Preston worked at Danvers State Hospital for 24 years. In 2005, I interviewed him and this was the first time he has ever shared his story with the public.
DSH EMPLOYEE INTERVIEW
John Gray: When did you start your employment at DSH?
Preston: I went there and applied in 1968 for a maintenance position. What they had open at the time was a handyman position and it was only a 90-day temporary position. I took the job and stayed there for the 90 days and a position opened up in engineering. The hospital asked if I wanted to stay on full-time and I said I would. In my 24 years of employment at the hospital I worked in engineering, I was a carpentry handyman, I worked over at the garage and ran the transportation department. Towards the end I was the director of transportation, the head of grounds and security.
J: Where was your office located?
P: My office was behind the Kirkbride near the plumbing department. Behind the Kirkbride was where all the shops were. Masons, Plumbing, Carpentry, Blacksmith, Tinsmith, Machine shop everything. I worked with them all. The talent they had in these shops was incredible. They made everything right on the property. All the tension screens you see on the Kirkbride windows were all made in the maintenance department. The steel screens in the stairwells for patient protection were all made on site. There was basically nothing they couldn't do there.
J: Were all the building in use and active when you first started?
P: Everything was for the exception of the Male and Female TB units. Even the Middleton Colony was in use. The farm, piggery, hennery was all in full operation. The slaughterhouse, the dairy where they processed their own milk, that was active and that was located at the top of the hill near the garages. We grew our own fruits and vegetables and always gave some to the inmates over at the Lawrence and Salem jails.
J: You mentioned the Middleton Colony was in use during your employment. Back in the 1930's that was housing tuberculosis patients. What was it being used for when you were there?
P: That was for elderly patients. Sort of like a rest home or nursing home for the very old mentally ill. Everything was in full swing even the kitchen over there in Middleton. All the cottages were open. The superintendent lived on the grounds, when I first started there, and it was Peter Hagopian. His cottage is still in use today and that's located over in the colony as you first pull in, it's the house on the right-hand side. I'm not sure but I believe DYS uses it now. Another old cottage that was renovated and in use today is the Cutler cottage. Well, we referred to it as Cutler because that's who lived in it. He was the assistant engineer to the hospital. His cottage is on the right of the CAB Center. Many employees lived right on the grounds. Even the head carpenter lived over at the Colony in the cottage right next to the mini power station which was also working. That was also our incinerator where we burnt all our rubbish.
J: Was the entire Kirkbride in use? All the wards?
P: All of them. Not only all the wards but the Hydro’s (B and I annex) were turned into wards because of the overcrowding. At one time those were strictly hydrotherapy. We tiled them and took all the plumbing out and made them into units because we needed the room. Every available space was being occupied. When I first started, there were 2100 patients there, so we needed space.
J: The Kirkbride had some renovations only a couple years prior to closing. I read they spent 4 million dollars just a few years before the entire campus was closed.
P: Oh yeah, they spent a fortune. Big money. They built a rehab center in back near the kitchen loading dock. During the final few years the only Kirkbride buildings that were in use was front and center (main administration) and the rehab center in back. Everything else was closed. Eventually the entire Kirkbride closed and we worked out of Medical Building (Bonner).
J: How did you hear about buildings and wards closing? Did you hear through other employees? Was it posted someplace?
P: We had management meetings every week where we discussed topics such as closings and other important issues. It was also posted in the DSH newsletter "News on the Hill" every department had to contribute to the paper. They kept a lot of information in regard to buildings closing quiet. They were afraid of losing employees they couldn't afford to lose at the time. They talked about closing the hospital back when I first started in 1968 so no one lent much credence to it because the rumors floated around for years and years. Every time there was a change politically it would swing a different way. One governor wanted it open and one didn't and when Michael Dukakis was in office, he was all for the place. When they started to close some of the units and putting patients out in the street, it was then we knew it was real and the hospital was closing.
J: What was that like seeing patients forced out?
P: I didn't agree with it and even today I don't agree with it. They put out some patients that didn't belong out with very little support and they weren't prepared to go out. I remember seeing patients sleeping in Salem Square on the benches, Lawrence was inundated, Lynn and the police didn't know what to do with them. They're mental health patients, what were the police to do? They just dumped them out on the street to get the numbers down because of politics. The hospital was told to reduce the numbers because of the budget, and they did.
