Memphians cannot have visited the beautiful and magical grounds of the Ornamental Metal Museum in their time here and NOT noticed the giant abandoned building right next to it. It’s really amazing upon first sight. It takes your breath away. You can’t stop staring and then you can’t stop wondering. Soon your wonder spirals. Was it a school – or an insane asylum (!) or or or… a penitentiary for PIRATES! It is the stuff on which series like “American Horror Story” were built. It captivates and gets under your skin as you imagine the possibilities of the humanity it has seen in its time.
It turns out of course it was not a school or an insane asylum or a pirate-coop, as exciting as that may sound. It was a US Marine Health Service Hospital. My research tells me that the original buildings opened in 1884 and were originally used to treat Civil War soldiers, with the hopes of also developing science to find a cure for the yellow fever. The red brick building standing today was created in the 1930s and in its years of operation it cared for members of the Coast Guard, active duty Armed Forces, Maritime Academy, and other government employees. The hospital closed 50 years ago in 1965 and has reportedly been empty ever since.
Carla and I, amongst many before us, ogled at that building for years wondering how we could get in.
And then one day we did.
A witness to pain for decades in addition to 50 years untouched – it seems like the structure would be ripe for the lingering spirits of its time. Generically speaking, Hospital often means Disease. Disease means Death. Death mixed with Unknown History divided by Empty Not-Lived-In Place, pretty much equals Ghosts. But in the end, it wasn’t what I expected at all. And, while one does tend to tread carefully inside the building, there really is an uplifting and welcoming element to it – not at all like a place that celebrates its losses but like a place that wants and needs and hopes to come alive again and be re-remembered as something else.
It mostly looks like this.
Which is cool all by itself. But there is so much more.
That’s in the basement, by the way. The light you see in this photo is coming from an iPhone.
There’s also this. It’s exactly what you think it is. The only light was, again, from an iPhone flashlight.
But there was this too!!
The Shadow of a Comfortable Ghost.
The decaying machinery that looked above SO many people long since gone.
And the machinery still looking brand spanking new and relatively dust-free, clearly from an era I have never seen but feel oddly at home in.
Also did I mention that every last inch of white tile that is on the walls of the former bathrooms and possible kitchen areas is SPOTLESS? Immaculately cleanly white and pristine? I can’t figure it out. It’s as remarkable as the decay. We’ll get a picture of it next time.
Also, just so I say it out loud – I am neither a reporter nor a purveyor of steadfast facts. I am merely a learner and an observer and a person with a deep interest in Memphis history. And I will only say this with any real certainty: Holy shit.
There is Hope on the Horizon.
*** The Marine Hospital is a private residence, owned and monitored, that is slated for development in the future. To support the development of this property please visit French Fort Development by City South Ventures.
To support the preservation of any Memphis landmark, please visit Memphis Heritage.
All photos are by Carla McDonald. This entry was written by Courtney Oliver. You’re welcome to read about us and email us here.