Haunted Tunnels Under an Insane Asylum

In Traverse City, Michigan there is an old insane asylum called the Grand Traverse Commons. Under the Commons there are old tunnels that some people say are haunted. A friend of mine saw the pictures of me in these tunnels and asked if I could write something about them, because he runs a publishing firm in Russia called Horroscope Press, and he's launching a magazine in the near future. I've been trying to think of what exactly to write, and now I've decided.


I've been thinking about writing a poem about this for a few weeks. I think it's a cool idea. But, it's going to be translated into Russian, and sometimes poetry doesn't work great for that. Although, my favorite poet is Ovid, and he wrote in Latin.

Today I sat down with some earplugs in to shut out the world and wrote six stanzas. I like them. I'm going to use that, embedded in a little prose opener, followed by a little explanation. I think it will make a good piece for a magazine. Let's see how it goes.

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Insane asylums have a crazy history, pun intended. At one time in the United States there was an idea known as the Kirkbride Plan. It took a different approach, and had some definite success.

The idea was to treat people better, instead of just locking them away. Maybe if they were surrounded by beauty, maybe if they lived in contact with nature, maybe if they had valuable work to do, maybe then they would have a situation that provided the opportunity for them to get better. The motto was "Beauty is Therapy." And, in the late 1800s and early 1900s this plan was implemented and went well.

If you look at the Grand Traverse Commons in Traverse City, Michigan you might think that you're looking at a castle. Over the last couple of decades the facility has had 100 million dollars put into it for restorations, and it still has more to go, just to make it what it once was. Now it has been turned into condos, apartments, stores, and restaurants. But, they still give tours. (Most Kirkbrides have been destroyed, so it's great that they saved this one.)

There are many interesting things to explore and learn, such as the unique architectural design that allowed air to be continuously circulated through the walls so that there was never stale air. And, some of the old brick tunnels underneath the buildings are still useable.

In northern Michigan there is a decent amount of snow, and a fairly long winter. So tunnels were used not only for utilities, but also for transporting people.

Also, many of the people that were left at the mental institution were left there for good, meaning they are buried there. Many are buried in unmarked graves. Some people think that these spirits still haunt the grounds, having nowhere to go, no one that wanted them.

Here is a poem that I wrote about being in the tunnels during my visit this summer.

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In a land of snow, for most of the year;
There lies an old Kirkbride;
A history of hope, that turned to despair.

Wresting sanity from its lack;
Circulating clean air, surrounded by beauty;
Progress at its back.

The final resting place, of those abandoned;
Those who still wander;
Those that were left, buried beneath the earth there.

Not far from a city of blossoms;
Corrupted souls, betrayed by a corrupted society;
Still wait underground.

Waiting for their speaker;
Waiting to be seen;
Waiting without a sound.

When you visit, take a second look;
In the bricked tunnel;
Steel your spirit, you may not be the only one.

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I've heard it said that poets are people who can't say only one thing at a time. And, some of these lines do have multiple meanings. I'll just point out two things that you may want to know to better understand parts of the poem.

1 - There are two main problems that destroyed the Kirkbride Plan. One, was drugs. When they invented psychiatric medication it became easy to just drug everyone and let them stand around like zombies. Two, was corrupt politics. The large industrial farms didn't like competing with the Kirkbride farms. They produced enough food to feed themselves, which was thousands of patients. They won farming contests. And, they produced enough food to sell. Lobbyists were able to get the politicians to enact minimum wage laws, which bankrupted the Kirkbrides. For those two reasons the hopeful idea turned to despair and put progress in the past.

2 - Traverse City is known for its cherries, which have nice blossoms.

In the pictures of me in the tunnels there are these weird little floating green lights. The guide said these might show up in pictures. I didn't see anything while I was down there, but maybe you will.

It's an interesting place to visit, and I'm sure I'll be back there. If you go I recommend taking a tour, they have a lot of good information. And, read my poem... just before you go down into the tunnels.

- - - - - - -

Well, there it is. I think it's alright. I was surprised when I was typing the poem to realize that I made a major mistake. I intended to alternate the pacing of the stanzas. Notice that the pattern is: First stanza - long line with break, short line, long line with break; Second stanza - short line, long line with break, short line. I intended to alternate it like that all the way through. And in my handwritten version I thought I had. But I made a mistake.

In the fifth stanza I did the wrong pattern. Originally I had that middle line as, "Waiting to be seen, to be acknowledged;". I thought about trying to do a major rewrite, but I wasn't feeling it. So, I liked the repetition I had of beginning all three of those lines in the fifth stanza with "Waiting", so I thought that was a good place to change the pattern anyway. Then, I brought the pattern back and completed it in the sixth and final stanza. I think it works pretty well.

Hopefully Oleg's readers like it, and hopefully it translates well. I'm full of hopes, I wonder what they will lead to.

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Read more of what Jeff deems worthy of attention at: http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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