Abandoned, Accessible, and Awesome: Metropolitan State Hospital and Metfern Cemetery

September 28, 2013 — So, yeah, I’ll go so far as to say that ruins are the single coolest thing about the human race. We create amazing structures and then let them rot and go to pot without a thought. Like painting a masterpiece and flinging it into the fire, it’s just style points. After all, the statue of Ozymandias didn’t get a poem. Its ruins did.

And at no time of year is our tendency to ruin more appreciated than now, when a spooky old abandoned building is a perfect place to visit…especially one that comes with its own graveyard.


Metropolitan State Hospital opened in 1930, just two days shy of Halloween, in Waltham, Massachusetts. The 20-building, 400-acre campus was designed to care for the state’s ill and ill-starred, and it had more than a thousand of them. Over the course of the next six decades, it seems to have done its job. I mean, it was a sad place by definition, but I didn’t find any of the terrible stories of abuse and neglect you too often find in antique institutions like these. This former employee has a few interesting stories, though.

The one infamous tale that comes out of the hospital is the murder of a patient named Anne Marie Davee in 1978 by another patient named Melvin Wilson. He killed her with a hatchet, dismembered her, and then buried her in three spots on the hospital grounds.

He was eventually caught…he had seven of her teeth on him, after all, and was moved to the more secure Bridgewater State Hospital before being indicted for murder.


The whole place closed down in 1992 for the usual budget reasons, and within two decades most of the structures and either been torn down and the land resown with apartments (by Avalon, the same company that condo’d Danvers State Insane Asylum) or refurbished for other uses. Except for one…the administration building. I’m not sure why I used ellipses to introduce it.

Getting to the building was simple. We drove right up to it, parked right beside it.


The building is located on Metropolitan Parkway South and is pretty hard to miss. The red brick edifice and its glaring, flaking white portico looms more than two stories above a relatively blank area, a strange combination of out in the middle of nowhere and right in the middle of everything. No buildings are directly around it, but there is an entire apartment complex almost within jumping distance. One side is bordered by forest and a rutted asphalt street encircles the building, so you can easily see it from all sides.

The exterior lives up to everything you expect from an abandoned building. The windows are boarded and bricked up, the walls are overgrown with clinging plants, the lawn is hairy with tall weeds, a signed tacked to one wall frantically warns about asbestos and cancer. Surprisingly and refreshingly, there was only a minimum amount of graffiti, just a few simple scrawlings on the front door area, including the word “Welcome” on the doorstep.



The building still bears its name, the Dr. William F. McLaughlin building (named after a WWII flight surgeon who became a hospital administrator there) high up on the roof of the portico, just under the white-washed Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with its Native American figure beneath a bodiless arm brandishing a sword in his direction and a Latin motto about peace by that same weapon surrounding it all.

At the time that I visited, I didn’t know about the Davee murder, but thinking back, the place looked like it could have been absolutely paved with the shallow graves of severed body parts.

The site has a great build up, but obviously, there isn’t much for us law-abiding to do there. We walked up the front steps. Circled the building. Tried a few doors (all locked). Took a few pics. Left.


And then, a few weeks later, we returned.

Upon returning home I would learn not just about the Davee murder, but that Metropolitan State Hospital had its own cemetery, a cemetery that was still present on the grounds.

I found its location on Google Maps, and used the GPS coordinates to try to drive directly there. Unfortunately, that plan ended at a metal gate off Trapelo Road flourishing a “No Trespassing. Police Take Notice” sign. Probably just as well. Not sure my car could’ve handled what remained of the road on the far side of the gate.

After almost giving up, I returned to the Dr. William F. McLaughlin building and did some quick Internet searching on the phone. The path to the cemetery seemed to be right at the entrance to the Avalon apartments. But it was going to take some hiking.

Almost immediately after we pulled into the apartments on Metropolitan Parkway North, we saw a metal gate on the left, the kind meant to stop vehicles but not people, with a post nearby that bore some friendly-looking arrows on it.

After parking and walking to it, we saw a small sign tacked to a tree that designated it as part of the Western Greenway Trail. We started down the trail, not sure how far or really if it was going to take us to the cemetery.

Along the way, it became extremely obvious that this dirt trail through a forest was actually reclaimed land. Every so often a manhole/sewerhole (funniest synonyms of all time) was right in the middle of the trail, exactly where access to underground plumbing shouldn’t be.


The trail forked a couple of times, but we stayed on the main part and used my phone to make sure we were heading in the right direction. After half a mile of hiking (or, more accurately, walking), we arrived at a long, low rock wall paralleling the path. It was the outer boundary of the hospital cemetery.


