Architects of a New Dawn

We’d like to show the side of the world you don’t normally see on television.

The Manteno State Asylum
by Barek Halfhand


It has been close to a decade since I have been to Manteno Illinois, and while growth and development has since peppered the predominately rural landscape with prefab-ish subdivisions along the straights of Rt 57 just north of the Manteno exit, the small town, Main Street charm beside the railway looks unchanged. The community of approximately 7,000 is still largely a farming/agricultural community but also hosts a balance of industrial, corporate and small business transplants as well, such as being home to one of K-Mart’s main distribution centers...yet the still operational grain elevator that sits along the train tracks and dominates the northern downtown view seems to be revered and cherished as opposed to being shunned as archaic...The Farmers Elevator Company that was founded in 1913 proudly displays “Village Of Manteno” on it’s main freshly painted, track-side grain silo ....

The State Hospital has a profound and complex history and since it’s inception back in 1929 and dedication in 1930...today over a third of the campus like, single or 2 story buildings have been renovated and is owned by the Illinois Department of Veteran’s affairs and this was my first exposure to the area a decade ago when a contractual project assigned me there for the majority of a summer, and yes some the structures occupied or otherwise that lie within the fenced perimeter of the Vets Home are considerably active...

The State Mental Hospital/ Asylum had been a source of employment for many in the area at the time , fear for some when the facility began housing “mittimus residents” (deemed non violent but not fit for release felons) and perhaps even shame as the rumors of abuse and neglect surfaced during the post WWII overcrowding...the under staffing dilemma and the now archaic and questionably ethical practices of electro shock therapy, cold water treatment and orbital/full frontal lobotomy was commonly administered then. but some feel it was abusive barbaric, or at least irresponsibly overseen by today’s standards...

What has not been renovated, rehabed or demolished outside of the DVA property is boarded up tight or so structurally comprised by outward appearance that slipping inside one of the few buildings that still contain the artifacts of it’s past will soon be merely a notation of historic record and fading memory... but I was fortunate enough to experience just one of those remaining sites...I do not recommend that anyone ventures inside alone as I often do ...and yes I went in the basement...

There is a palpable stress dissipation that I experience the farther from the elevated urgency of urban proximity I journey...it may be the uncluttered mundania of emerging farm-scape, the liberation from the congestion and chaos of the convergent interstate toll way systems near the Indiana-Illinois border to the east or perhaps it is the facade of ephemeral expatriation from the pulsating negativity endemic to Chicagoland commuting...a negativity that most would agree is physically perceptible regardless of their personal beliefs related to PSI sensitivities inherent to all of us....

The Veteran’s Home was easy enough to find just from memory, but it proved to be a daunting task locating the last of the remaining State Hospital structures outside of the DVA fences that were not converted to offices, training centers, day care and machine shops as I seldom roamed south of the Vets home in the past...The old hospital administration building managed to retain it’s classic architectural aesthetics despite the current occupancy by HomeStar Bank...
the preservation efforts appear to have exterior upgrades limited to the retrofitting of energy efficient windows and the modernization of secure and accessible door schemes ...
my understanding is that this commendable commitment to authenticity was extended to the
interior restoration efforts as well...


..I did get a shot of the gazebo steepled front of the building but the distraction of
locating an asylum structure that was not gutted or leveled hastened my departure ..

The Google Earth topographical perspective is usually deceptive when utilized as a navigational tool from ground level ( especially when you are too lazy to include your laptop with your journalistic field accouterments and have to work from memory )...there is an odd
checker board of single story townhouse apartments and converted office/industrial park sites beyond the old admin building and with each block I circled the consternation of possible defeat intensified ...then I found what may be the very last of the original facility that has not been completely stripped of it’s interior fixtures and residual impressions ...

This remote corner of the property seems like it is intentionally avoided and the adjacent roads, sidewalks and empty lots are purposefully neglected ..there is farmland to the west and an overgrown vacant stretch of field bordering a golf course to the south...the virtually identical building directly across the street to the north has a tall fence that severely limits or completely restricts visibility of this enigmatic structure from within and to the east all facing windows are bricked up and painted...it seems like an exorbitant amount of effort was made by both neighboring offices/shops for it to simply an attempt to block an “eyesore” from view that is slated for inevitable demolition or rehab ....

