in Taunton, MA US

In 1833, the state of Massachusetts had its first state-run asylum established in Worcester, but by 1851 it had gotten so dangerously overcrowded that Legislature appropriated $100,000 for the construction of a new hospital. The commission chose a tranquil farm north of Taunton to help soothe troubled minds; although it was close to the city center, a river created a natural boundary that would prevent the encroachment of the bustling city life. The prominent New England architect Elbridge Boyden was chosen to design the main hospital building using Dr. Thomas Kirkbride's linear plan. A unique and rare neo-classical design was employed, utilizing cast-iron in the capitals, cornices, and the many ornate cupolas which adorned the roof line. Several wards branched out from the central administration area in the form of crooked wings, allowing plenty of natural sunlight and fresh air into the rooms. The three story building was dominated by a 70 foot tall dome in the center, which provided panoramic views of the town and scenic countryside. Although not original, another striking architectural element was the curved enclosed breezeways, which connected the wing tips of the Kirkbride building with two infirmary buildings built in the 1890s. The institution opened in 1854 as the State Lunatic Hospital at Taunton, admitting the first patient on April 7th.

The patient population quickly grew to 250 in the first eight weeks, and by 1873 the number had doubled. A series of construction projects were undertaken through 1906 to enlarge the facility, and the campus underwent another large expansion in the 1930s. Some notable patients included serial killer Jane Toppan, a nurse who confessed to 31 murders in 1901 by administering fatal doses of pain medication; she was committed to Taunton for the rest of her life. Known as "Jolly Jane," she reportedly lay in bed with her victims as they died. Another famous patient who was committed at Taunton was Thomas Hubbard Sumner, developer of the celestial navigation method known as the Sumner Line; he spent his last remaining years here as well.

The Kirkbride building was closed in 1975 and fell into disrepair through neglect, however the eastern infirmary building at the wing tip was kept in operation. In the early 2000s, a ponderously large anti-climb fence was erected around the building to prevent illegal entry. In 1999, the massive central cupola collapsed, and on March 19th 2006, a fire tore through the administration area, destroying center of the building and theater. The rubble was cleared out by bulldozers, and the entire Kirkbride was eventually demolished in May 2009-2010; the eastern infirmary still remains, as well as other treatment and service buildings. Many architectural elements from the Kirkbride were salvaged and sold off, including timber, granite, iron gates, vintage fixtures and slate roofing tiles. Although Taunton State Hospital underwent a $19-million capital improvement in the early 1990s, the state announced the full closure of the 169-bed institution in 2012, effectively consolidating services to the new psychiatric hospital built in Worcester. After many protests and campaigns to keep Taunton open, the closure was cancelled and it may even undergo an expansion in 2015.


in Natchez, MS US

Although the building itself dates back to 1869, the Ritz Theater was opened much later, in 1935. The Art Deco facade featured a network of neon tube lights that spelled out "RITZ" and other decorative elements. The 500-seat theater was operated by Gulf States Theaters and Paramount, until it closed around 1968-1971.

A jewelry store reputedly operated in the space after the theater closed, but details are unclear when the building was fully vacated. Neglect caused the roof to deteriorate over the years, and a tornado in 1998 damaged the building even more, leading to the eventual collapse of the roof in 2000. The facade decayed substantially for many years, but in 2008 it was restored by the Historic Natchez Foundation.

Glimpses of the abandoned theater can be seen in the contemporary films The Ladykillers and My Dog Skip.


Seafoam Palace

After 12 years of photographing hundreds of rotting buildings, I've finally found myself on the other side of the table as an owner! I've been working with a team of amazing artists, fabricators, and innovators on restoring a historic building in Detroit that had been disused for over 20 years. Our plan is to bring the building back from the throes of ultimate decay to become a public museum of curiosity called Seafoam Palace.

Based on the curiosity cabinets of yore, the museum will be inviting guests to explore their sense of wonder through artifacts, art, history and adventure, with a hint of musty wood still lingering in the air. We've been busy shoring up the foundation, rebuilding collapsing structure, hooking up utilities, and removing graffiti from the limestone facade. The place isn't as far gone as most of the places on this website, but restoring a 13,000 square foot building turns into a huge job! So we've started a Kickstarter project to help fund repairing our main exhibition space.

As one of the rewards ($250 or more), I'm offering limited edition prints of one of the most beautiful scenes I was able to capture - the front entrance of an abandoned psychiatric hospital I found in Italy:

Tom Kirsch Photography Print

The prints are 11x17" (279 x 432mm), signed, and will be framed with old-growth timber that was actually used in the Seafoam Palace building construction (circa 1925). You'll also get a free admission for you and a guest when we open to the public. We're also offering other awesome rewards here.