J: Why was main administration steeple/tower removed in 1970?
P: It was too expensive to repair. It was deteriorating a little bit and it suffered some water damage. The slate shingles were falling off so rather than repair it, it was easier to just take it down. The hospital hired an outside contractor for that job. They used to hire outside contractors often, so they didn't take the maintenance personnel away from their work. Some jobs would be tied up for months. We capped the top of the tower and that's where maintenance put our radio antennas for our 2-way radios. Eventually they moved everything onto the water tower.
J: What happened to the tower after they removed it?
P: They put behind the Medical Building (Bonner) for a while and then it went to the dump. I know the weathervane at the top of the tower was still around someplace in the hospital. I believe it was over in the old blacksmith's shop.
J: Were there any buildings that were off-limits to you?
P: No. I could go anywhere. Maintenance personnel could go anywhere.
This painting was created by a former patient and was handed to Preston as a farewell gift weeks prior to the hospital closing. The stone that was used as a base is a slate tile from the Kirkbride roof. © John Gray
P: Towards the later years, when the 6th floor of the Medical Building (Bonner) was turned into the DYS unit, I had to call in advance to go up there. I had the key to get in but I had to call first. They had patients that were a danger. There were young agile kids and they didn't want us getting hurt and they didn't want them escaping. But other than that, there was nothing off-limits to me. I can honestly say I've been everywhere that you could possibly go in that hospital. I was in the tunnels, sub-tunnels, wards, the turrets, and even inside the water tower.
J: Why did you have to get inside the water tower?
P: When I was a handyman, Mike G and myself had to get inside and clean it. The water up there is chlorinated, and we also added chlorine to the water ourselves right on the grounds. That was one of my jobs on the weekends was to add bleach to the water. That process was done in the basement of the maintenance cottage. So, they had these inspectors come in run tests and they said they water tower needed to be cleaned. Mike and I weren't happy about it, but we were assigned to do it. There's a hatch at the top and we got in and cleaned it. I also had to turbine the boilers in the powerhouse. I had to climb inside the boilers which was a nasty, nasty job. It was over 100 degrees inside with them turned off. They couldn't shut them all off but of course they'd shut the one off you had to work on. I'd crawl inside through this small door with a wire brush, but you couldn't spend more than 20 minutes inside because it was so damn hot. You'd have to scrub all the tubes inside the boiler, but you could only punch 5 or 6 tubes at a time before you'd have to get the hell out because you couldn't breathe. It was a horrible job and we'd try to avoid it at all cost.
John Gray: When did all the buildings close for good? What years?
Preston: I'm not that good with dates but I'll give it my best shot.
J: Let's start with the Kirkbride A and J wards?
P: After the fire they closed A and J together and that was in 1985. One of the only major fires the hospital ever had was in the J Annex. They combined B and C wards together and H and I wards together soon after. All the wards were empty towards the later end of 1987.
J: Our Lady of the Hill Chapel?
P: Father Smith was the last priest there and that closed in 1973 or 74.
J: St. Luke’s Chapel?
P: That closed much later than Our Lady. Reverend Larson was the last to perform a service there and that was in 1990.
J: Gray Gabels?
P: That was in 1973.
J: Female Home?
P: I want to say around 1975 because the Male Home remained open only a couple years after that closed and the Male closed in 1977.
J: Farm Hall?
P: Farm Hall closed a year after I started in 1969.
J: Grove Hall?
P: That remained open after the entire campus closed in 92. It was the Danvers Detox. The last time DSH patients resided in that building was in 1971.
J: Earlier you stated that the only buildings that were abandoned/closed when you first started working there was the Male and Female TB cottages. So, the days they were being used as the art and music cottages came and went prior to your employment at the hospital?
P: No. I helped renovate those buildings and transformed them into the art and music cottages a year after I started in 1969. They stayed open as the art and music cottages for about 4-5 years and then those were finally closed for good around 1974 or 75.
J: Those TB cottages seem very small; how many beds were in each?
P: They were. They held a dozen or so beds each.
J: The Kirkbride main administration closed when?
