by Andrew K. Arnett

It is Sophie’s birthday. She was born under Pisces. What does that mean? It is hard to wrap one’s mind around but, according to astrologers, the distant planets and even stars in our galaxy can have very profound effects on our personality, and even our lives.

Astrology is very popular in our culture today. Many folks ascribe to it and an even greater or lesser number, I don’t have the statistics, believe it is a superstitious lark. It is a polarizing topic with some even thinking it is associated with dark malevolent forces.

All I know for sure is that I need to do something special today, to celebrate Sophie’s birthday. A stay-cation is not going to do it. But a weekend getaway, that could certainly be in the stars. And what better place to spend the weekend than – Mount Misery?

Sure, why not? By car, Mount Misery, ie. Huntington, Long Island, is less than an hour away from New York City. There is fine dining to be had and New York State has just opened up the restaurants to 75% capacity for indoor dining. Maybe we’ll be rounding the curb on this COVID problem finally.

But hiking to the top of a small hill with the temperature hovering around 29 degrees doesn’t sound too thrilling, especially when you’ve been there, done that. Hell, even the ghosts are probably too cold to come out.

Building 93 at Kings Park Psychiatric Center. Photo © 2021 Andrew Arnett

But there is something else nearby, not more than a 20 minute drive from Mount Misery. It is the now abandoned Kings Park Psychiatric Center, located in Smithtown, the next town over.

Who wants to spend their birthday in an abandoned insane asylum? Here, I must defer to astrology. According to astrologers, Pisces is ruled by the planet Neptune, which rules over the twelfth house of the zodiac. The twelfth house, it is said, rules over all of societies (dark) institutions such as prisons, hospitals and insane asylums. With my own moon in Pisces, the attraction seemed natural.

It’s not for everyone, to be sure. An Arian would perhaps prefer the challenge of climbing a mountain. A Taurian may enjoy lumbering all day long on a vineyard sampling vintage wines. A Cancarian would rather stay home and binge on the latest Netflix series. All of them worthy pursuits to be sure. To each there own as it were. And thank God for individuality.

Truth be told, Kings Park has been on my radar for quite some time. We had spent the winter lockdown binge watching Netflix’s Ratched, a series based on the Nurse Ratched character from One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest, a cinematic tour de force and even better book.

All those extreme devices and questionable methods featured in Ratched, meant to cure the mentally ill, were used in real life during the heyday at Kings Park Psychiatric Center. I’m talking about, of course, the pre-frontal lobotomy, electroshock therapy and a host of other practices which to our ‘modern’ minds seem out of date but in fact are still used in parts of the world.

It is curious to note that what originally had drawn us to Mount Misery were ghost stories, centered around an alleged insane asylum which burnt to the ground. There is nothing mysterious about the existence of Kings Park, in that it is a very real and concrete place. Undoubtedly, it hosts its own venerable stable of ghosts.

After checking into our motel, we hit the road for Kings Park. Back at the rental car place, I had requested an economy vehicle, but they only had a SUV and a Lincoln Continental. Without hesitation I chose the Lincoln. Now, we were headed east on Jericho Turnpike in this sleek Grey Machine. To be honest, I felt a little like Mathew McConaughey with the jazz music playing and the open road beckoning me towards destiny.

In the past, it was a bleak destiny to be sure for the majority of those headed for Kings Park.

The author at Building 93, Kings Park Psychiatric Center. Photo © 2021 Andrew Arnett

Kings Park was a state-run psychiatric hospital which operated for 111 years, from 1885 until 1996. It remains a vast complex consisting of over 150 buildings, all but a few having closed and abandoned since 1996.

Kings Park actually got its name from Kings County Brooklyn. Back in the 1880s, King County Asylum, located in Flatbush, Brooklyn, became overcrowded and short on funds. Hospital Superintendent Dr. John C. Shaw instigated the purchase of 873 acres of land in what is now Kings Park, with the intention of building a ‘lunatic farm’ to mitigate the overcrowded facility in Brooklyn.

Dr. Shaw’s vision included a form of occupational therapy, wherein the patients were put to work clearing the land for farming, thus providing food for the inmates, as well as future cottages. By 1900, the Kings County Lunatic Asylum had grown into a self sufficient small village with hundreds of patients. At this point, the asylum came under state control and was renamed Kings Park State Hospital.

At the peak of its operations in 1954, Kings Park had over 10,000 patients. With the introduction of psychotropic drugs, the need for long-term care began to wane. Kings Park began to close facilities in the 1980s until it finally shut its doors completely in 1996.

The land was then turned into a State Park, now popular with locals as well as historians, urban explorers and paranormal investigators.

Arriving in Smithtown on the Jericho Turnpike, we take a left on Indian Head Road, drive north for a few miles then take a right on Old Dock Road. As we round the bend on Old Dock Road, an ominous towering edifice comes into view. It is Building 93, a 13-story neoclassic building straight out of Ratched. This is the center piece of Kings Park.

Building 93 was built in 1939 and is often referred to as “the most famous asylum building on Long Island,” a dubious honor indeed. For the most part, it was used as an infirmary for geriatric patients as well as those with chronic psychical ailments. It is a chilling sight for sure, and the veritable tip of the iceberg for what may come.