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Unique Photography Book Features Images of Abandoned Asylums in Massachusetts

Apr 23, 2013

Western New York Native Writes Introduction to book featuring Massachusetts facilities

Historian William Loren Katz once said, “If you believe that people have no history worth mentioning, it’s easy to believe they have no humanity worth mentioning.” This quote can be seen on the introductory pages of a recently republished book by the Museum of disABILITY History, located in Buffalo, NY, and its publishing entity People Ink Press.

Abandoned Asylums of New England, part of the Abandoned History Series, offers the unique photography of John Gray, who has captured the final throes of the once majestic monuments of medical treatment that were state institutions for treating people with disabilities. Gray, of New England, spent 12 years taking photos that are eerie, yet architecturally beautiful, of abandoned asylums in various towns and villages that mark New England’s landscape. Originally self-published by Gray more than ten years ago, this brand new edition features an expanded collection of images and historical insight by the Museum of disABILITY History.

A vast array of Massachusetts institutions are featured in the book exploring some of the region’s most prominent institutions from the nineteenth century, including state lunatic hospitals, state schools for the feeble-minded, tuberculosis sanatoriums and a hospital constructed specifically for people labeled dipsomaniacs and inebriates. Photographs of decrepit hallways, eerie rooms, leftover medical supplies and patient artwork are just some of the scenes that enable readers to envision the lives of the inmates and staff members who once occupied these storied temples of control, treatment and rehabilitation.

“When I realized this book was no longer being printed, I contacted John Gray and asked him what he thought about republishing and adding historical content through the Museum of disABILITY History under our recently established People Ink Press,” said James M. Boles, Ed.D., president of People Inc. “We began working together and the interest in the book has exceeded our expectations.”

The Abandoned Asylums of New England book is part of the Abandoned History Series published by the Museum of disABILITY History, People Inc. and People Ink Press. Due to a general reluctance to discuss the way those in need were treated in the past, records and memories related to the care and treatment of the poor, sick, and disabled are fading into the past – into the world of abandoned history. The Museum of disABILITY History is committed to preserving the important historical record of these almost-forgotten lives and the institutions and services that evolved over centuries to provide a more humane existence for those in need of care. This book is a part of that effort.

The introduction of the book is written by Western New York native Douglas Platt, who is the curator of the Museum of disABILITY History. A resident of Newfane, Platt attributes the closing of institutions to both public outrage at conditions within them, and changing approaches to care. When asked if today’s society has improved the treatment of mentally ill, Platt shared, “The community care model of service delivery for individuals with mental health issues, or other disabling conditions, is a vast improvement over the practice of institutionalization.”

One of the goals of the Museum of disABILITY is to introduce the community to a history people may not be aware of: “This book will provide readers with a rich and engaging visual experience, and I hope that it will also lead to a desire to explore the history of individuals who lived out portions of their lives in these and other institutions,” said Platt. “I hope this book will be an opportunity for reflection on attitudes about disability.”

The Daily Mail, which is the second most read daily publication in England, wrote a story about the book in its Mail Online. The Australian, Australia’s largest selling national publication ran a story on it as well. The Huffington Post also included an article yielding great interest with more than 800 comments to date. “Due to these articles, we have been getting inquires for copies of the book nationally and internationally,” said Boles.

Copies of the Abandoned Asylums of New England book may be purchased online at or at the Museum of disABILITY History, 3826 Main Street in Buffalo. Proceeds will benefit the Museum of disABILITY History, a non-profit organization.

The Museum of disABILITY History and People Inc. established People Ink Press in 2010, which is dedicated to publishing books related to disability history. The Museum of disABILITY History, a project of People Inc., is dedicated to the collection, preservation, and display of artifacts relating to the history of people with disabilities. The mission is to tell the story of the lives, triumphs, and struggles of people with disabilities as well as society’s reactions. The Museum of disABILITY History offers educational exhibits, programs and activities that expand community awareness.

People Inc. is a not-for-profit health and human services agency providing programs and services to more than 10,000 people with special needs, their families, and seniors throughout Western New York. Since 1971, People Inc. has assisted individuals to achieve greater degrees of independence and productivity.

Newspaper Coverage:

Daily Mail: Locked up and left alone: Photographer captures haunting images of the broken windows, rusted chairs and strange sights inside the abandoned asylums of America Photographer John Gray braves America's abandoned asylums

The Huffington Post: Abandoned Asylums of New England Photographed In New Book

Art Voice: Mainly a Question of Visions, The Pictures