P: Around 1989. The rehab center in back remained open but the Kirkbride complex was totally abandoned in 89. You couldn't even enter the Kirkbride at all to get to the rehab center. You had to walk around it.
J: Was maintenance always involved in major renovations to the buildings? You mentioned that the main tower removal was an outside contract. Who decided what project was too big for maintenance to handle?
P: What they used to do was any project under $500 we could do. Anything over had to be approved from Boston. We'd still end up doing the job, but the budget had to be approved. Any project that cost a few thousand dollars was sub-contacted out. That all shifted over the years though because like I said we renovated those hydro's and those were major jobs. We were over there for months and months. We worked weekends, nights whatever we wanted. Again, the push was, they were overcrowded, they needed the space for patients.
J: What happened to all the hydro tubs? Trashed? Did you send them to other hospitals to be reused?
P: They got trashed. We had a salvage yard at the bottom of the hill behind the lumber shed. That salvage yard had its share of controversy believe it or not. This woman from Lawrence ordered all these metal lockers for the patients which everyone thought was absolutely absurd. We had no room and nowhere to put the damn things. No one understood why an institution needed tin metal lockers. Not to mention metal lockers are not exactly safe for patients. Anyway, they never got used. They spent thousands and thousands of dollars on these things and I ended up crushing them all along with the hydro tubs with a bulldozer.
J: Where many employees living on campus when you were there?
P: Yes. The Female Home, Gray Gables were occupied with staff. Even upstairs in front and center (Kirkbride administration) had a few employees living in there. They had what was like studio apartments in the admin building. They shared a bathroom and so forth. I forget her name off hand but the assistant to the head chief was living in the admin. For the large numbers there was the Female Home and married couples lived in the Gray Gabels. Farm Hall, at the bottom of the hill was where the employed farm workers lived. Grove Hall was for patients and it was sort of a privilege to live there. It was a step-forward and an honor to live there. The patients had much more freedom if they were living in Grove Hall. They could walk around whenever they wanted, come and go as they please and many of them worked on the farms. Horace Clark who was the head farmer at the time lived at the bottom of the hill too. His cottage was the grey house on your right side just before you head up the hill. I ended up working out of his cottage towards the end after the farm went under. That's where the campus police were located, and I had an office in that cottage.
J: Who lived in the yellow cottage just as you enter the property off of route 62? It had a white screened in porch in back.
P: That was Dr. Sullivan's home. He was the assistant superintendent when I first started in 1969.
J: So, I assume the cottages/houses near Grove Hall that are in use today were all occupied with DSH staff?
P: Yes, they were. Dr. Stone, who was a psychiatrist, lived over there along with other Doctors. It was really economical for them because everything was provided, and I mean everything. Their phone service, their heat, their electrical and they paid like $6 a month to live there.
J: Was maintenance notified when a patient escaped?
P: Oh yeah. Everyone was notified. They'd phone us or call us on our 2-way radio. When I worked in transportation it was my job to go out and find them.
J: Did patients escape often?
P: Maybe once a month. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Usually it was the same patients always escaping so you'd actually get to know them and know where they are going. They were repeats. They'd go get cigarettes, or food or go get alcohol. There was a store in Middleton that would always call us "Hey John Doe is here again; can you come and pick him up?" so they pretty much went to the same places over and over again when they took off. Don't get me wrong, we had some that escaped with the intention of never getting caught but for the most part it was repeats.
J: What was the worst incident you witnessed involving a patient?
P: Back when they started dual diagnosis, they transferred this 15-year-old boy from Hogan to DSH. This boy had a habit of crawling into heat ducts. The heat ducts don't go anywhere at Hogan, it's a newer building and you can't get hurt. Anyway, they sent him up and he was up there for about 3 weeks and he disappeared. We searched everywhere for him. We looked all over and we couldn't find him. The staff over at J ward started to notice a horrible smell getting worse and worse every day. Anyway, to make a long story short, he got inside the duct work in J Annex. The duct work in DSH goes right down to heating coils. He slid down, couldn't get up, got trapped and died. His feet landed right on the coils and literally burnt off up to his shins. I was there and had to go over there and help cut him out of the wall. There must have been 25 people in that room that day. The Medical Examiner, clinicians you name it. I cut the wall and Butch (The Tinsmith) was there to cut the tin duct work. When we cut through it all and opened it up the kid was right there and looked almost frozen. The pathologist reached in to take him out and his hands sunk into his chest like Jello. The smell was disgusting it was a nasty stench and we all got sick. His death brought on a major, major state investigation. His parents were mad as hell and rightfully so. We had big wigs from Boston and the State Police lab up there for weeks. It was just a horrible experience. I've seen a lot in my 24 years and that was by far the worst.