A sign about halfway down the wall named the place Metfern Cemetery. According to the sign, the graveyard was used between 1947 and 1979 by both the state hospital and the Fernald School, a 165-year-old, still-active-but-disintegrating school for those with development disabilities.


Without the sign, the graveyard was hardly noticeable as such. The grass was a couple feet tall, and you had to stub your toe to find the few marked graves scattered around the enclosure. Most of them were just small stone loafs with letters on them. I did find one nicer stone with an actual, intelligible inscription on it, for a John Vensky (1936-1972).


The most prominent items in the cemetery were the large tree growing in the middle and a small altar with a bust of Jesus on it. I also found some shallow steps leading up the slight incline of the cemetery.



After the graveyard, we pushed ahead a bit to see what else was there among the hiking trails. Besides an old water tower, I didn’t see anything really. At one point the Gaebler Children’s Center, a psychiatric institution for kids, decayed grandiosely thereabouts, but today it’s just a stub of pavement leading to open field.

At some point, they’ll tear down the administration building or repurpose it or fence it off from easy access, but the cemetery seems like it’ll always be there to see. I’ve marked the exact location of both on the OTIS Map of New England Oddities. Not really to be helpful, but just because I couldn’t think of an ending for this post.












38 comments:

  1. I do wish you'd taken a picture of the name of the remaining building with the Great Seal of Mass. I don't live in that state so I've no idea how it looks.

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  2. I used to live right down the road from this place in Belmont. Some friends and I would frequently walk through Rock Meadow to get to the cemetery, and then wander on to the grounds. At the time, it was patrolled by security (who were easy enough to dodge if you were just taking pictures, and staying close to the woods). Interesting, yet creepy place.

    Next time you're in the area, you should know that down the road is McLean Hospital, which I believe has the largest collection of brains. I don't know how accessible that collection is, but at the very least, the hospital has lovely grounds.

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  3. I live in Waltham and sadly, this place was destroyed and replaced by what-else but apartments. Horrid, I hope the ghouls haunt the damned places. McLean Hospital is still very, very much in use, and if you wished to see their collection of brains, there's actually a half-way decent chance that they'd agree if you managed to finagle a sort of 'press-deal'.

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    1. No. It's still there. I just went today.

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    2. Are you able to go inside or just walk the grounds?

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    3. i just went in saturday december 13th doors open no more boards, scary stuff

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    4. There's a while in the door now to creep inside and its 2016. And there's is way more graffiti.

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  4. i've been taking runs there recently and the cemetery has been mowed but here's the crazy part: it appears some of the graves have been disturbed - dug up? Several have fresh, overturned dirt in front of them.

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  5. I live in Waltham. If you go to the softball field on Trapelo Rd (Elsie Turner Field) and follow the opening in the far left, its a path that takes you directly to the cemetery. Much easier that if you went from the administration building. Just be kind to all that rest there who finally have peace.

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  6. I went today... the building is wide open. No " no trespassing" signs. Entered main lobby, but didnt have a mask and the mold was pretty oppressive. Some furniture, hallway and various things!

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  7. I am interested if the Metropolitan State Hospital and Metfern Cemetery is still standing and if you can get into it.. if you could give me information could you email me at lostforgottenabandoned@gmail.com thank you

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    1. Yes, both are standing. I took my walk this morning by the cematery. Here are some great directions:

      http://www.temblast.com/metfern/directions.htm

      No offense meant, J.W., just did not have a GPS on hand! :<)

      P.S. Door is welded shut on the administrative building, but probably for the best, eh?

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  8. I am interested if the Metropolitan State Hospital and Metfern Cemetery is still standing and if you can get into it.. if you could give me information could you email me at lostforgottenabandoned@gmail.com thank you

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  9. The door was not locked yesterday... Opened it a crack to look in.

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  10. I was girlhood friends with Dr. McLaughlins' daughter Joanie. Her family lived in a beautiful brick house on Met State property (set back off Trapelo Rd.). When I went over to play we were under strict orders to NEVER venture back near the hospital buildings.

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    1. but why though? are the doors open or are they locked again

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  11. The locks have been broken on the administration building front door, but it has been welded shut.

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  12. Thank you for taking the time to write this piece, J.W. I am currently residing at the Avalon and drive by that building practically every day. One google search of the name on the marquee and your article came up. Thank you again - much appreciated!!!

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  13. What is still left to it over there? Anything to go into and look at?

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  14. http://www.onlyinyourstate.com/massachusetts/scary-places-ma/

    Just got back today and it looks like the only building left is the William McLaughlin building. I'm assuming the building on the above page was demolished?



