Winds whipped through the forested canopy as I ventured farther along an unfamiliar gravel path that took me away from the neatly mowed grass of Fairview Park. My daily walks around my neighborhood and nearby park have grown somewhat bland, so Thursday I decided to explore new areas. Rather than navigate the normal "dog run" area that leads to a scenic skyline, I walked east into the shaded forest, where there appeared to be no end in sight. But after a few minutes, I came upon a small locked gate that posed no problem to hurdle.
That's when I stepped into what seemed like another world. Standing before me were several abandoned buildings that appeared to once be a part of a sprawling elementary school campus. Whatever it was, it hadn't been used in years, as high grass grew within the cracks of the pavement and only a tattered rope dangled from the flagpole. It took only a few more steps to realize that this wasn't a school, but rather a branch of the Mayview State Hospital in South Fayette, Pa. A bronze plaque declared this the Haig Temple Center, opened in 1978 and named after a doctor who apparently dedicated his life to helping elderly people with mental illnesses. State cutbacks closed Mayview last year, but this portion of the hospital - settled atop a secluded hill - obviously hadn't been used for years.
I continued to walk down a winding driveway and was stunned when I came upon Mayview's main campus. The place looked like a ghost town, except for a few maintenance workers staring down an unwanted guest in gym shorts and a T-shirt. I turned around and marched back up the road to the Temple Center.
This walk was different than the others, because it made me think about the thousands of tortured souls who called this hospital home. It also made me think about the hospital workers who did everything in their power to "cure" the mentally ill, or at least tried to help them assimilate into this secluded society. But I also couldn't shake the thought of what is happening to the mentally ill now that Mayview is closed. Sure, powerful drugs might ease their transition into society, but are they working?
A few minutes later, I walked back through that forested path and returned to Fairview Park's manicured walkways. Near the entrance of the park, I found a small cemetery dedicated in 1986 to the "Lost Souls" of Mayview from the beginning of the 20th century. Within a white fence sat 27 unmarked gravestones scattered between several oak trees. It was an appropriate conclusion to my afternoon walk.
5 months ago