My initial circumspection of the facility was not encouraging as the first entrance I noticed was a chained metallic double door that looked to be bulging from a force exerted from within, leaving a notable gap in the middle that was wide enough to permit a glance into the stale, dank darkness that awaited me...the front entrance foyer sits at the end of a broken yet traversable sidewalk flanked by a lawn that looked like it has had not met with the mighty blades of a state or locally subcontracted maintenance crew yet this year and if left unchecked would likely require a machete to wack the burgeoning grass blades and dandelions that are mutating into sunflowers to a manageable length..

The box fronted foyer looked to have a framed door the was deprived of its plated windows long ago but from the distance appeared to be small and festooned with jagged glass shards thus prompting a westbound reconnaissance hike around the building to seek out alternative access...the rain soaked grass from the overnight deluge was already starting to penetrate my boots so I retreated to the relative dryness of the sidewalk along the road that provided me with a panoramic perspective of this enigmatic structure that seemed to be in a much worse state of disrepair than I at first surmised...visible missing portions of the roof implied a comprised overhead structural integrity and when I approached the Pantheonic styled pillar lined western entrance I found myself further disconcerted to find large and rather heavy looking portions of
sheet-rock from the underside of the veranda’s roof had fallen to the cloister’s concrete slab below...

The west side door was completely removed revealing the stillness of the one the recurrent large halls that may have served as a dinning room, common area or perhaps even one of those wards that the old photos depict as filled with rows of beds along the walls and down the middle with only small isles and spaces in between...there was once over 22 of these identically designed “H” shaped buildings in this new and innovative for the time; campus style state facility ...



The feeling of hubris I was enjoying for locating this holdout building at a site that is on the brink of extinction and further finding it readily accessible was quickly abated when I crossed the
threshold of that side door ...depressing and sad and in some instances there is an anguish of despair like I have yet to experience to this extreme...why anyone would be cursed to such a tormented existence in life continues to elude me, but my tenable conjecture and intuitive affirmations that those that are already suffering with mental illness may also be subject to the selective harassment of low level predatory entities is repeatedly reinforced by places like this be it occupied or otherwise...

The holes in the wooded roof created a spotted suffused lighting to add to the bleak eeriness inside and the debris strew floor had standing water up to a few inches deep in some places rendering my already soggy boots to a soaked state of squishiness that you all better appreciate...
I’m still waiting for someone tho express gratitude for me almost freezing to death at
Peabody Estate on New Years Day just to get those sunrise shots lol...

The water on the floor was negligible in most of the places that was not completely covered with broken glass, beer cans, miscellaneous debris and portions of the ceiling that fell to the floor thus exposing the decaying wooden roof above...there is a cacophony of sounds ranging from birds fluttering about the rafters, water dripping, wind moaning through the holes in the roof that the elements and time continue to multiply and others that I have yet to discern...the graffiti and gratuitous vandalism is utterly senseless to me and even in my youth I can remember being at a quandary as to why some kids insisted on participating in such wanton destructive behavior ...some of the markings on the walls were of such an obscene nature that many of the non conventional camera angles you will see in a the PB album are intended to limit or obscure visibility of the content...

The bathroom and tub-room fixtures are still recognizable even though almost all of the toilets have been smashed into porcelain shards ... probably the cathartic expression of a self actualization achieved by the liberating epiphany of acknowledging and confronting a deeply buried and sublimated potty training trauma ...the concrete bases of the bathtubs have even been subjected to the nihilistic seeming need of someone to obliterate all traces of the asylum’s dark and sordid past (that or they just like to break stuff )...


The oppressive mood there is probably palpable to everyone whether they are sensitive, psychic or “normal” alike...but if any of you that decide to make the pilgrimage there before this last symbolic relic of what many construe as a failed state medical institution and (imho) a place of highly localized, elevated and concentrated paranormal activity is gone, I suggest that those that are endowed with psychical proclivities or may simply be sensitive to these energies, observe self shielding practices, religious protective invocations or employ simple mental preparation exercises prior to entering this site as it drained me really bad...

