Glenn Dale Hospital
Glenn Dale Hospital
Glenn Dale Hospital. A decaying, 85-year-old former tuberculosis sanitarium on the outskirts of Washington, DC in Glenn Dale, Maryland.
Closed in 1981, it has sat deteriorating for 38 years. Today it is monitored by police 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Roofs have collapsed; rodents infest the underground tunnels and basements, and stairways remain held together by the barest of means.
(image source: dcist.com)
But in the summer of 1987, the property had a different owner, and the site had not become quite the paranormal draw it is now. That year, after I had spent a semester at Berklee College of Music and before I began school at the University of Maryland, my friends and I spent a summer doing what teenagers do. We worked at 7-Eleven, did a lot of drugs, and got into (mostly harmless) trouble. So, in one of our adventures, we parked along Glenn Dale Rd., which splits the 200-acre Glenn Dale property in half, and trekked in.
Southern Maryland is famous for a number of things. Chesapeake Bay crabs, tobacco farming, Danny Gatton, and, at least when I was young, the Goatman. (For more information on the Goatman and Maryland’s other creepy legends, read this list: https://www.ranker.com/list/creepy-maryland-stories-legends/lyra-radford.) Like many urban legends, the Goatman crept around decrepit places and left a trail of blood behind. We meant to scare ourselves half to death by seeing for ourselves if he made a lair at the hospital grounds.
My memory is hazy 22 years later, but I remember sneaking through thick briars that left hitchhiker seeds covering my pants. The first view of one of the abandoned buildings is still vivid in my mind. At that time, the facility had been closed only for a few years. Even in that short time, though, graffiti and weeds covered the fronts and all the entrances.
(image source: Capital Gazette)
None of us harbored any real belief in the paranormal. It would be fun, we joked, like a scary movie. The last time I had ever really been scared was as a kid, terrified to leave my bed for fear a hand would reach for my foot. But, as we searched for the tunnel entrance, I had the urge to chicken out. The place was just too creepy. I dared not face the ridicule, though.
The black hole into the tunnel was massed in weeds. Of our group of four, only two carried flashlights. (Poor planning!) In we went, single file, the long corridor littered with trash, leaves, and left-behind equipment.
We meant to find one of the morgues. No Internet in those days, so no maps, only word of mouth. And that word was “go straight from a particular tunnel” (we hoped we were right) and “you’d find it after about fifteen minutes.” Rooms appeared on either side of the hallway, some empty and others showing the remnants of the hospital’s past. Tables, chairs, operating slabs, rusted tools, and shattered tubes.
(image source: @davefillman Twitter)
Those directions proved to be fairly accurate. We came upon a morgue room in rough shape. Some of the slab doors lay broken on the floor. Others were partly open. As we turned to leave, Joe passed his light over a crosscutting hallway just down from us. I was sure I saw a little girl standing in the center of the intersection. He kept scanning, though, and his flashlight then turned back into the morgue.
“Did you see that?” I asked, though not as calm as that sounds.
“There was a dude standing there,” Reggie said.
I stammered in disagreement. “No, a little girl. A fucking little girl.”
Joe whipped his light back to the spot. Nothing there. “What did they look like?” he asked.
“Not they,” I said. “I just saw a little girl.”
We bickered. Dan laughed at us. He grabbed my arm as we argued, and I almost punched him. To that point in my life, I had never been so terrified, even when I was little and too scared to leave my bed. Before I could proclaim that I wanted to get the fuck out of there, Reggie beat me to it.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said. “I swear I saw someone.”
“Baby,” Dan said. “Go ahead. Walk out by yourself.”
Reggie declined, and we kept going. I never spoke up.
A good fifteen minutes later we came across a nearly complete medical room. A gurney sat in the center, with a raised medical tray beside it, and two rotting chairs against the wall. Much of the graffiti had stopped by this point, a sign that even vandals knew better than to go this far in. But, not us. No. We were intrepid trespassers.
Small, disturbing labels marked the cabinets. Blotches stained the floor. Joe and Dan whipped their flashlights around the room, our eyes trying to keep pace.
(image source: unavailable)
As one of them dropped their beam from the ceiling back down, it fell on the gurney. A sheet that obviously covered a person beneath it lay there. The light kept moving, mixing with the other that skipped from spot to spot. I thought I was the only person who saw it. Still embarrassed from the first episode, sure I must have imagined it, I said nothing. I was also so terrified I’m not sure I could have spoken.
Then Dan, the uber-calm one, said, “Did you guys see that?”
He moved his flashlight back on the table. Nothing was there except a flat, dirty sheet.
“I saw it,” said Joe. Reggie said the same.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” I said, and this time no one argued.
I’m not sure how, but all three got by me and started running down the hall. “Hey!” I shouted. “Wait the fuck up!”
Left in the dark, I moved with trepidation, my hands outstretched, hitting bits of metal and cloth. After only a few steps, something touched my elbow. Not just touched. Grabbed. I could feel the individual fingers grasp each side of my arm.
Then I sprinted, the flashlights fifty feet ahead of me. I knocked into debris with my leg, almost stumbled, regained my balance, and knocked my shoulder into some unknown object that refused to budge. Ahead, the tunnel exit glowed from the moon’s light.
A figure stood in the doorway. Horns on its head. Knees that bent backward instead of forward. Two piercing, yellow eyes. I no longer cared if I was imagining these things or if they were real. It seemed entirely possible my heart would stop. They were real enough to kill me, at least in that way.
One of the others, I assumed Dan, yelled, “Go fuck yourself!” and sprinted even faster ahead.
He bounded through the exit, through the thick vines that covered it, followed by Joe and then Reggie. Those assholes didn’t even wait for me. When I ran through, my eyes stubbornly holding onto the image of the Goatman blocking my path, it all evaporated. Outside. Wind. Trees. The moon. And my three friends already scrambling through the thicket.
At the car, we discussed the phantom standing in the exit. We had all seen something. Dan kicked up rocks when he sped off. We smoked another bowl. We ate at Denny’s and joked about it all. Good times. A nice scare like at the movies.
Twenty-two years later, it’s a good story to reminisce about. The feeling of fear has disappeared, though maybe if I tell it just right sometimes, it will scare the kids. I still do not believe in the paranormal or supernatural. However, after that jaunt through Glenn Dale’s tunnels and seeing what I saw, I do believe in the power of fear. Make people scared, and they may see and hear things that aren’t there.
As far as Glenn Dale Hospital, the community still does not know what to do with the grounds and buildings. It is a hazard and expensive in terms of management. But, to locals, it holds its charms. I completely understand. I’ve lived in southern Maryland my entire life. Except for the year I spent in Boston. And a few years in San Diego. A few more in Denver. And then there was the time in New York City. I was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, as well.
But the important thing is that I live in and love southern Maryland.
It has a not-quite gothic feel to it. Still not too overdeveloped (mostly). A few miles below me, Amish ride in horse-driven wagons. Fields of tobacco and corn fill the land. Where I live in Calvert County, a peninsula, the Chesapeake Bay straddles the eastern border and the Patuxent River the western. Crab stands dot any drive from here to there. And there are maybe ghosts, haunted sites, places that bring a chill.
Maybe Glenn Dale is meant to keep standing. Like all abandoned places, it holds secrets, stories, the past. Maybe that is what ultimately makes them haunted, that they offer so many stories and are unable to tell them.
Just try not to let them scare you.