Capturing Our Abandoned Past – Local Authors Document Asylums

by | Feb 1, 2016

Jeff LaBonte

There has been a growing trend of ‘urban exploration’ which has spurred a fascination with abandoned buildings. Amateur photographer Tammy Rebelllo was bitten by the bug, and began taking pictures of abandoned state hospitals back in 2009. “My kids were into Ghost Adventures at the time, and I got hooked” said Rebello. The fascination evolved into avocation.


Photo (c) Tammy Rebello

Along the line, Rebello got to talking to friend and eventual co-author, Lynn Blanchard about the possibility of turning the photos into a book. Last winter, the idea became reality.  Rebello and Blanchard signed with Acadia Publishing based in Mount Pleasant, SC for the first book in their Abandoned Asylums series.

Why state hospitals, or asylums? “I was interested in photographing these asylums from an historical and architectural view” said Rebello. “But really it became about what happened to the people”

Many of these facilities still stand, in various states of disrepair. Despite their often being situated on large, commercially attractive parcels, redevelopment is a costly and dangerous proposition. Most, if not all, contain asbestos and lead paint, and lots of it.

“These are often large, sprawling facilities. The abatement alone will cost millions. The state doesn’t have the money and no developer wants to take that on.”

So they sit, largely unused and slowly wasting away.

Initially, the book was going to cover all of New England, but their editor convinced to focus on one state to start. The book features eight presently abandoned Massachusetts Asylums that Rebello photographed over the years. Most of the photographs are external shots, as many of the facilities are locked, secured and potentially dangerous giver their state of disrepair. In some cases, Rebello did enter the buildings, however.

“If the door was open, and it looked safe, I would go in” said Rebello. “Otherwise I photographed from the outside. It is fascinating how they [asylums] just sit there rotting.”


Photo (c) Tammy Rebello

Blanchard, meanwhile, was researching the histories of these now-abandoned asylums. “The stories need to be told” said Blanchard. “There were some awful things that happened in these places.”

The authors examined state records and news stories.  They interviewed former employees, families of former patients, and historical society members. Blanchard worked closely with Rebello to compile a concise history of each property, then match the best of Rebello’s photos with the text. The actual compiling the book took about 6 months.

“The writing was actually the easy part” said Blanchard. “It was the research that took the time. You have to verify all the stories, which can be challenging. If you can’t find multiple sources, you have to be careful using the research.”

In the end, Rebello and Blanchard have put together a fascinating, illustrated narrative about the decline of the Massachusetts state hospital system, and some of the horrific conditions inside these still off-limits institutions. The 90 or so pages of photos and history paint an intriguing and disturbing picture of neglect – on more than one level.

Just recently, Acadia Publishing agreed to a second book from Rebello and Blanchard, this time covering Connecticut. Abandoned Asylums of Connecticut should hit booksellers next February.

But, first, Abandoned Asylums of Massachusetts hits bookstores today, and can be purchased on If you have even a passing interest in history, urban exploration, or the intriguing stories locked inside abandoned buildings, you are sure to enjoy this book.

Abandoned Asylums of Massachusetts

Tammy Rebello and L.F. Blanchard

First in Series: Images of Modern America

Paperback: 96 pages

Publisher: Arcadia Publishing (February 1, 2016)