While much of the graffiti is of a pruriently depraved nature, there are instances in certain areas that overtly suggest satanic overtones as much as they are likely gang tags...and while dabbling with either can obviously have adverse consequences, this far enough away from the city that
I tend to attribute the gang symbolism to suburban middle class mischief more than real gang affiliation...although I hear those “Manteno Warlords” are serious players with a lot of “street cred” these days ...

The small, square courtyards that are on both sides of the dual hallways and interconnect the east and west sings, have long since reverted to an overgrown thicket from that of a carefully manicured patch of lawn, meticulously pruned trees and sculpted shrubbery...the are basement windows on opposite sides of the walls below ground level and boxed off by railings...a copse of full grown trees are growing from a couple of the basements wells in a constricted bundle contained by those metal piped railing bars ...the seedlings that found their way into the sediment rich bottom of the window wells and the roots continue to crumble the concrete that confines them from beneath ...

One of the basement wells that was not claimed by migrant saplings and long since relieved of it’s glass presented a forbidding yet irresistible allure of ominous intrigue...as I approached the moss marred bars of the railing a stream of cold air flowing from the darkness below stopped me in my tracks for a moment but I proceeded to climb the railing and drop to the mystery flooring below ...the only thing visible were a few insulated pipes but the cold intensified as I crouched down to stick a single camera clutching arm into the blackness to secure a few shots with the flash on ...Only after I was satisfied with number of varying photos I could achieve from the restrictive vantage point of the narrow window did I realize that my free arm was white knuckle clutching the railing ...not necessary to prohibit falling but more likely subconscious defensive posturing...the concerted effort to severely limit contact with the filthy and lichen slicked railing was like an arthritic game of “Twister” as I attempted extricate myself from the well without getting even dirtier than I already was ...much to my chagrin I later found an unobstructed staircase to the basement as I circled the building from the east wing doors and rounded my way back to the north end where I started and parked ...

The stairs were caked with mud but easily traversable as I cursed myself for the now
black streaked jeans I was wearing by climbing the courtyard railing just to acquire a couple of shaky shots through the window...as I stepped on the staircase landing the gust of almost industrial grade frigid air flowing from the open door below actually forced me to tack a few steps back in retreat as this preternatural cold was enough to trigger a reflexive response from the shock ...

As I turned the corner to a small room that served to accommodate the fire, electrical, phone and other specialized, antiquated control panels, I noticed on the wall opposite the entrance was a small flight of 3-4 steps leading to another door-less opening in the wall, from which even colder air and blacker darkness threatened ...the sardonic, cackling laughter similar to what I heard at the Mayslake Friary faintly echoed through the opening at the top the short stairway leading to the main basement of one of the wards that I struggled to photograph from the courtyard window well ...the growing sense urgency was escalated by the low ceiling and limited visibility beyond the split level entrance that revealed the main expanse of one of the ward’s sub spaces...the inexplicable cold was intense enough now to cause me to shudder slightly as I leaned against one of the square, intermittently spaced, main structural support columns closest to the door to adjust the camera settings (Heaven forbid I should ever bring a flashlight along) ...


The state of marginally manageable discomfort I felt when I transcended the perceived safety line of demarcation at the door frame moments early, was now culminating into almost full blown panic
as the claustrophobic confinement of the low ceiling and restrictive low light vision pressed down on me...the maddening, inescapable drops of tainted water that filtered their way down
from above continued to find me as I shifted nervously in my crouched defiance...even as I write this; my skeptical rationale is attempting to deny, mitigate or completely extirpate the familiar, seething black mist that coalesced out of the darkness towards me thus abruptly terminating my first visit....

Here are the unedited (compressed) photos my 5/2010 visit (146 total)....b
http://s843.photobucket.com/albums/zz355/BestOnEarth/The%20Manteno%...

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Comment by Barek Halfhand on May 31, 2010 at 9:16am
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