Exploring Rosewood Sanitarium: A Photo Essay

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Exploring Rosewood Sanitarium: A Photo Essay

Exploring Rosewood Asylum

Exploring Rosewood turned into more than just a fun adventure as the photos' popularity continues even today, more than a decade since their original posting. Though personal reasons, since resolved, fueled my interest in Rosewood, I find myself fascinated by the interest in these places. Though I am sure those contacting me over the years about explorations of Rosewood or ways to enter the asylum without being seen have their reasons, I believe today, their interest was less about seeing ghosts or ghouls and more about understanding the horror within ourselves.

Rosewood Collage

Places where terrible things occurred such as Rosewood, Eastern State Penitentiary, and many other well-known and lesser-known spots like the Murder House of Los Feliz, draw much interest. Despite having seen some strange experiences "paranormal if you will" I do not believe these events result from supernatural activity. Yet alternative causes often provide equally unnerving explanations.

Once at Rosewood, in the building, we called the Children's Ward, me and two friends stood on the stairs between the second and third-floor listening to what sounded like someone walking around on the floor above. One friend froze in fear, unable to move up or down the stairs, to which I whispered, "You got to move. You can't stay here." The noise stopped and we pressed on to investigate.

We entered the third floor, moving from room to room, making our way to the end of the hallway where another stairwell led downward behind too large doors, but the doors were chained shut with a padlock clearly undisturbed for a long time, judging from the corrosion and dirt covering it. 

We found no one in the upstairs.

Having visited Rosewood once before and some other scary places, I no longer believed apparitions lurked in the dark, but the sounds of someone walking did not fit the wind since there was no wind blowing that day nor an animal. No, definitely someone walking is what we heard. So what was it?

Exactly what it sounded like, a person walking. 

Someone, upstairs walking around, hid when they heard us approaching the upper floor. We were not clearing the floor like the police would when securing an area, but instead ventured from room to room taking the photos below. It is entirely possible and plausible whoever inhabited the upstairs slipped past us, just a few feet from where we stood inside a room conversing and snapping pictures. Places like Rosewood attract the curious but also the homeless, vandals, thieves, and even worse, those so disturbed they would choose to occupy an old, creaky sanitarium alone.

As humans, we intuitively know this terrifying aspect of ourselves in which these insane or deviant personalities inhabit such scenarios. The specter haunting the forgotten, dilapidated asylum forms a security blanket we can wrap ourselves in and indulge the fantasy of ghosts and goblins to avoid the nerve-grinding knowledge of the person skulking in the darkness. On some instinctual level, this primal fear embeds and to overcome it to face the reality of places like Rosewood, you whistle in the stairwell or as you walk the halls, the ghost stories because that illusion camouflages the real terror – the people of Rosewood.

The people of Rosewood include more than just the memory of warehoused broken minds, but the people who built such a place, perhaps having the best intentions, that devolved into a storage facility for the insane. You glimpse these people in the cribs with steel bars and the piles of wheelchairs that once made mobile the malformed and mentally vacant with uncontrolled bodies sometimes flailing. You hear their lunatic or evildoer's footsteps in the long-since abandoned house of the cognitively damned, and whispering from beyond the walls muted in the tales of the macabre. 

The Whispers

Have you known the insanity of man?
Has it bogged your conscience and your dreams
Have you imagined the lifeless with a coaxing greed
Have you been confused about yourself and your being? 

You have only known those textbook words
You have only heard the whispers from behind asylum doors
You have only heard the disjointed messages
From the madman’s mouth about his world 

Those screams and confusion horrors
Those wide and roving eyes
Peering within as well as without
The delusions of grandeur or illusions of hell
The phantom voices that ring incessantly
But no one hears so well 

Obsessions with the living
Vibrant in their rapid movements
Pumping veins and muscles
Rushing sweat and clenched, grinding teeth

And of the dead
Hardened lifeless limbs with rigor mortis face
Eyes wide, peering but unmoving
Wearing only the mask of death 

All are just the pictures of insanity
All those textbooks and those rumors
All those words from the madman’s mouth
So clear an image they paint so well
So strong a story for our mouths to tell

They are the whispers of insanity.

