and Internet sites lure visitors to old sanatorium
NORTH CALDWELL, N.J. -- The remnants of a former tuberculosis sanatorium are suddenly an illicit tourist attraction, a century after the site entered public service as a shelter for abandoned girls.
Beleaguered neighbors and police blame a magazine and several Internet sites for the influx.
Some of the authors of the articles mourn the impending demolition of the abandoned and decaying sanatorium buildings, but not the residents.
"It should be torn down. Why leave it up there and have them go up there?" asked Amelia Klelis, 80, who has resided for two decades on Hill Street, a convenient parking spot for partiers sneaking into the woods and up a hill to the 300-acre campus.
Her neighbors agree, and would only tell their tales of harassment on condition that their names not be used for fear of retaliation.
"I've had kids in the yard, on the front porch," said one woman. "They're not respectful to the people who live here."
Another neighbor said, "We were getting noisy kids, urinating on the lawns, shining flashlights all over the place."
"Sometimes 3 o'clock in the morning, 4 o'clock, they would show up, four or five cars," he added.
The visitors, who often left bottles and debris in yards, were common this summer before local and Essex County police increased patrols and started issuing $500 trespassing summonses, residents said.
"My sense is things have gotten better," another Hill Street man said.
Police Chief Joseph Clark hopes the Webmasters update their sites after demolition is complete to further quell the unwelcome tourists.
"Seems like this year it's been at a peak from what we've ever seen it before," Clark said.
From late May to early August alone, his officers issued 52 warnings and 50 summonses after fielding over 30 calls from residents, Clark said.
Once home to thousands of patients and a dozen large buildings, the sanatorium has been shuttered since 1977. The two remaining buildings are to be razed by year's end.
Some 240 acres are to be converted into a state-county reservation and the remaining 60 acres will be sold for development.
For Matt Kent, it means part of his childhood will disappear.
"I've been going to the sanitarium since I was young, real young, probably 10," said Kent, 24, who grew up in West Caldwell. "It's always been a meeting place."
The hilltop complex, surrounded by forest, is hidden from neighborhood roads, which led to vandalism, including fires, graffiti, and random destruction, he said.
"That was the beauty of the place. It was so secluded. You were in the middle of suburbia, but it couldn't be seen," Kent said.
Nevertheless, "They should have knocked it down a long, long time ago," he said.
He's aware of rumors of otherworldly infestation, but cannot say he's ever seen a ghost there.
"It's real spooky," Kent allowed. "If there was one place in the world that could be haunted, this would be it," said Kent, whose Internet musings as "Wheeler Antabanez" have angered officials. They believe his Web site, www.welcometohell.net, has encouraged forbidden visits.
The complex was first mentioned in Weird New Jersey magazine about six years ago, and has appeared more recently on its Web site, co-publisher Mark Moran said.
"I think a lot of people who haven't seen it want to get a look while they still can," Moran said. "We try to discourage people from trespassing, but we think we do have a right to show people what they're missing."
Moran has not received confirmation of any hauntings there, but said, "It's dark as a tomb even during the day in some of those buildings."
No record of ghosts has been uncovered by Rich Kennedy, an amateur historian whose research on the complex is available at www.mountainsanatorium.net
He found that history started with The Newark City Home, a children's reform school which was established in Verona in 1873 on what is today the grounds of the Verona High School.
After its main building was destroyed by fire in 1900, it shifted focus. The cornerstone for the "Newark City Home for Girls" was laid on the crest of the Second Orange Mountain in Verona, the highest point in Essex County, on Oct. 30, 1900. It opened in 1902, but was vacated four years later due to decreasing enrollment, Kennedy determined.
After 842 people in Newark died from tuberculosis in 1906, the girls cottage became the "Newark City Home for Consumptives." It was taken over by Essex County in 1917, and enlarged to handle more than 4,000 tuberculosis victims, he learned.
"It was just a creepy place when it was open," said Kennedy, 32, of Verona, an aspiring Web site designer. However, "All of the human drama and tragedy that happened there ... that can leave a vestige."
He grew up in Rockaway, but had friends by the sanatorium and visited it when he was 17 to 23.
"I never went up there and destroyed the place. I think the (other) Web sites attracted, maybe, the wrong kind of crowd," Kennedy said. "With mine, I wanted to chronicle the history," Kennedy said.