Students occasionally ask me for interviews pertaining to my adventures. Sometimes I say yes. Sometimes I say no. This time the project was about one of my favorite subjects so I said yes. The following interview is for a Wesleyan University student named Seth. He's doing a paper about urban wildernesses, which led him to the Essex Mountain Sanatorium and the Essex County Hospital Center. His questions really jogged my memory and I had a lot of fun typing out the answers. Since very few people were going to read this, I figured I might as well post the interview here to share with all my inernet friends. Here's the text and some pics for your enjoyment. -wheeler

skylights on the roof of the red building
spikey wuz here 1991
tunnel entrance in the red building


Where did the legends about the sanitarium come from? Did more start circulating after Weird NJ started writing about the area?

I had actually never heard of the sanatorium by word of mouth. I stumbled upon the buildings one day while I was playing in the woods with some friends. We were building forts behind the Fox Hollow housing development in North Caldwell. The closer we got to the top of the hill, the more junk we found. Eventually our quest for building materials led us to a crumbling road, which had served as an illegal dumping ground for many years. After we got bored of picking through the trash, we made our way up to the water towers, where we first spotted the hospital buildings looming over the trees. This was around 1987 when the main hospital complex was still standing. The dilapidated structure was intimidating, to say the least. It was a horror movie come to life for the benefit of our young eyes. We spent the first few months of our discovery just daring each other to go in, but after repeated visits I began to gain confidence inside the hospital.

Finding the sanatorium when I was 10 afforded me about 7 years of hanging out in the main buildings before they tore them down. By the time high school rolled around, I was basically giving guided tours to people who had never visited the place. Around town I gained a reputation as someone who not only knew the ins and outs of the buildings, but someone who knew how to avoid getting arrested on the property.

After the county ripped down the main hospital complex only the nurses' buildings, the water towers, and the red buildings remained. This was a devastating blow, but the unique geography of the Hilltop property still acted as an impenetrable island to the surrounding suburbia. Since there was no civilian vehicle access to the buildings, and no houses nearby, the sanatorium property remained a safe haven for anarchy long after the glory of the main buildings had passed.

mad mike took this shot from the top of the water tower. they don't call him Mad for nothing!

My early adult years were spent on the top floor of the nurses building or the roof of the red buildings, smoking pot and drinking beer. It was during this period that I began consolidating my pictures and building my former website, As a means of advertising, I spray painted the web address all over the walls and it didn't take long for the site to spread across the internet. After that, there was a noticeable influx of out-of-town visitors to the sanatorium and the legends began to spread. Weird NJ probably contributed to this as well, but unlike my site, WNJ has strict rules about not publishing directions to illegal spots. Welcometohell had maps, directions, and tips for not getting caught so I would guess that most people who visited the abandoned hospital at that time had also visited my site before taking the trip.



Strange tales from the depths of the abandoned mental hospital. Inspired by a lifetime of trespassing in Overbrook Asylum, author Wheeler Antabanez captures and preserves the dark mood and creepy ambiance of the now demolished institution.

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driveway into the courtyard
eric steriu took these old pics
the auditorium


Can you describe or send a link for a few of those legends?

The legend was that there was a huge abandoned hospital on the top of the hill. For once, the legend was correct!

Here is a link that might be helpful: click this


In your opinion, has Weird NJ's publication of these stories led to a lot more people from out of town showing up at the Hilltop?

Yes, I think that people have become curious about the sanatorium and neighboring Overbrook hospital from what they have read online and in the pages of the magazine. These stories however, always include the disclaimer that it is illegal to trespass on the property and in the buildings. People who take it upon themselves to trespass can't hold Weird NJ or anyone else responsible for the actions they choose to take. It's not illegal to write a story about an abandoned building, but it is illegal to trespass in one. For some reason the cops and the Weird NJ readership have a hard time grasping that concept.


red building tunnel
overbrook basement towards the tunnel
subterranean overbrook junk pit


Did you ever go into the tunnels?