J: Do you ever recall hearing about a pathology lab and morgue in the Kirkbride prior to you working there?
P: No. The morgue was over in the Bonner on the first floor. That side loading dock on the right side was where the hearse would pull up. It was a large morgue. It had 8 freezer drawers and had an observation room for doctors and nurses who were in training. I got to see a couple autopsies myself. Dr. Tobin who did they autopsies back then let me even watch a couple. Dr. Foote ran the lab and that was located on the 6th floor (prior to the DYS using the 6th floor towards the later years) In the basement was where they kept body parts and brain tissue. They had a freezer there and it was filled with that sort of thing. Maintenance would have to go down there on occasion because there was heat pipes running through and we'd have to climb up and do our work and there'd be all these lab bottles filled with specimens and baby fetus's in bottles just like you'd see in a movie. That lab was constantly busy. They were always working up there. Always doing research on something.
J: When did the morgue close?
P: I'd say around the mid 1970's. They started shipping bodies off the property and they eventually closed everything. They renovated the morgue into the canteen area not long after it closed. They closed the original canteen that was located over by the maintenance shops, behind the Kirkbride and opened up a new one where the morgue used to be in the Medical Building.
J: Was the operating building off of A ward ever used while you were there?
P: No. That was the old surgical unit. Surgeries were done out of the Bonner when I was there.
J: Do you recall any family members attending patient funerals?
P: I've never seen a funeral up there personally because they stopped burying patients in the cemeteries the same year, I started which was 68. I heard most families never showed up. The hospital would notify them, and they wouldn't show.
J: Do you know who was in charge of burring the patients in the past?
P: Horace Clark and his crew was in charge of burying the deceased. I remember a couple months after I started, they needed me to build a wooden box for a patient’s leg that was in the freezer over in the morgue. They operated on this man and he died. They had a funeral for him, and he was buried but they kept his leg probably for further research. He was buried for about a month before they buried his leg next to him. I remember feeling weird about the whole thing, it was sort of bizarre because I just started the job. The old carpenter Eddie Osborne calmed me down and said, "it's just a box, you're building a box that's all" and I built it, Horace's crew picked it up and placed the leg in it and they went and buried it. To the best of my knowledge that was the last patient buried there.
J: The hospital always had impressive landscaping throughout the years. I've seen pictures from the 1890's and 1930's and it was amazing work. Did they continue that during the years you were there?
P: They sure did. Charlie Sawyer ran the green house for years and years. God, he did beautiful work. He grew everything. All the plants in the wards, all the tables in the kitchens would have flowers on the them. He was always growing something all year round and those beds were always full. Easter plants, Christmas plants you name it and he kept that greenhouse spotless. He always had 3 or 4 patients working with him. I was speechless when I first went there. We had people from all over visiting the grounds. It got to be such a problem we had security start turning them away and kicking them out. The Danvers Herald was always there taking pictures, families having picnics and so on. And then we had people who were not even visiting a patient and they just wanted to hang around because it was so pretty. We also had groups who just visited because of the wildlife. We had deer, hawks all kinds of rare birds, foxes. Those gardens in front were spectacular and they had these circular gardens on each side that were just beautiful. Unfortunately, one of the very first things to close was that green house and it all stopped.
John Gray: What was the condition of the Kirkbride wards like when they first closed? Where they deteriorating at all?
Preston: They were in good shape. We used them for storage after for the beds, desks and furniture. To be perfectly honest, the wards didn't really start to deteriorate badly until they shut the heat off and the pipes froze. They shut the heat off but didn't shut the water off and pipes split. We had major damage over on the H, I and J units. It was all water. It took down floors and caused major, major damage. I have no idea why they'd shut the heat off. The power station is there heating Hogan and they'd just blowing off the excess steam that would of heated the Kirkbride. Why shut it down? What's the purpose? It doesn't cost them anything. Again, this sort of call was made from Boston. We had no control over that.
