Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum

I didn’t go back to the library today. Maybe tomorrow. But right now, my nerves are still shattered. Instead, I stayed in my room, trawling the Internet for information on the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum—in part because of the book that was taken by the man in the stacks, but mostly out of sheer curiosity. Unfortunately, there isn’t much information to be found. This is what I remember from the book along with all I’ve managed to learn today . . .

When the asylum was built in 1821, the neighborhood now called Morningside Heights was still remote countryside. I have not been able to uncover many details about the men and women who were sent to Bloomingdale to live, although according to one source, the male patients were quite noisy and considered a nuisance by neighbors. In the 1890’s, the asylum relocated north of the city. Columbia University purchased its Manhattan land and began building a new campus. All of the asylum’s old buildings were torn down—except one. Buell Hall is a charming red brick building that’s now almost a hundred and thirty years old. It doesn’t seem all that interesting—unless you know what lies beneath it. Rumor has it that a number of tunnels—remnants of the old asylum—connect Buell Hall to other buildings on the campus. They are part of a vast underground maze beneath Columbia, which according to at least one source, is the third largest system of tunnels in the world. (Although I know of another that’s much, much bigger.) Some of these Columbia passages are still in use, but others, such as the Buell Hall tunnels have been closed off for decades, and today, even their existence is disputed.

For a map of Columbia University, please click here.


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