One Snooped Under the Cuckoo's Nest (Eloise Asylum Pt. 2)

Photos date 2004-2008, some scanned from 35mm prints. 

CLICK to return to part 1

My return to the infamous Eloise Asylum in 2005 was as unexpected as the first time I had infiltrated it. It is curious how one overlooks so easily those places that are right under one's nose.

Our buddy Syd had come up for a visit and made a stop at his old haunt, Eloise, and noticed that the tunnel running in front of the powerhouse had begun to cave in. Once he told me about that, I knew I had to make a trip over there. He also told me that the firehouse had been pried open recently.

It was sweltering out, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into...I would end up emerging from the former asylum's subterranean realms over an hour later covered in sweat, asbestos mush, rust flakes, cobwebs, calcified spider remains, raccoon feces, and other unnamable crud too horrifying to recall.

I made my way to the narrow street between the powerhouse and the back of the Kay Beard Building, the asylum's former administration building. It seemed the parking lot security guard who I remembered as always being around here had been laid off in budget cuts or something, making my job easier. I eyed the holes in the ground where the tunnel had "collapsed," but none of them were even close to big enough to give me access.

I circled around the back of the circa-1905 bakery building and started analyzing the alley between it and the powerhouse. There was an 8-foot barbwire fence blocking off the alley, and while I could climb it, I didn’t know whether there would be an actual entrance beyond it. These buildings were pretty well boarded up.

I spied a window open on the second story of the powerhouse above me...if I could get up there I was guaranteed an in. A vent duct ran up the side of the wall, and a small spigot-type fixture stuck out from the brick. It would still be a stretch requiring a lot of agility and upper-body strength, but I could probably pull it off.

I stood with one foot on the spigot thingy and grabbed the stone windowsill, still way over my head. With my other foot I quickly supported myself off of the vent duct against the wall, and got my other hand on the window frame itself. A quick pull-up and I was in—but just before I slipped out of sight, I noticed a dude walking into the Kay Beard. Luckily he wasn’t looking my way or he would’ve definitely seen me.

As I went through the main area of the powerhouse, I saw how huge it was inside...three massive Detroit-built Firite boilers sat silent in this building.

The glazed orange brick on the interior walls shone in the massive spills of light coming from arched windows large enough to fly a 747 through. 

Here were the three gigantic dynamos that once powered and heated Eloise...according to Patricia Ibbotson's book, "the powerhouse made history in 1924, when it became one of the first hospital-based generators in the United States." It was plain that the powerhouse had upgraded from coal power to more modern equipment by the time the asylum closed in 1984. 

I could hear people on the golf-course just outside, where the rest of the institution's patient buildings were once situated, and in the distance I could see the modern Walter P. Reuther Psychiatric Facility, once also a part of the massive Eloise complex. 

The inside of this place was exceptionally clean and seemingly untouched by kiddy vandals, though I did see some tags dated from the 1980s. Even though the building looked a little rough on the outside, the inside looked remarkably well-preserved in many respects. I wandered around at random for some time, and found myself in the lower level where cooler air had pooled.

In a room underneath the behemoth incinerators I found some gigantic transformers, still intact. In the darker recesses of this pipe-clogged dungeon I could definitely see how people might find it frightening, or like a horror movie set.

I found some stairs leading down further into an actual basement, but they led underwater, because that entire level had apparently flooded. It looked as though floods were common here, as the floors had large patches of silty mud accumulated on them. I easily found my way into the tunnel that followed the street between the powerhouse and Kay Beard Building.

Some golden afternoon sun was filtering in through the slots in the grates and the cracks in the cement, lighting my way down the ancient, decrepit tunnel. There were still some pipes and asbestos mush in there, even though it had been bricked-off in spots. I was surprised that there really were still some tunnel segments left underground here, even though the buildings to which they connected were long gone. I always regarded their continued existence as mostly urban legend spun by ghost-hunter kids. But here they still were, and here I was.

I continued forward to the right (it was bricked-off to the left) in a hunched position until I came to a T-intersection where another tunnel branched to the left, apparently leading to the Kay Beard's basement!

I could glimpse the back of the building through a crack in the pavement:

We snooped around in that building a year ago, and we had not found any tunnel access in its basement, but now I began thinking we had been mistaken. After a few yards of progress into the south-pointing tunnel it became very cluttered with decaying pipes and conduit, and since the floor was a bit flooded and I hadn’t brought my good boots, I needed to walk on the pipe in the center of the tunnel.