J: Speaking of the Hogan Center, did the DSH patients use their recreation facilities often? The swimming pool etc.?
P: Yeah, they did. Hogan had a pool and bowling alley the patients used. Danvers never had a bowling alley as far as I can remember so they just went down the hill to Hogan. It was shared system. We had Hogan patients come up to Danvers to watch movies in the auditorium and attend fairs, things like that.
J: Did the auditorium ever have a larger extended balcony? The one that's currently up is very small.
P: Yes, there was. It was before I came there but I believe it was around 1961 or 62 they ripped it down, took the seats out and did it over as you see it today with the gym floor.
J: Did you know Marie Balter?
P: Oh yeah. Her story is an amazing one. We worked together towards the end. Marie's family had a bakery in Gloucester, and they used to donate cakes to the hospital, and I sent drivers over there all the time to go pick them up. She became an administrator, so we worked very closely together when they were closing the hospital and transferring the patients to Tewksbury.
J: Did you know her as a patient?
J: What was the staff's reaction when they heard she was now coming back to DSH as an employee?
P: I don't want to sound derogatory because she was a good person, but some of the staff had resentment and thought she didn't belong in that position. Marie had a big heart and was very knowledgeable and certainly knew a lot of the patients. But it has to play into your psych that fact that she was a patient and the way you respond to things and some people had a problem with that. Marie could be very pushy as far as what she wanted, and it was a positive thing because her main priority was the care of the patients. But some people thought she went too far because of the fact she was a former patient. She didn't necessarily look at it from the perspective of an administrator; she looked it from the perspective of a patient. If Marie was here, she'd be the first one to tell you that and some people didn't like it. But she was always looking out for the good of the patient and had a big heart. Of course, you know of the film Nobody's Child that was based on Marie's life. Marie and Marlo Thomas became very close friends. Marlo came to the hospital many times to visit her before and after the film was made. They were good friends.
J: Speaking of movies, you mentioned to me in a prior conversation that your friend and fellow co-worker was the person shoveling snow in the beginning of the 1958 film titled Home Before Dark?
P: Oh yeah. That's Eddie Osborne. He was an old farmer from Vermont. That movie was made before my time but the first 10 minutes or so was all filmed at DSH even the interior. When I started there, Eddie had been there for 30 years already. He's an old timer.
J: Were there many old timers there?
P: Yeah, back then employees had years and years of service. Dick S. had 42 years there, Eddie P. who was the plumber had 47 years served, Paul D. worked there for 35 years and these people had talent and were very knowledgeable and knew every inch of that hospital.
J: Any idea who had the most seniority?
P: Yes, this woman who worked in the old laundry building. Not the newer laundry down on the lower grounds but the old laundry which was located right next to the water tower. She started out as a seamstress in the sewing department when she was 14 or 15 years old. She sewed patient clothes by hand because back then that's how you did it. The State House gave her an award in 1990 because she was there for 50+ years.
J: Some of the wall murals painted on the wards are very interesting. Was that all done by patients?
P: Most of them were. There was some beautiful artwork in that hospital. Down in the front and center lobby (main admin) we had paintings and drawings hung all over the place. We had people come in off the street offering to buy some of them. This one guy that was transferred up to DSH from Bridgewater was very talented and painted gorgeous stuff.
J: Did you know him at all?
P: Oh yeah. I was working on his unit and the staff told me to stay away from him because he murdered someone and was very dangerous. He befriended me and we talked on occasion. In fact, this guy was writing a book and he gave me his manuscript to take home and read.
J: What was his book about? His life stories?
P: Yes and he admitted in the book that he stabbed someone and tried to stab another person over at Bridgewater and so on. I had his book in my house for months and read the entire thing. He was a very interesting guy and quite friendly to me for some reason.
Bonner Building 2000 © John Gray
J: Why was he transferred to DSH when Bridgewater handles the criminally ill?
P: I really can't answer that but believe me DSH didn't want him there. This was when they started coming out with the duel diagnosis so maybe that had something to do with it.
J: Did any meetings take place at other Massachusetts State Hospitals or just DSH?