After the main hospital was torn down there were only 2 tunnels left. The first one went from the nurses' building to the red building (the one with the skylights). The second tunnel originated in the red building and terminated abruptly in the field where the hospital once stood. This tunnel had been purposefully collapsed during the demolition of the main structure and was marked by a hole in the field. My friend, Mad Mike, and I spent many hours in this concrete burrow, attempting to clear a passage through the obstruction and gain access to the rest of the tunnel system. Unfortunately, they had blocked it with too much rubble and we weren't able to bust through. I suspect there may still be tunnels in the field buried under the topsoil, but it's hard to know for sure.

During the time when the main sanatorium was standing, there were, what seemed to be, miles of tunnels under the buildings which my friends and I thoroughly explored. The interior of these underground passages were lined with steam pipes. Their job was to deliver heat to each section of the massive hospital.

Further down the hill, at the Essex County Hospital Center, there still exists a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the decaying mental hospital. It has been my privilege to explore these on many occasions and I was even given a guided tour by the boiler operators back when the lights were still on. Now that the mental hospital is closed, the tunnels are black and the entrances are heavily patrolled. You have to be stealthy if you don't want to get caught. This means that flashlights are a bad idea because they attract unwanted attention and smashing windows and stuff is totally out of the question. When I was a kid, Overbrook was only partially abandoned. We used to sneak into the tunnels from the buildings across Fairview Ave, cross under the street, and watch the patients through the windows in the doors. The doors were steel and locked from the inside, but it was always kind of scary looking into the bowels of the working hospital and seeing the crazies wandering the basement hallways.

deep in the tunnels. asbestos and cave crickets galore.


Have you gone to the Hilltop since you were a teenager? If so, how do feel about the new houses? Did you ever go in the jail?

Whenever I visit my parent's house in West Caldwell I try to avoid Mountain Avenue. I can't stand to look at what they've done to my childhood stomping grounds. A few months ago my curiosity got the best of me and I drove up there to see the damage. I was thoroughly sickened by the Mc Mansions which have been erected on what I consider to be sacred ground. However, even though I don't like what they've done, I realize that all good things must come to an end. I am mature enough now to understand that abandonment moves in cycles. It does no good to cry about old buildings that have been torn down. All manmade structures will eventually fall, that is their natural and inevitable fate. One day even the Mc Mansions will be burned and abandoned for a future generation of dropouts and misfits to enjoy. As for the jail, nah I don't like jails, abandoned or otherwise. I do my best to stay as far away from prison as possible.


red building chaos
near the ladder to the roof
outside the lower nurses' building


Much of the stories I've heard about the Hilltop involve the Sanitarium, and not the nearby Overbrook hospital in Cedar Grove. If that's the case, why are there less stories attached to Overbrook?

The Essex Mountain Sanatorium was a tuberculosis hospital built in 1901 and abandoned in the 1970s. It wasn't completely demolished until 2002. 30 years of neglect made it much much scarier than The Essex County Hospital Center, which closed its doors only a couple years ago. Overbrook is plenty scary and beautiful in its own way, but it pales in comparison to the abandoned sanatorium that once stood on the hilltop. The isolation that the sanatorium attained high atop Second Mountain made it a one of a kind, never to be repeated, paradise in North Jersey.

mentally ill chemically addicted unit at overbrook. i have a lot of stories about this particular wing.
Overbrook is a sprawling complex on a busy road, leaving trespassers vulnerable to the police. It takes vigilance and cunning to break into Overbrook without getting caught. The sanatorium however, was an island unto itself where you could smash everything in sight without fear of making too much noise. The theory was that once you got past the ball field in north caldwell and made it to the woods there wasn't a chance in hell that the police could catch you. In the fifteen years I spent hanging out at the sanatorium I never once got in trouble.

In the early years of my sanatorium experience, there was an Essex County Sheriff's van that would patrol what was left of the paved roads surrounding the complex. The van would make its rounds around the buildings, sometimes on a 12 hour shift, but since it was the only vehicle up there you could hear it from a good half mile away. The only time I ever saw the cop get out was to take a piss on the side of the road.