Abandoned Rosewood Sanitarium: Photos

In 2009, a friend and I explored some of the Rosewood Asylum in Owings Mills, Maryland, and the facility at that time neared closure. Founded in 1888, Rosewood, originally named "Asylum and Training School for the Feeble-Minded," underwent several name changes until finally becoming Rosewood Center in 1969. We took these photos shortly before a fire destroyed one of the buildings, and not long after the fire, the facility closed permanently. Purchased by Stevenson University, Rosewood now waits to be demolished for use as athletic fields.

Welcome to Rosewood
Welcome to Rosewood

Rosewood has a long, disturbing history with serious allegations of abuse. If walls could talk, I would be frightened to hear what they say. At the time of this facility’s construction, the mentally ill were often warehoused in places such as Rosewood.

Church Building
A multipurpose facility of some kind we named the Church Building. The building seemed to be used for Sunday services.
The Church Building

Rosewood became the center of controversy multiple times throughout its history. The most notable incident occurred in 1937 which came to be known as the Rosewood Girls case. Leo Kanner, the physician who discovered Autism, served as whistleblower in the Rosewood Girls case. He discovered rich families of Baltimore were adopting mentally challenged teens and adult women and turning them into household slaves. These women and children endured physical and sexual abuse before being kicked to the street when the family became dissatisfied with them. (Amazingly, sick people don’t make the best servants.) You can read more about this case on Slate.

Rosewood in 2009 Winter
Rosewood in 2009 Winter

There were many rumors of abuse surrounding Rosewood and the facility closed due to poor treatment of patients. The stories are mired in both fact and fiction making the truth difficult to discern. One such story claimed tunnels with secret cages for unruly patients resided beneath Rosewood. Finding these cages and obtaining pictures formed the goal of our exploration.

Many Buildings at Rosewood
There were many buildings, some too old and dangerous to explore.

There were many buildings at Rosewood, and nearly impossible to explore all of them. There were guards patrolling, but they rarely came into the abandoned areas. I never saw security near any of the abandoned buildings. (Perhaps it was too scary for them.) In early morning or late night, you didn’t need to worry about security.

The Adolescent Building
Likely a facility for teens, this building scared the most because of the extreme darkness.

We called this building the adolescent ward because it appeared to house teens. We decided to explore this building which was extremely dark and unnerving. We made our way inside and to the basement attempting to find the tunnels.

Adolescent Ward Inhabitant?
Resident of the basement of the asylum?

Keep in mind that this basement had no windows and flashlights only penetrated the darkness to some degree. This appeared be an empty shower room. The room unnerved me, and later when we enhanced the photos, we were surprised to see what looks like someone sitting on the floor by the far wall. Perhaps a homeless person, but what creepy, dark place to hang out.

Administrative Building
This was some sort of administrative building.

We explored the grounds looking for an entrance to the tunnels outside but found nothing. Many of the buildings had this similar stone design.

Rear of Administrative Buildings
Rear of Administrative Buildings

There were many administrative buildings filled with desks and file cabinets, but these buildings were too dangerous to explore. We decided to come back on a different day because we were trespassing, and during the day, the security tightened.

The Chidrens Ward
We called this the Children’s Ward because the toys inside indicated this building housed young children.

We decided to investigate the Children’s Ward on a different day. The morning was dark and overcast and the building silent, creepy, and ominous.

Front Chidrens Ward
The front of the Children’s Ward. Sadly, a computer error resulted in a loss of many of the original high-quality photos.

The Children’s Ward was one of the scariest buildings at Rosewood. When you enter the building, you find it filled with old wheelchairs and outdated machines. Noises from different floors of the building make you stop and listen, thinking someone is present, but we never saw anyone.

