One of the more infamous asylums in New Jersey lore is Greystone Psychiatric Park, located in Morris Plains. First conceived in1871 and known as The New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum at Morristown, the institution first opened its doors (to a mere 292 patients) on August 17, 1876.
In its day, Greystone was a landmark in progressivism. Designed by Thomas Kirkbride, the hospital advocated uncrowded conditions, fresh air, and the notion that mental patients were curable people.
One of the more famous aspects of Greystone is its notorious network of underground tunnels and rails. This system led to Greystone being built on one huge foundation --it was actually the largest continuous foundation in the United States until the Pentagon was constructed. Being that the hospital sits on over 670 acres of land, this rail system served to unite the entire complex as one contained unit.
Over time, the humane reputation of Greystone was tarnished, as overcrowding became the norm (the hospital, which was originally meant to house hundreds, once contained 7,674 patients in1953). Overcrowding was a problem almost immediately in the hospital’s history. In 1881 the attic was converted into patient living space, and in 1887, the hospital’s exercise rooms were converted into more dormitories.
One of the hospitals more famous patients was folk singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie, who spend a stint at Greystone from 1956 to 1961. Woody was suffering from Huntington’s disease, a hereditary, degenerative nervous disorder which would eventual prove terminal. During his stay there, Woody referred to Greystone as “Gravestone.” This sardonically humorous nickname might prove more prophetic than Woody ever could have imagined, as Greystone might well be the last monument to a dying breed of New Jersey’s gargantuan mental institutions.
Published on WeirdNJ.com: flickr.com/photos/lipsss/2858090027