P: Most meetings took place at DSH, but we had several meetings over at Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, Worcester, Northampton, Bridgewater all over. I've been to every Massachusetts State Hospital for one reason or another. When I became the director of transportation that was a big part of my job was traveling to other hospitals to drop patients off, pick them up or attend meetings.
J: How many were employed at the hospital when you started?
P: At least 1500 and the longer you stayed the more people you'd meet and become friends with. I can't even count the people I know and met through that hospital. Being in maintenance you got to know everyone on every shift. We'd stop over at laundry, stop at the morgue, swing by the repair shops went over and hung out in the kitchen. At Christmas time every ward and building had their own little party, so we'd make our rounds and visit everyone, and you really became close friends with a lot of people. We had 88 people just in the maintenance department. It was town within a town.
J: Was Doctor Bonner there when you first started?
P: No. He was before my time. Eddie Osborne knew him and knew him well. He had a good reputation and from what I hear was a nice guy.
J: What are your feelings when you hear the hospital being referred to as this snake pit and this haunted castle?
P: In all honesty, I believe that the patient care was better at DSH than some of these half-way houses that are around today. They had recreation for the patients, entertainment for the patients, movie theatre, dancing, arts and crafts. They also had what was called industrial chores and patients could work in the woodshops, work with leather, make furniture and the patients loved it. I'm not saying it was perfect because there was bad staff and bad things did happen but that goes on at every hospital and at every business you work in. It certainly wasn't a snake pit. The public wants to believe it was because it has that mystique and the architecture gives you that impression. I mean there were dirty wards. That's no secret. We'd refer to C Ward as Shit Ward because patients wouldn't keep their clothes on and they soil themselves. They'd hose them down but it's not like what you read in books with staff blasting them with a fire hose with ice cold water and whipping them while being hand-cuffed together. That's just absurd. They'd hose them down to get the feces and urine off of them, but it wasn't abusive. For the most part, the staff loved their patients. They'd bring them special treats, take them out for rides and take home for dinner. I had this patient by the name of Byron over in this very house many times for dinner. Byron worked with me for years and you get to know these people and care for their well-being. We had patients sobbing in tears when they were closing the hospital. It was their home and didn't want to leave. Overall, the hospital was a good place and the staff did an excellent job with what they had.
John Gray: What was it like locking those Bonner doors forever on June 24th, 1992?
Preston: It was sad. It wasn’t just me who locked up the place. There were several people with me at the time. The assistant Superintendent, hospital administrators, the campus police and we went around and locked all doors. Sad, sad day.
J: Did you ever go back soon after it closed?
P: Oh yeah. I made a half-dozen or so trips after it was closed. There was stuff left in the garages and maintenance department and I had to go back often and move that stuff to Tewksbury. I still had people assigned on the lower grounds in the grounds department, but the top of hill was completely closed.
J: Did the DYS unit on the 6th floor of Bonner building move prior to the rest of the hospital?
P: Oh yeah, they moved around 14 months or so before we did. They were long gone. It remained unoccupied. We never used it.
Preston's appreciation for service certificate. © John Gray
J: Who was the last Superintendent you worked for at DSH?
P: Mr. Plissen was last superintendent, but he was an assistant superintendent though. They phased out the superintendent title in the early 80’s. They just never filled the position anymore. They used different administrators too. Bill Manning was an acting superintendent and other names that I forget right off hand.
J: What was the final six months like knowing the end was coming?
P: Well it was pretty surreal. I put so many years in there and knew so many people. It was odd because you still had to work and function, but you knew it was gone and it was going to close. They talked about closing the place back when I first started. We’d always hear rumors about the place closing, but they always managed to keep it open. But that last year was hard because we knew it was real this time. It was tough working in those conditions because our crew kept getting smaller and smaller.
J: Did you have any sort of farewell party during the last days?
P: Not really because there were a lot of people that either left on their own or got laid-off before it closed. There was also a lot of staff already at Tewksbury at the time too. The move was done one unit at a time so many people left when their unit did. There were a lot of things going on over at Tewksbury at the time. New units were being built etc. The area where my people occupied had to be refurbished because it was in a building that was closed for years.
J: How was the transition to Tewksbury?