Once State of the Art1
Once State of the Art2.jpg
Once State of the Art3.jpg
I’m sure all this was state of the art back in the 70s.

Ascending the stairs, we found rooms and halls littered with toys and clothing. At times, I wondered if those in charge just walked out and locked the door, giving no thought to what was left behind.

Stairwell To Top of Ward
Assylumn Baby Room
Asylumn Baby
Fun things to see in the dark, creepy asylum.
Asylumn Baby

We descended the stairs finding a pair of shoes that appeared to be walking up the staircase. As we passed the shoes, we made our way to a basement locker room with a security station.

Stairwell to Basement

Paintings decorated the security glass reminding us that children lived and played here once. The pictures were hand-painted with watercolor and you could tell they were done by kids. The paintings fascinated me in the realization that beauty was still possible — even in places as sad as Rosewood.

Rosewood Patient Art1
Rosewood Patient Art2
Rosewood Patient Art3
Rosewood Patient Art4
Rosewood Patient Art5
Rosewood Patient Art6
Artwork of patients painted with watercolor on security glass.

Making our way past the security glass, we entered a gymnasium. Against the far wall a doorway hung in the middle of the far wall. An old desk beneath seemed to be positioned to allow access. We found the tunnel, but because of the growing daylight, we decided to come back a different day to explore.

Rosewood Tunnel
Rosewood Tunnel2.jpg
Rosewood Tunnel3
The tunnel under Rosewood.
Ghosts of Rosewood

My only ghost photo. Who are these folks?

The Abandoned Rosewood Sanitarium


Early morning was the best time to go to Rosewood because you could park in a nearby apartment complex and walk across a field unnoticed when entering. Long in decay, Rosewood's many buildings were abandoned since the seventies or before.


You could spend weeks or months exploring the buildings sprawling the many acres of the facility. These photos, shot in the winter of 2009, might be the last taken before the facility closed in the coming summer. Rosewood's closing, though unsettling for patients, needed to occur since most of the crumbling buildings contained asbestos.


My understanding of this place is limited as its history is muddled, and worse yet, mired even today in legal issues. I think Rosewood is one of those places the state of Maryland would like to forget existed due to abuse and other problems.


Behind the building ahead, a functioning facility still operated, which we stay away from to avoid guards and violating patient privacy.


This is that functioning facility, and I am unaware of any other buildings that still operated. There were guards, but we only encountered security once when visiting. Security was lax, and we often explored in the daylight without issue.


Many buildings were boarded and chained. You could enter many structures through windows or doors opened by other curious individuals, but many were too dangerous to explore.


Most buildings contained piles of equipment, filing cabinets, and old furniture. The roofs or walls in some collapsed over time as nature reclaimed the buildings, such as in this photo.


Sadly, some of these photos blurred because we used phone cameras. Fear of needing to run from security kept us traveling light. Had I know security would be so lax, I would have brought better equipment.


I started to climb this building's stairwells, but my friend dissuaded me because of the need to stand on a warped, rotted roof.


This building appeared to be an administrative building abandoned for a very long time. In many of these buildings, old patient records still filled file cabinets and desks.


Though dead in winter, you can still see the ivy overgrowing the building's face.


Rosewood was an amazing, eerie place from a time when institutionalization was necessary treatment for the mentally ill. Psychotropic medications such as Lithium and Haldol would help bring about the end of these facilities and begin deinstitutionalization: a reform that would place many patients back into the community. Like many reforms, there were good and bad results, with some patients rejoining society while many others suffered homelessness for being incapable of taking care of themselves.


This final photo of Rosewood shows the demolition of a burned-out building in 2009. The facility would sit for years tied up in real estate legalities and other bureaucracy, but at last report, Stevenson University bought the facility and planned to turn it into athletic fields. RIP Rosewood.

Just Weighing Separator

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