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Over the recent break, I mentioned to a friend that I needed to write about a ghost-related urban legend. He offered to tell me about Glenn Dale Hospital, which is supposedly a famous ghost legend in Maryland. Since I am a lifelong Maryland resident and did not know about the hospital, I was eager to hear the story. The story was told in the living room of a house by a 19 year old white male native to southern Maryland. He is from a middle class family and his father and mother are a construction worker and a homemaker, respectively. He heard the story from another friend who claims to have visited Glenn Dale Hospital.
So, in the 30s and 40s they used to send tuberculosis patients to the [Glenn Dale] hospital for treatment. [normal relaxed tone] Eventually it was converted into an insane asylum and it became notorious for its treatment of patients. The staff experimented on the patients and locked them up all day. One day, all the patients revolted and the doctors ran out of the hospital and boarded up all the doors and windows. [talking faster] The patients were left inside to die and the hospital was abandoned. The insane still wander the halls. Today, if you sneak in the hospital you will be chased by the ghosts of the patients and catch tuberculosis. My friend went there and swears he saw a ghost watching him from the shadows, and he won’t go near that place anymore [gestures with hand in horizontal motion]. The cops arrest anyone they catch trespassing, but they say the cops won’t go in the hospital after you if you need help.”
There is evidence to support some of this story. According to a Washington Post article from December 10, 2006, Glenn Dale Hospital does exist on over 200 acres in Prince George’s County, Maryland. In fact, it did house tuberculosis patients starting in the mid-thirties. However, that is essentially all the truth in the story. The article states, “It [Glen Dale Hospital] was never an insane asylum, as urban explorers and paranormal researchers suggest on the internet.” Since it was never an asylum, the idea of a revolt and the insane wandering the halls must not be true. Since tuberculosis does not last for decades without human hosts, it is impossible to catch the disease just by exploring the hospital.
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There are a few variations to this story. The Glenn Dale Hospital Mission, a Web site dedicated to the hospital, debunks a rumor a tuberculosis outbreak is the explanation for the hospital’s shutdown. This variation on the urban legend claims that during a 1970s outbreak, the doctors had no choice but to lock all the patients in their rooms to die.
It also suggests that the patients overthrew the hospital and killed all the staff. They escaped into the woods and surrounding areas and terrorized local residents. Some of the escapees made their way back to the hospital, and to this day they live in its underground tunnels and chase unwelcome visitors.
The story has similarities with other legends about abandoned hospitals. According to AbandonedOnline, a site specializing in documenting abandoned places, the Waverly Hills Sanatorium near Louisville Kentucky suffered a similar fate. It too was a center for tuberculosis treatment which was shut down in 1982. Room 502 is supposedly haunted by the ghost of two people who committed suicide there. Ghost Hunters frequently visit the site to look for the ghosts of those who died there. Though Waverly Hills isn’t quite as haunted as Glenn Dale Hospital, they both have the same element of the ghosts of the abused patients haunting those who visit.
The superficial purpose of this story is to scare people with the thought of being chased by the insane. However, upon closer examination, there exists another moral. It appears that the story cautions against abuse of power. Since “the staff experimented on the patients and locked them up all day,” it is clear that they abused their power. It seems only natural that the patients would revolt and possibly kill the doctors.
With the constant awareness about human rights today, this story also offers a supposition about what happens when those rights are violated. Of course, being locked away is a violation of one’s rights and the insane haunting the hospital complex is, again, a natural result of the conditions.
Furthermore, this story examines society’s prejudices and general ill-will toward things that aren’t understood. The main “scare factor” in visiting the hospital (other than the asbestos) is the thought of being chased by the insane. Since insanity is inherently difficult to understand, people could form negative stereotypes. People are usually afraid of things they don’t understand and this story draws on that.
Lake, Matt. Weird Maryland. New York: Sterling, 2006. 250-254.
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.
“Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Hospital” AbandonedOnline. 30 Mar 2007. http://www.abandonedonline.net/index.php?catid=84.
Williams, Rebecca . “Rumors.” Glenn Dale Hospital Mission. 5 Dec 2006. 30 Mar 2007. http://gdhospital.tripod.com/id28.html.