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  15. I'm from Waltham born and raised. I've known and learned the history of this building ever since I can remember. The main part of the building that is still up belongs to Waltham not Lexington that is why it is still up Waltham doesn't know what they're going to do with the location yet . Picture you're showing that is on the Lexington property is actually the church that was on the promises that they named after that gentleman but it wasn't the main building. The only way in and out of the main building is an underground tunnel that starts off on the Lexington side hidden in the woods

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. where does the tunnel come out in the hospital. And is the beginning still accessible?

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    3. No,the building is in waltham, and is named after my dad, William F McLaughlin. It is the administration building.

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    4. No,the building is in waltham, and is named after my dad, William F McLaughlin. It is the administration building.

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  16. We were just there today. The McLaughlin Building is still standing, but securely welded shut. We did not venture in the direction of the cemetery, but we did find the remains of some smaller structures on other parts of the property. Stairs that go nowhere, stonewalls, a tennis court enclosure with very large trees growing up inside of it. It is a beautiful place to walk.

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  17. Great place. I grew up in Arlington, accessed the underground utilidor which would spiderweb out to various buildings on the campus. It was creepy, and as you can imagine, when you are two stories underground it is freezing, pitch black and your mind plays tricks on you. We would access it from the McLaughlin building, and I imagine they have maintained it so they have access to the tunnels if need be. With all these places, you have to be careful. We encountered a man there one day when we were teenagers (circa 2000) who claimed to have been a patient, and had some very strange stories. Claims that the hospital was constantly investigated for conducting experiments on patients which werent exactly humane. He said a roomate of his was locked in a closet for a week to study the "long term effects of being isolated in a dark, confined space". Sad to see it turn to condo's but that tends to be the destiny for most real estate in this area.

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  18. https://500px.com/photo/141907309/building-by-irena-mandel

    Here's what it looks like today. :)

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  19. J.W, I truly enjoyed reading your article reference the Metropolitan State Hospital and Metfern Cemetery. I had a relative (Ernest Marsh Lester) who was in this place in the 1940's as a patient. I found this information from a 1940 Census. I can not find anything on his death so I am assuming that he might be one of the poor souls in that cemetery. I was wondering how one would find out what actually happen to the patients after it closed and if there might be a trail I could follow to find out what happen to Ernest and if he is actually buried there. Any suggestion would be appreciated. I live in the state of Virgina so it is impractical for me to go there.

    Thanks Ron G.

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  20. I spent 15 weeks at Met State as a nursing student in 1972. I was 19, totally inexperienced and terrified the entire time. One of my class mates decided to "borrow" silverware from the cafeteria. She ended up with place settings for 12. Each piece engraved, "Department of Mental health" I hope she still has it after all these years. I have a teaspoon which we still use. I always took a classmate with me to the restroom and refused to eat anything even though I was a student and always hungry. I can't say I learned much but I enjoy those memories.

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    1. My mom was a nursing student there in the late 60s for a short time, she didn't tell me much but I don't think her experience was an enjoyable one. I also have a disable uncle who spent many yrs at the Fernald school but moved to a different location yrs ago

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  21. Went back last night and the front door to the McLaughlin building was ajar, being held open by a piece of old pipe. I was tempted but stayed out.

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  22. I drove around the grounds on Sat. May 29th and wondered what this building was! Since I'm not from Massachusetts, I asked the person I was staying with in Waltham, and she didn't know what I was talking about. I did a search on the internet today and found your blog! Thank you for the info - I didn't know there was a cemetery nearby for the residents and also for the Fernald Center.

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  23. I worked at Met State in the 60's while in high school. Also lived very close. My wing was M&S 2 - across from church. There used to be a morgue in central woods. Administration Bldg was left standing for possible club house if golf course was built.

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    1. Did you know or cross paths with either Melvin Wilson or Anne Marie Davee? I'd like more information on the case, but I can only find bare-bones type stuff like brief articles from local newspapers.

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  24. My friends and I went there the last three days, first day went and looked around figured out how to get it, there's an open window but you'd needed a tall ladder to get in. No other easy way to get in. All the doors were heavily welded shut, but next to the metal door was a wooden plan like the ones on the window, it was picked at and there was only another peice of plan thru. We couldn't get break in with sticks and rocks as equipment so the second day we brought hammers and axes, and my friends boyfriend. We broke our hammer and had to get out axes, but with tools it really wasn't hard to get in. (maybe you'll see my hammer still there). We put a giant hole in the doorway and snuck it. Place was insane, the basement had chambers like where they locked people up. I took a video and there is one very clear orb that went back and forth. Tried to go into the cemetery but it was so hard. So many creepy abandoned places in Waltham around this area.

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    1. Got a link to the video by any chance?

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