This van would appear at random times over the years and stay in effect for a week or two here and there, but never seemed to deter anybody. I suspect that it was some kind of administrative punishment for a sheriff's officer to be put on sanatorium duty. It truly was a boring and pointless job, not to mention a complete waste of taxpayer money. The same may hold true for the cops driving around Overbrook today. I'm sure when they signed on to the police force it wasn't with the intention of playing babysitter to a bunch of abandoned buildings.


What are some of the stories that stick out most in your mind from the Sanitarium?

I remember sitting in the copper lined gutter of the main hospital, five stories above the courtyard with my legs dangling in space. I was probably 13 or 14 years old. In my hand was one of those really big bottles of Southern Comfort. The bottle was half full when I stole it from my friend's parents and I stashed it at the sanatorium because I couldn't drink that much in one sitting. There I was, five stories above the pavement, swigging SoCo and feeling no pain. Below me were 4 teenagers who I didn't know, messing around in the courtyard. Eventually they caught sight of me up on my perch and tried to start a friendly conversation from below. To this day I don't know what the hell I was thinking, but I tipped the whiskey all the way back, swallowed the last gulp of burning fire and launched the bottle into the abyss, right at the group of kids. This was so wholly unexpected that they just stood there in surprise as the bottle came hurtling towards them.

Not only was it a surprise to them, but it also shocked the hell out of me. In my head I had no intention of doing anything like this. It was one of those incredibly stupid and impulsive actions which seem to define my teen years. The bottle exploded on the courtyard pavement within a mere two feet of one of the kids. All of them were sprayed with flying glass and they screamed curses at me as they retreated towards Verona where they had probably come from. Despite my considerable buzz, a cold wave of fear ran up my back when I thought about what would have happened had that bottle hit one of those kids. Committing manslaughter was not something I wanted to do, but it was something that I had come very close to achieving. This was how I learned not to throw things at people.

the red spot indicates where i was sitting

One of the weirder stories happened about the same time and is the only piece of evidence I have personally witnessed suggesting ghosts may possibly exist. I have been a skeptic since I was a kid, which is one of the reasons why I was able to get over my fear of the sanatorium as quickly as I did. Those dark hallways were no place for someone who believed in ghosts. Thousands of people died within those wards and even if that hadn't been the case, the place just downright looked haunted. Anyway, one day my friend Scott and I were patrolling the hallways of the main hospital around the area of where the auditorium and the chapel once stood. I had my trusty M17 BB gun in my hands, which I kept stashed in the ceiling above the auditorium. We were just coming out into the main hallway, when we suddenly heard running boots at the other end of the corridor. Scott was one of the toughest dudes I have ever met and I had a machine gun in my hand, so we glanced at each other and instinctively took off in pursuit.

auditorium, chapel, ghost hallway
The footsteps were booking fast down the hallway, towards the bridge that spanned the courtyard's driveway. There was a slight angle the way the bridge was built, so we couldn't see who we were running after, but we could hear the fleeing footsteps pounding along with our own. As we made the slight turn onto the bridge, we caught the most fleeting-shadow of a glimpse of our victim, as he turned right into the hallway of the main building. We heard him run for a very brief few feet, open a door and slam it behind him. This whole altercation had taken no more than 15 seconds from the time we heard him start running, to the time he went through the door. We were at the door in an instant and Scott violently kicked it in, as I rushed in wielding the BB gun.

The room, as it turned out, was a bathroom. We kicked in every stall door and peered behind every nook and cranny, but there was simply no one there. We checked the ceiling, behind the door, behind the toilets. We looked out the window, which was a 3 story drop onto the asphalt driveway below. We left the bathroom and checked all the rooms in the wing, but there was nobody there and no evidence of anyone being there at all. The two of us had left footprints in the plaster dust of the floor, but ours were the only fresh ones to be found. After a while of fruitless searching, we started to get really spooked. I stashed my gun back in its hiding place and we got the hell out of there. It was a week or more before I was able to shrug it off and return to the sanatorium.




Strange tales from the depths of the abandoned mental hospital. Inspired by a lifetime of trespassing in Overbrook Asylum, author Wheeler Antabanez captures and preserves the dark mood and creepy ambiance of the now demolished institution.

buy the book from