P: Oh, it was tough. It was very difficult. They weren’t used to all the restrictions we had. The staff thought we were coming to take their jobs. There were a lot of hard feelings and we weren’t welcomed over there at all. They were forced to take us in, and they had no choice. We had to make many changes to their facility, and they weren’t happy about it. It was hard for both sides. You also have to remember at that time Tewksbury had a very old school superintendent. He was very head strong and made it very clear that it was his institution.
J: Do you stay in touch with any former DSH employees?
P: I did up until around 18 months ago. I used to hear from several of them, but I haven't in quite some time. I used to hear from two guys that were my employees that made the transition over to Tewksbury on a regular basis.
J: When you hear Danvers State Hospital come up in the news or when someone mentions it what's the first thing you think of?
P: The friends and the talent that was up there. Like I mentioned before, the tremendous things they could do there was simply amazing. Self-sufficient is an understatement.
John Gray: Is there a particular experience, memory or story you'll never forget about the hospital?
Preston: There are way too many to list here, but I'll give you a couple. As far as bad things that I saw, the kid over at Hogan really sticks out in my mind. I'll never forget that. But a lot of great things happened. I remember many years ago, over at the power plant at the Middleton Colony there was a large pipe that ran across the top of the near a cupola. We had a nasty storm and blew the entire thing right off. It was winter and blistering cold out. We had a crew over there and in two days we had the thing completely repaired which I thought was just unbelievable.
P: If you remember the blizzard of 1978, most of the state lost power but DSH kept rolling. I lived at the hospital for 5 days during that storm. I didn't go home.
P: Byron comes to mind often as well. He'd grab cereal out of the kitchen and head over to the greenhouse behind the Gables and the wild deer would come up and eat right out of his hand. I remember Byron came to me when he knew the hospital was closing and asked for his job back. It was heartbreaking. When you spend that much time with so many people and the stories are endless.
P: Another good story was when Governor Michael Dukakis came to the hospital to visit. The fear on his face when he went into a ward was unreal. You know these politicians think they know about Mental Health until they see it first-hand. Anyway, we had a patient by the name of Rosie that used to hang on the front steps of the admin. Everyone knew Rosie. She greeted everyone who came in and she always asked for a cigarette. If you said no, boy would she give ya hell. She was never physical or anything, but the swearing and yelling was loud. Well she asked Dukakis for a cigarette and he didn't have one and she let him have it. He was really taken back by it and didn't know what to do. We all joked about it years after.
J: What are thoughts now that the hospital is gone and destroyed?
P: It's sad no question about it. The architecture of those buildings was absolutely incredible. In some of those outside walls there were six layers of brick. The beams up in the attic had wooden pegs. The slate roofs, the granite just unbelievable craftsmanship. I never thought they'd tear it down. When it made it on the National Historic Register, I thought it was safe.
J: Will you visit once construction is completed?
P: I've been up there already. On a recent trip back from Maine, I swung up there to see if I could look around and they let me.
J: What did you think?
P: Well, I tell you. I didn't recognize a thing. That's not DSH anymore. The only building that was still there was the old screen house building which used to be the old engineering cottage. That along with the water tower. They wouldn't let me around the other side to see front & center (admin). And the lower grounds, all those buildings are gone. For many years I worked out of the old farmer's cottage and that's no longer there. It's sad and very strange. You could never replicate a place like that again. Never.
J: Did you have final thoughts? Anything you'd like to add?
P: Again, what I'd like to reiterate is that the hospital was a great place. Sure, some bad things happened, that goes without saying. Any hospital of that size you're bound to have some things go wrong. I don't deny that. But the horror stories, ghost stories are exaggerated. I've been up there all hours of the night. During every storm day and night, you name it. Sometimes 2, 3, 4 in the morning whatever it took. I even stayed overnight occasionally and what I saw was great care for the patients. It was all about the patients. And most of them loved being there. It was home. Like I mentioned before, they had concerts, movies, arts & crafts, music lessons. At Christmas time it was always open house. Anyone was welcome. You didn't even have to work there or know anyone. You could walk right in and stay and many people did. It really bothers me when people say it was a snake pit because it really wasn't.
J: If the hospital opened tomorrow, would you go back?
P: Oh without a doubt. Absolutely. Wouldn't even think twice about. I miss it.
Preston's farewell card from the staff. © John Gray