There was no more natural light, so it became a bit of a pain in the ass with all the debris snagging me as I went. The thing that held my fascination was the light coming from the end of this tunnel. It hadn’t been bricked off...eventually I could hear ventilation equipment running close by.

Unexpectedly, I came upon a branch to the left where light was coming from before I even reached that which was leading me on. When I got to it and looked left, I was utterly surprised to find a flight of concrete steps leading down to a door, which was hanging open—to daylight outside?!

I went down to it but found that it only led into one of the air circulation wells at the base of the Kay Beard Building. However, right next to it was another heavy door that led into the actual basement of the building! I could see a light on inside, and slowly went in. The place was trashed and the floor covered in mud, so I assumed no one really came down here anymore. Some old compressor:

I explored cautiously with my lamp in the darker regions of this crawlspace, finding piles of old steel bedsteads that patients once slept on...

...and one of those psychiatric wheelchairs with the tiny wheels:

I also noticed a small door about 3'x3' that went into a wall, and upon opening it discovered that it led into a separate set of tunnels! The corridor I stepped into was almost totally free of pipes and debris, a welcome change. I could see it branched off in a couple spots. I was totally taken aback by all the intriguing stuff that I was discovering in a place that I had always written off. Walking about, I found that all the branch-offs were either dead ends or bricked-up, but there was another that was odd because it sloped downward while curving off to the left. I had no idea where it might go, and there was no way to find out, because it was flooded with water that rapidly deepened with the downward grade of that tunnel. I was regretting having only brought one roll of film and no flash.

After a brief and fruitless attempt to toss some random stuff into the water for stepping stones, I gave up trying to forge ahead. It just bugged the hell out of me that that corridor curved left out of my sight and I couldn’t find out what it led to. The fact that it was flooded hinted to me that it might go down underneath the level I was currently at, to another whole level of tunnels. Which would be weird, since it seemed at first glance that this was merely a Kirkbride-style air ventilation tunnel. Everywhere on the walls of this tunnel were vent ports that apparently led up into the building's ventilation shafts, and I could hear transmitted sounds from offices above. Accordingly, I was sure to be extra quiet in here. 

I went back into the main basement of the Kay Beard to finish exploring for a staircase. I found one at the far end. 

There were lights on in this stairwell (just as last time), and I could see it went all the way up. I stood silently and listened for several minutes for any activity, trying to decide if I really should go up. I only had a few shots left in my camera, and knew that wouldn’t be enough for the whole Kay Beard. I started hearing some motion above, possibly a night janitor starting work, so I retreated back into the shadows, vowing to come back again another day. I still had more tunnel to explore, and the roof of the powerhouse.

I came back to the steps leading into the main tunnel and went up again, into the cobwebby, asbestosy, drippy dank mess. I had to climb all over these jumbled pipes to make headway, and got myself absolutely filthy in the process—not to mention so sweaty that my glasses fogged up. And I still had no idea where this tunnel led, though I was certain it dead-ended eventually.

Continuing southward past the Kay Beard I crawled, noticing that it smelled remarkably skanky down here, like animal turd. I soon found the turdage that was to blame, perched prominently on a pipe. The mucky floor was totally covered in the paw-prints of some rodent, and I feared a messy encounter with a foaming, lycanthropic raccoon the size of a wild boar. The prospect of scrapping with such a feral beast with my bare hands or pocketknife in this cramped space was wholly unappealing, even though I normally have a pretty decent THAC0.

The corridor went through some really badly decaying spots that had been shored-up by makeshift wooden beams before making a slight descent of several feet. I began to wonder how far south this tunnel would take me...I must be getting close to Michigan Avenue by now—would it actually go under the road?!

The metal access covers that sporadically appeared in the ceiling above me were too heavy to lift, and had no slits to peek through, so I was left to guesstimate by the sound of traffic as to where I was. I knew there were no more buildings out this way, so what this tunnel could be leading me to was a mystery. It made 90-degree turns to the right and left a couple times, and in one spot I came to a room off to the side where a rebar ladder went up to a manhole. I could definitely hear car traffic passing very close to where I was, and wondered if I had not already gone under Michigan Avenue. The thought on my mind was that perhaps this tunnel used to lead to the Eloise Sanitarium on the opposite side of the road?

