Willowbrook State School
Also known as the Willowbrook Institution, it was built in 1942. Although it was originally meant to be a facility for disabled children, it spent it’s first few years as a Army hospital. In 1947, it was finally opened as originally planned, and the institution was then named the Willowbrook State School. During the first year of its operation, outbreaks of hepatitis were very common in the school. This led to a notably controversial study that caused a public outcry. By 1965, the school housed over 6,000 mentally disabled children, despite being built to only hold 4,000. In a tour of the facility, senator Robert Kennedy declared that the individuals in the facility were living in filth, tattered clothing, in rooms less comfortable than cages animals in zoos are kept in. Unfortunately, all he could do at the time was offer recommendations in order to improve the facility.
Reputation spoke bleakly of the school. People said that the place was nothing more than a warehouse for disabled children, abandoned by their families or the city’s foster system itself. After dozens of articles were written on the poor living conditions at the school, Geraldo Rivera (yes, THAT Geraldo Rivera) investigated the grounds, and what he found was shocking. Overcrowding, inadequate sanitary facilities, and sexual and physical abuse to the patients by the staff; just to name a few. The investigation gained national attention and even won Rivera an award. Soon after, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the Institution and a settlement in the case was reached on May 5th, 1975. This settlement would mandate reform at the site, but no change was seen until several years later. Finally, the state announced that they were planning on closing the school and the last children left the building on September 17, 1987.
Some time before this, on July 9th, 1987, Jennifer Schwieger was reported missing after going on a walk. After a 35 day search, her body was discovered on the grounds of Willowbrook. The accused of this crime was a custodian at the facility in the 60s. Many people in Staten Island believe that there is a satanic cult that based their rituals in the forest on the grounds. Additionally, people that have been on the grounds or in the building itself have reported hearing wailing and screams, along with being pushed or feeling as if they’re being watched/followed. Many people have claimed to see shadow figures on the grounds. One woman even said that she had a figure follow her home and stand in her front yard until the sun came up, unmoving.
In American Horror Story: Asylum, Lana Winters’ investigation of Briarcliff in episode 13 holds eerie similarities to the video documentation done by Geraldo Rivera. Many people believe that the show is partially based on the atrocities committed at Willowbrook, but I suppose we’ll never know.