Even if you can't donate, check out our video... you'll be transformed!

The Seafoam Palace - A Museum of Curiosity

in New Orleans, LA US

Originally known as the Samuel J. Peters Junior High School, this 81,931 square foot building was built in 1913, and designed by architects E.A. Christy and Charles Colbert. It was named after Samuel Jarvis Peters (1801-1855), who was responsible for founding the New Orleans Public School system with Horace Mann. Each year, the school would send a delegation with flowers to Peters' tomb on Founder's Day.

The name of the school changed a number of times over the years; first, to Commercial High School, and once again as the Israel Meyer Augustine Middle School, named after Israel M. Augustine, Jr. - the first African American elected as judge in Criminal District Court in Louisiana. It was heavily damaged in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck, and has been sitting vacant since.

In 2009, the school was stabilized using Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, as an assessment deemed the building was one of several "that are either contributing resources to historic districts that are listed in the [National Register of Historic Places], or are individually eligible for NRHP listing." A second assessment in 2012 appraised the structure at being worth $2.1 million. Estimated renovations costs are at $7-10 million, and the school is currently up for sale.


in New Orleans, LA US

This iconic red brick brewery on Tulane Ave. in New Orleans was designed by architect Louis Lehle in German Romanesque style. Production of Dixie Beer began in 1907 under the leadership of Valentine Merz, who was once the president of the Jackson Brewing Co.

Dixie Beer thrived until Prohibition was enforced in the 1920s; the name of the company was briefly changed to the Dixie Beverage Company during this time. Once alcohol became legal to manufacture again, new competition in New Orleans made profits difficult to reach for many years, and eventually forced the owners to file for bankruptcy. The company was revived in 1989 with a line of specialty beers however, which included Dixie Jazz, Blackened Voodoo, and Crimson Voodoo, and Dixie became a viable, growing business once again.

Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans in 2005, wiping out almost everything on the first floors of the brewery, including the modern bottling line, 10,000 cases of beer, and anything that wasn't made of stainless steel. Scrappers also attacked the building, stealing the copper and other precious metals from the tanks and wiring, and destroying parts of the building in the process. The state expropriated the building in 2011 and had it transferred to the Veterans Administration as part of a massive LSU/VA hospital complex being constructed nearby. The VA has plans to transform the old building into an advanced bio-research facility called the Dixie Brewery Research Building, replacing parts of the crumbling brick facade with modern glass walls. Joe and Kendra Bruno, who owned the building, have been fighting to gain control back from the VA and re-open the brewery, and have managed to halt demolition just hours before it was about to begin. The fate of the property now lies in the results of pending court cases. Dixie Beer is still produced under contract by Minhas Craft Brewery in Wisconsin.


in New Orleans, LA US

This park first opened in 2000 as Jazzland, which included four roller coasters (the largest being the Mega Zeph, a wooden coaster on steel supports), a log flume, carousel, and other common spinning rides. The operator, Alpha Smart Parks, was accustomed to running water parks and could not turn a profit with Jazzland. When the lease was put up for sale, Six Flags purchased it in 2002. They upgraded the park and named it Six Flags New Orleans, with more shaded areas, rides, and re-branding the park to the theme which included the dancing old man "Mr. Six." Two looping roller coasters were brought in, and a water park addition was being planned in 2005, but fell apart once Hurricane Katrina arrived.

The park rested on a low-laying parcel of land which was surrounded by a 6-foot earthen berm. When the hurricane swept through in August of 2005, brackish water from Lake Pontchartrain overflowed into the park, and the berm essentially created a huge bathtub once the park's drainage pumps failed. The salty water rose to a depth of 4 to 7 feet for over a month, corroding the rides and equipment to a state of major disrepair. Inspectors determined that 80% of the buildings were demolished, all the flat rides unsalvageable, and the the Mega Zeph's superstructure was damaged beyond repair. The only large ride that could be saved was the Batman: The Ride roller coaster, due to an elevated position and corrosion resistant supports.

Pending lawsuits to recover money from insurance claims keep the property in limbo, as Six Flags has a 75-year lease contract with the city of New Orleans, where it is legally obligated to rebuild. The city eventually fined Six Flags $3 million and ordered the park to vacate the lease, giving control of the property back to the city. Redevelopment plans have come and gone, and the site is used as a movie set in the meantime. It is featured in films such as Killer Joe, Stolen, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Jurassic World.


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