The Haunted Overbrook Sanatorium
By James Donahue
The dank degraded buildings that once were known as the Overbrook Insane Asylum and
later the Essex County Hospital Center near Cedar Grove, New Jersey, have been demolished now. But in their day they were
considered one of the most haunted places in the nation.
Essex County authorities financed a razing of the complex in 2010 because the buildings
were declared “safety hazards and eyesores in the community.”
They were all of that, and much more, according to local natives who grew up knowing
the stories of the haunting and strange goings on within the century old buildings. The stories of paranormal activities were
so widespread the place attracted television crews shooting “ghost hunter” stories and the set for the Hollywood
movie Choke that starred Anjelica Huston.
The massive complex, which sprawled over several acres, had its origins as the Overbrook
Insane Asylum when first built in 1896. It operated as a county hospital until the last building was closed in 2007. By then
its reputation as a haunted facility was already well known.
Because of its age and long history, Overbrook was the scene of many deaths and at
least one terrible event. The hospital’s boilers failed during a very cold winter of 1917. Before they could be repaired
20 days later, 24 patients froze to death in their beds.
The hospital was part of a very large complex that some described as a city In its
total size. The hospital was located at the bottom of a hill right under the Essex Mountain Sanatorium, which loomed eerily
from above. Historians say the complex was used as an orphanage, a facility for holding delinquent children, a treatment center
for tuberculosis patients and a home for the insane.
It was said that during a tuberculosis epidemic that struck the area in 1906 there
were over 800 deaths from the disease at the sanatorium.
All of the tragedies associated with the facility and the stories of paranormal activities
occurring in the century-old buildings soon made the place a legendary location. For generations growing up in the area, a
visit to Overbrook was a “rite of passage. Going to “the asylum” was a dare for every teen and a challenge
for the local police to prevent. Over the years the stories about haunted encounters became legend in the area.
One unidentified person who dared to explore the abandoned old buildings wrote: “I
recall seeing many pentagrams an swastikas painted throughout the complex, and signs that rituals of some kind had been conducted
in the chapel. That alone was eerie. The silence that was heard throughout the building – it was enough to make the
hair on the back of your head stand on end.”
Others told of hearing footsteps when there was nobody there, and one person reported
watching a “very old wheelchair moving on its own.”
Another descriptive account by a person who told how his friends abandoned him as
a joke in the midst of the complex. “To walk through that place alone, even in the daytime, was absolutely terrifying.
There were strange noises coming from all directions. I could hear footsteps, crunching glass and weird sounds like someone
was dragging something.’
The writer said he found a doorway out of the building but found himself surrounded
by large, empty structures. “I noticed that about four or five floors up there was someone looking down at me from one
of the windows. The face was pale, almost ghostly white, with very dark eyes. It was motionless, just watching me. My blood