Inside New Jersey’s Abandoned Greystone Psychiatric Hospital With Guthrie


Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, built in 1876 according to the Kirkbride Plan, began as a model for humane mental health care. However, overpopulation, understaffing, and mismanagement plagued the hospital throughout the years, eventually contributing to its closure in 2008. The abandoned building’s creepy ambiance piqued the interest of urban explorers, vandals, and curious visitors.

In 2014, a photographer and explorer named Lightfoot examined the dilapidated hospital. He concentrated on recreating the traces of Woody Guthrie’s presence, the iconic folk singer who spent five years at Greystone recovering from Huntington’s illness.

Woody Guthrie’s Story

Woody Guthrie, a notable 20th-century singer noted for his socially aware songs, had a difficult existence defined by poverty, suffering, and Huntington’s disease, a hereditary illness that causes brain cell degeneration. Guthrie developed symptoms in the late 1940s, resulting in unpredictable conduct and several misdiagnoses.

From 1956 until 1961, he was sent to Greystone, where he underwent electroshock therapy, medicine, and seclusion while unable to play his guitar or write lyrics. Despite his health, Guthrie’s impact lives on, influencing musicians such as Bob Dylan. Guthrie died in 1967, aged 55, after being transferred to another hospital in Brooklyn.

The Deterioration of Greystone

Greystone continued to function after Guthrie’s departure until 2008 when it closed due to poor facilities and congestion. The vast edifice, which covered over 600,000 square feet and was created in the Second Empire Victorian style, served as a historic marker for the Kirkbride Plan.

However, Greystone departed from the plan’s compassionate goals, resulting in controversies, litigation, and degradation. The derelict structure became a symbol of the mental health system’s shortcomings, attracting urban explorers curious about its past. Nora Guthrie introduced Lightfoot, who is Phillip Buehler, a seasoned photographer attracted by urban ruins, to Greystone. Woody’s daughter, Nora, asked him to chronicle the abandoned hospital, granting him access to the Woody Guthrie Archives.

Lightfoot’s Exploration

Lightfoot, armed with his camera and a desire to explore abandoned locations, visited Greystone numerous times. Inspired by Guthrie’s account, he photographed the deteriorating passageways, abandoned rooms, and graffiti-covered walls. Lightfoot searched for signs of Guthrie’s presence, ultimately uncovering the musician’s ward on the fourth floor.

He photographed the cold environment, metal beds, and mementos of Guthrie’s life, such as carved names and sketches. Lightfoot’s voyage attempted to connect with Guthrie’s experiences and communicate them with the world. Lightfoot collaborated with Nora Guthrie on a book called “Woody Guthrie’s Wardy Forty: Greystone Park State Hospital Revisited” and showed his images in New York. Despite Lightfoot’s attempts to save Greystone, the state of New Jersey demolished the historic structure in 2015 for safety and environmental reasons.

Final Words

Finally, Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, which was once a shining example of compassionate mental health treatment, closed in 2008 due to overcrowding, mismanagement, and degradation. Photographer Lightfoot’s research, which focused on Woody Guthrie’s disturbing experience, caught the ominous atmosphere of the crumbling institution. Despite efforts to preserve its heritage, Greystone was demolished in 2015, signaling the end of an era filled with controversy and neglect.

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