By the early 1930s, Norwich State Hospital and Connecticut’s General Hospital for the Insane were filled to capacity with patients. A new facility was necessary.
On June 10, 1931, the cornerstone of Fairfield State Hospital was laid in Newtown, Connecticut. Senator Roger W. Eddy gave a speech at the ceremony, explaining Fairfield’s superiority:
"...The laying of the cornerstone of the building from which will be administered the conduct of an institution which we will believe will surpass either of its predecessors in the State in its … cure of those unfortunate people whose minds have become deranged with strange fancies and who have lost control over their thoughts and emotions."
As it happens, many of those unfortunate people are still wandering Fairfield’s hallways—long after the facility was closed.
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By the mid-1930s, patients were moving into the new hospital at an alarming rate. The overcrowding in other facilities put an unnatural strain on resources, so a suggestion was made to add over 500 beds to the already struggling Fairfield. This massive influx required that beds were added to the dorms, day rooms, porches, examining rooms, and sewing room; it would also be necessary to place beds in the dining room of the general hospital, club rooms in the nurse's home and in the unoccupied dorm for unmarried nurses.
This worried Dr. Roy Leak, who considered the big addition a risk to safety via “untidy and destructive patients.” Despite improvements at Fairfield, Dr. Leak resigned in October 1935 and left his superintendent duties to Dr. Clifford D. Moore. A year later, hydrotherapy was introduced as a method of treatment.
In 1941, the patient overload continued and led to a high staff turnover. Not only did employees resign from exhaustion, but because World War II demanded their services elsewhere. Advertisements for summer jobs were placed in the local papers—in the hope that younger people would fill the empty personnel slots. The introduction of Electric Shock Therapy to Fairfield’s repertoire also looked promising.
But in November of that year, the first hints of darkness emerged.
The sudden death of a patient prompted an autopsy, which revealed that the man had been severely beaten to death. Five employees were fired. Two of the attendants were convicted of manslaughter, and one of assault.
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Patient abuse was suddenly in the spotlight. So too was the notion that employees were prone to bouts of drunkenness. Dr. Moore worried that such abuse would tarnish the hospital’s image; at the same time, the community worried that patients would make attempts to escape. As a result, the remaining staff decreased so radically that Dr. Moore was granted permission to hire conscientious objectors and their wives.
The 1940s brought waves of influenza and bronco-pneumonia to Fairfield. In just one month, December 1944, 41 patients died. On May 25, 1946, Dr. Bernard S. Brody started performing frontal lobotomies on patients with a destructive history. Within a year’s time, 107 patients had been lobotomized. 35% were discharged as “slightly improved,” 26% had not improved, and 4% died due to post-operative complications. These numbers left 35% of the patients unaccounted for.
Staff morale fell swiftly and bad press continued to haunt the facility. As a means of damage control, the Public Welfare and Humane Institutions Committee met with the Board of Trustees to discuss their handling of accident reports. Governor James L. McConnaughy not only forbade Fairfield’s coroner from releasing any more information to the press, but also implored the hospital to report accidents that could cause death. Ten incidents were reported within two weeks.
Eventually, the Board of Trustees was informed that patients were put into "mass seclusion" in one room because of staffing issues; additionally, some patients starved because there were no staff members around to assist them with eating.
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By the end of the 1940s, conditions improved once more. The 1950s ushered in new personnel—and a film for psychology students, titled Man to Man, was shot on the grounds in 1954. But that same year, a former psychiatric aide named Chuck Hall wrote an exposé on the neglect and brutality he witnessed at Fairfield. The hospital attempted to counter this by making architectural changes and promoting a more welcoming, home-like atmosphere.
However, this didn’t solve the problem of overcrowding.
With numerous patients being prescribed medications, and a disproportionate amount of nurses to administer them, the daily routine became chaotic.
The deinstitutionalization movement of 1960s and 1970s resulted in many psychiatric hospitals closing their doors. The high operation and maintenance costs no longer justified the yield.
Although Fairfield attempted to pivot into a drug and alcohol program, the hospital died a slow death. Finally in 1995, the facility was closed.
Most of the hospital’s buildings are connected by concrete tunnels, which were primarily used to move patients back and forth in bad weather. Corpses were also transported this way. The buildings of the hospital are both closed and boarded up, although enterprising ghost hunters have found more than a few ways inside.
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Those who have visited Fairfield report sounds of wailing and anguish—always from an indiscernible direction. The tunnels that connect the buildings are reportedly a hotbed of sounds ranging from wall scratches to the rustling of medical equipment. Cold air, even in mid-summer, fills the corridors, and those who visit report feeling sick until they are completely off the grounds.
With local police ramping up their patrol, access to Fairfield is now virtually nonexistent. There are, however, walking trails and paths for the public.