I was at a party after the Fear concert when I first heard about
the Cambridge mental institute. ‘Texas,’ who I had met at
the show, had heard about them from a friend who had lived out that
way but had always been too afraid (of mentally ill ghosts?) to
do more than stare from a distance.
Apparently, a mental institute out that
way had been abandoned for years, and was rumored to have tunnels
beneath it that went all over beneath the entire city. While
it seemed pretty obvious that the “all over the city” part was almost certainly
false, it still sounded like a good thing to check out.
It was past 2 am, we weren’t geared up
(in fact, I was wearing some very silly, very impractical tight black leather
pants at the time), and Cambridge was over an hour away. But
there was no way we were going to wuss out, so by about 3:30 AM
we were geared up and on the road to Cambridge, Minnesota.
We found the place without too much difficulty:
it was a large complex of institutional buildings just off of what
passes for a major road in the small town of Cambridge. We quickly realized
that most of these structures, sadly, we still being used for various
purposes. However, about 5 or 6 of the structures were vacant, and we quickly homed in on them.
The first building we approached was amazingly easy
to gain entry to; the front door was unlocked. Inside, the
two-story building was in a state of medium disrepair. Peeling
paint and disintegrated plaster were everywhere and piles of trash
were in the corners, but the exterior windows were all intact, the
roof was intact, and the floors were solid. There was no graffiti
or beer bottles, indicating that this was not a location often explored by local kids.
The stairwells featured fences that went all the way to the ceiling, to prevent the inmates from leaping to their deaths through the space in the center of the stairwell, which went all the way down into the basement. In one room, someone had spent a lot of time tearing everything
that was remotely paper-like into tiny, uneven squares, which littered the floor and countertops.
The vacant hospital was a pretty spooky place, especially
with only two people. In the basement, past what seemed to be some kind of bird shrine, we found a set of heavy metal
double doors that seemed almost certain to lead into the tunnel
system - but they were sturdily locked from the other side (by
a castle-gate style bar & brackets, we later discovered).
The tunnels were a priority, so we decided to try to access them
through one of the other buildings, and went back into the night outside - where t he faint sound of the nearby Rum River kept doing a great impression of human voices and freaking us out. We quickly discovered that we had lucked out when we got into the
first building we saw through the first opening we'd tried, however. Every other door on every other abandoned structure in the asylum campus was locked up
In frustration, we attempted to open up one of the
vents on the sides of the bench-like structures that were scattered all over the area. These odd structures, with their glass blocks and vents, clearly served to supply the tunnels we knew were beneath us with fresh air and natural light. However, without appropriate tools, we were doomed
We made another round of the abandoned buildings, this
time trying to open the windows, and scaling the walls where possible to try to enter from upper levels. Nothing seemed to be working. But just as we were almost ready to give up - in the eastern sky, the glow of dawn was creeping in - we
finally found an unlocked window on the ground floor of one building, and
jumped through it, down into the basement. A quick search revealed
another set of the metal double doors; these were unlocked. We opened
them up with a grating squeal, and ... yes! We’d made it into the tunnels
beneath an abandoned mental institution.
They were steam and utility tunnels, as predicted,
running about 5 feet beneath the surface. We explored them just
enough to determine that the tunnel system, like the complex of former asylum buildings above,
was only partially disused; much of it remained well-lit and clean. Since the sun was about to rise - and with it, the staff of the active
buildings - we decided to take off, and return to explore
the tunnels later.
It was a long drive home, but there was no doubt that the trip had been worth it - and that a return trip would be, as well.