are now three cottages constructed of brick and two of stone, besides the one wing of the old asylum building erected before the fire, which was repaired and reconstructed. All three buildings are still standing and are in pretty good shape. I could not go inside YET, but I hope to return one day with permission to go inside.
I found some conflicting information about the facility undergoing multiple name changes, but when I dug deeper, two of the names turned out to be the facilities in Hastings and Lincoln. The facility had four types of patients: Geriatrics, Alcoholics and drug addicts, and the criminally insane. The Norfolk Regional Center is currently a mental health and substance abuse treatment facility for adolescent and young adult males who have been paroled from the Youth Rehabilitation Treatment Center in Kearney, Nebraska (Nebraska Dept of Health).
The building above was the employee building
In total 902 individuals were sterilized in Nebraska. 53% of whom were women. 80% of those sterilized were deemed “mentally deficient” The lobotomies began in 1917 and ended in 1963.
The first law regarding sterilization was passed in 1915, after a failed initial attempt by state legislators in 1913 was vetoed by Governor John H. Morehead. This law was revised in both 1929 and 1957. The 1915, law provided for the sterilizations of the insane and feeble-minded inmates of state institutions before they were paroled. The state institutions specifically mentioned in the statute included “institutions for the feeble-minded, hospitals for the insane, the penitentiary, reformatory, industrial schools, the industrial home, and other such State institutions” In 1929, the original law was repealed and a new law was enacted, which included “habitual criminals, moral degenerates, and sexual perverts“—those individuals convicted of rape or incest—as well as the original groups.
So sex-offenders were put inside with the other people who were in the facility for mental illness, but some people were there for just being different. That is probably the biggest reason this place haunts my thoughts. I’ve always been different, weird, odd, and at times a bit crazy. If I would have been living in a different time, with a different family, who knows. I could have been locked up in one of these old asylums for not complying with society.
The ratio of men to women sterilized is relatively equal, indicating no presence of bias toward either sex. In 1929, the Nebraska legislature altered the sterilization law to include those individuals convicted of sodomy. This amendment included individuals who had been deemed “moral degenerates or sexual perverts”.
Now it is renamed the Norfolk Regional Center, and has 120-beds in part of a Sex Offender Treatment Center providing Phase I services in the Nebraska Sex Offender Treatment Program. The Nebraska Sex Offender Treatment Program is a three-phase treatment program meant to reduce dangerousness and risk of re-offense for patients involved in treatment.
My husband and accidentally stumbled across the Regional Center on our way out of the hospital, and it’s surrounded by razor wire and cameras. We were both pretty intimidated.
There are 2 cemeteries on the property, both only have a handful or markers. The “old” cemetery contains less than 100 graves and has 3 markers. The “new” cemetery has around 500 burial and about a dozen markers.
The cemetery was hard to find with the fresh blanket of snow on the ground, but I plan to go back at some point and look again. I’m sure my husband will be thrilled….
A friend of mine, who is a nurse had inside information that one of the psychiatrists was murdered in the facility, but I could not find anything to back it up online. If anyone has any additional information on this I would love to hear more about it.
More information can be found on The Institutional Care of the Insane in the Untied States and Canada.
I kept picturing the hundreds of lost souls who once roamed the cold brick halls, and I wondered how many still watched longingly from behind the jagged windows, unable to break free. An old metal song came to mind.
“Welcome to where time stands still, no one leaves and no one will. Moon is full, never seems to change. Just labeled mentally deranged. Dream the same thing every night I see our freedom in my sight. No locked doors, No windows barred. No things to make my brain seem scarred.”-Metallica. Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
My husband stuck by our vehicle to watch for authorities, since we were both nervous about trespassing. I explored as much as I could, until I felt so sick we finally had to leave. I will go into more detail in Part 2 of this post about how the place made me feel.
“Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.” ―Madeleine Roux, Asylum
Trish Eklund is the owner and creator of Abandoned, Forgotten, & Decayed, and Family Fusion Community, an online resource for blended families of all types. Trish’s photography has been featured on Only in Nebraska, ListVerse, Nature Takes Over and Pocket Abandoned. Check out the new Bonanza Store for AFD merchandise! Follow on Instagram and Facebook. Trish is regularly featured on The Mighty, Huffington Post Divorce, and Her View From Home. She has also been featured on Making Midlife Matter, and The Five Moms, and has an essay in the anthology, Hey, Who’s In My House? Stepkids Speak Out by Erin Mantz.