Why our Campus May be Haunted
By: Carlos Glick
What some on the CSI Willowbrook Campus may not know is that the campus used to be a mental institution (known as the Willowbrook State School) for people who had severe disabilities.
Not to also mention but rumors say that a ghost haunts the campus. Believe it or not, it is true. (I’ll get into the details to that later).
Built in the 1930’s for developmentally disabled children and adults, the school became an institution where the borough’s most vulnerable residents were abused, starved and neglected, which was the opposite of its purpose. New York Senator Robert Kennedy referred to Willowbrook as a “snake pit” after a visit to the school and witnessed the deplorable conditions.
Following his visit, Kennedy called for a five-year action plan to improve treatment of patients and the school. Still, the school remained open.
During the College of Staten Island’s 21st annual Willowbrook memorial lecture back in 2014, a former Willowbrook employee, Diane Buglioli, who had worked at the school for 11 years, said that individuals were “denied their human right to humanity” while living at the school. Bugliogi said that prisons allot 80 square feet per inmate, whereas Willowbrook provided only 35 square feet per resident, “with no place to put a treasured item, no place to put their (personal) possessions.”
From 1930 to 1987, several buildings on the campus (before becoming the College of Staten Island) housed an institution for developmentally disabled children. In 1938, a 375 acre section of Willowbrook, Staten Island converted into a hospital mentally handicapped children.
When construction was completed in 1942, the buildings were converted to a United States Army Hospital named Halloren General Hospital. In October 1947 the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene took over the buildings renaming it the Willowbrook State School.
By 1962, the school had been designed for 4,000 children but quickly spread to 6,000. The patients were understaffed and were locked in rooms for an extended length of time and were forced to sleep on floors covered in their own excrement. Many of the children were underfed and most ran down the halls partially dressed or naked. Between 1963 and 1966 medical studies were conducted on the children, infecting them with hepatitis, some by feeding them the stool of other infected patients.
The Staten Island Advance began uncovering the questionable practices of the Willowbrook State School in the mid-1960s. Jane Kurtin, a reporter of The Staten Island Advance, was one of the first to cover the abhorrent conditions at the school, though the stories did not gain the attention she’d hoped for.
It wasn’t until ABC News’ Geraldo Rivera exposed “Willowbrook: The Last Disgrace” that the national spotlight was turned on to Staten Island and the school’s treatment of its “students.” Before the exposed aired, the network warned: “Tonight as a public service, we’re going to make you sick.” “This is what it looked like, this is what it sounded like; It smelled of filth, it smelled of disease and it smelled of death.”
In 1971 funding to the school was cut leading to worsening conditions. Local newspapers and media including Geraldo Rivera, reported on the overcrowding, lack of sanitary conditions, and the physical and mental abuse forced upon the disabled children. As a result, lawsuits were filed against New York State which would lead to reforms many years later.
In 1974 the area was renamed the Staten Island Developmental Center and in 1983 a plan to close the school was announced. The last child to reportedly leave the school was in September of 1987.
It doesn’t end there though. In 1987 Andre Rand who had worked in the school, killed and buried Jennifer Schweiger, a patient at the school, on the abandoned school grounds. Because of this incident, students at the College of Staten Island have reported seeing figures moving through the shadows, strange noises and calls and unsettling feelings.
If you take night classes, and especially if you drive, be careful. You may get that unexpected creepy feeling that something is watching and following you.
Today, CSI sits on over 200 acres from the north side of campus (buildings 1M and 2M) going pass the gym all the way down to the S buildings (buildings 1S-6S) surrounding the library. If you have classes in the S buildings (especially buildings 4S or even perhaps 5S) be warned; I hear that some pretty fishy hauntings happen in those buildings.
Explore, if you dare.