After about another 50 yards or so of tunnel, it came to a bricked-off dead end at a diagonal turn. I found some pretty nasty spiders in here, most of which were dead, and—still suspended in their strands—had become encased in white calcium, deposited from the leaky concrete ceiling. Finally I could turn around and get the hell out of this god-forsaken place. How long had it been since anyone else had been in this nasty labyrinth? The 1980s? It took me a good 20 minutes to crawl the whole way back to the powerhouse basement.

Glad to be in the real world again with fresh air, I headed to the roof of the powerhouse to relax and take in the view. The roof itself seemed to be in fair shape, and I could definitely see myself chilling up on it at night again in the near future.

There was also one more level to the building along the back edge, containing the coal conveyor. I walked its entire length, noting that the bins still contained some coal. There was also a small room with a gigantic twin-six-cylinder Detroit Diesel mounted for (I assume) driving the conveyor. It looked like it might even turn over again if the proper steps were taken.

This was a perfect spot to relax and allow my back muscles to un-cramp from all that sweaty, hunched-over tunnel crawling I had been doing...

*   *   *

There were a couple other peripheral items remaining at Eloise that I checked out at other times over the years. One was a small hatch in the ground that we spied one day as we were driving through the old roads that still remained on the former asylum grounds between the remaining Eloise buildings and the still-operating Reuther Psychiatric. 

We suspected it to be an entrance into the Eloise tunnel system, though when we popped it open and peeked inside they found it to be flooded…but looking like it still could be a tunnel entrance. (It was hard to tell with such deep water). 

I eventually made my way back there some years later and dropped in, once it was no longer flooded. No, it did not provide me with tunnel access, but there were valves and such for the water and steam systems:

The sign hanging from the valve says, “Michigan Ave Water Line, O S & Y”…I wonder if it has anything to do with the two monstrous Detroit Water System reservoirs across the road?

Another happy discovery was along the branch of the Rouge River that once divided the Eloise campus into northern and southern halves. Eloise's “L” and “M” Buildings of the womens’ division once sat butting up almost to the river’s edge, and there was a slope there. Erin from Tales of Eloise had told me she came across some ruins of them back there in the woods behind where the grocery store now sits. You have to hop a huge fence into the woods, but once you get to the slope you’d find the old staircases that used to lead down to the river from the patient cottages.

There’s also another ELOISE HOSPITAL manhole cover back there:

I ventured back in those woods, geeked that there was still yet some part of the old Eloise hiding out there and that I could go looking for it. First I passed a few scattered remnants of the old asylum fence:

Sure enough, after a bit of bushwhacking I came across some old staircases half buried in leaves, and other various ruins—one being an old bridge that I never knew about. I just love little discoveries like that.

Numerous flights of steps illustrate how steep the Rouge River valley is here that cut through what used to be the asylum campus:

The bridge was still in much better shape than I expected:

Beyond those trees I could hear the sounds of people golfing:

Another thing worth noting is that in January 2006 a huge chunk of the “ELOISE” smokestack broke off and came crashing earthward. The chunk was about the size of a small car. You can see the missing piece in some of the pictures:

I knew this did not bode well for the future of the remaining Eloise structures, seeing as the county has been trying to get rid of them for awhile. Sure enough, a few months later the smokestack was brought down, and one of the iconic landmarks of old Wayne County that I had gotten so used to seeing that it was practically burned into my eyeballs, was no more.

I also got into the bakery building, though I only took a couple photos since it was very dark inside and not much to photograph besides the oven:

Here's a view out the window, of the Kay Beard Building:

The bakery was built in 1905, and burned down in March of 2016.

Up on an unassuming brush-tangled knoll is the remnant of the railroad spur that fed the powerhouse:

All kinds of artifacts can be found on Eloise’s grounds if you know where to look.

These decrepit pillars used to form the entry gate to the Wm. J. Seymour Hospital, which sat next to the Kay Beard Building (seen at left):

It was demolished long ago, and now all that sits left of it next to the bus stop are these two crumbling sentinels, making a gateway to nothing.

South of Michigan Avenue there is another better-known ruin, the old Michigan Central RR viaduct…

…and another underground valve room next to it on the embankment:

Sorry I don't have any photos of the old Eloise paupers' cemetery. Our visit (11 years ago) was interrupted by the police, though at the time the headstones were totally hidden beneath the soil and long grass, since the cemetery has barely been maintained in the past several decades. The local TV news recently did a story on the cemetery that has dredged up all kinds of attention, while the asylum property itself remains up for sale at a price of $1.5 million, in hopes to reduce Wayne County's budget deficit.