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Many urban legends get passed down to others from information people hear, read, and experience on their own. Stories get manipulated and exaggerated over time and reasons for the story’s existence can vary. The true story of Glenn Dale Hospital appears to be rather clear according to credible sources – but this does not stop people from creating their own myths and legends and believing what others tell them is true.
The story was told to me by a white female college sophomore that I have known for many years. We happened to be back home over the same weekend and I happened to be on the hunt for an urban legend; luckily she was eager to tell me about her experience trying to visit Glenn Dale Hospital. The following is the story I was told, as close to verbatim as possible:
I remember it was Freshman year [in high school] and all the upper class lacrosse girls told us to meet at one of the girl’s houses because we were going to go to a party. We met up there, and got into three different cars and started driving. The van I was in had 6 other girls in it and I was pretty good friends with the senior driving it so it didn’t take long for the senior to tell us that we weren’t really going to a party – and that we were going to go visit an abandoned insane asylum. I had never heard of Glenn Dale Hospital and the entire trip, we were told of how many unexplainable deaths used to occur at the hospital and how if you go there today, you can still hear the screams of the patients throughout the halls. I don’t remember what road we ended up on, but next thing I knew – it was all of us freshman walking through a long field seeing a large building in front of us. The closer we got… the slower we walked. We started talking about everything we had heard in the trip up. One girl mentioned that there are still bodies and papers left in the hospital and that the place was abandoned after the workers refused to keep working there after so many inexplicable deaths. Another mentioned that there are always cops patrolling the place and you can get arrested for trespassing. Ironically, as soon as the girl finished talking about the cop, we heard a loud voice from the other side of the building.
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The teller performed the story with a lot of excitement the whole time. Her eyes literally lit up when she explained the voice that she heard and was nearing the end of the story. To the best of my knowledge over the years I have known her, she has been a very honest person so the true belief of everything on her part made the description of the account even more exciting.
When I did my own research on the story of Glenn Dale Hospital, I found something very unique about the story I was told. The story makes no mention of the place being a tuberculosis clinic. Another source for the history of the hospital explained that it was in fact a tuberculosis clinic for children and adults (Latimer). Another personal account I ran across when researching the story explained that the hospital was a tuberculosis clinic that was later converted to a psychiatric patient’s home (Odukoya). A third source mentioned a personal story of someone who also heard that the hospital was first a tuberculosis clinic that was later converted to an insane asylum as cases of tuberculosis in the area diminished (Nordvik). All the other stories did concur that the hospital was a tuberculosis clinic. Two personal stories also agreed that the hospital was an insane asylum.
Much has been lost in translation because of years passed for this story, but the fact that it was unique from all the others in the fact that it only mentioned that the hospital was an insane asylum may have stemmed from the purpose of the story’s founder. If used as a simple scare tactic, an insane asylum could seem much spookier than a tuberculosis clinic turned into a general hospital in its latter years. If truly believed however, the alternate background speaks about the symbolic meaning of the story but even more so the purpose in creating the story. Inexplicable death and the mentally insane both imply a lack of control in the life and death of those involved. The inexplicable deaths obviously speak as a lack of control in the fact that if they truly did happen, nothing could have been done to stop them and those involved could not have saved them. Inexplicable deaths are never occurrences such as a succumbing to injuries or death as the result of a long illness – they are most often sudden and bizarre. The vagueness around what the storyteller knew of these deaths offer a lot of room for interpretation but also help provide the mystery behind the “inexplicable” part of the death. The focus of this particular version of the story on the mentally insane also focuses on a lack of control in terms of mental capacity or restraint. Another symbolic representation of constraint stems from the fact that the place is believed to be an asylum by the storyteller. Between a lack of physical control and mental control, I believe the meaning of the story directly relates to human need for control both physically and mentally in one’s life – without one or the other, people do not feel normal or complete.
It is intriguing to find how many different version of an urban legend are out there, even when the historic facts may prove the background of the story completely false. As far as the storyteller is concerned however, everything from the “asylum’s” past to the confusion in the true root of the loud voice the girls heard was just as factual to her as if she had heard that the place was a tuberculosis clinic and the circumstances led to a very unique reinterpretation of an otherwise rather common area legend.
Latimer, Leah. “Quarantined.” The Washington Post. 10 Dec 2006. 30 Mar 2007. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/06/AR2006120601206.html.
Odukoya, Abimbola. University of Maryland Legends Collection. April 2007. http://www.wam.umd.edu/~dschloss/Legends/glenndale_2.htm.
Nordvik, Shane. Abandoned and Haunted: Glenn Dale Hospital. 2004. http://www.weirdus.com/stories/MD03.asp.