The ghosts forgotten in the depths of West Hall

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West Hall has a reputation in Rensselaer for its cryptic, otherworldly nature. When I first arrived at RPI, one of the first things I heard on campus were the West Hall ghost stories. Rumor has it that the building was originally a 19th century mental asylum before eventually being converted into a building for RPI. Since then, paranormal events have been reported from all premises, and strange events are said to have happened to those who have gone too far into the depths.

Personally, I didn’t think much of it at all, and I don’t think most people did either. For one thing, it reminded me of a story about a “summoning circle” a few steps above West Hall, which turned out to be a poorly maintained art project, which really felt more unoriginal to me than it was. ‘intriguing. On the other hand, many reasonably intelligent people would say that ghosts are not real; since the only evidence I’ve seen to the contrary comes from the History Channel, I was inclined to believe the former. To me the building was just another brownish red brick cube that was a bit longer than all the others. Beyond that, I found West Hall’s old-fashioned cast iron elevator with brownish rusty bars on either side of the enclosure intriguing, but not to the point where I contemplated studying it by myself. I was too busy trying to convince a group of friends to travel through the tunnels under the Jonsson Engineering Center at the time.

However, I came to understand why West Hall had the reputation it did. The building looks quite unusual, not to mention the strangeness of the layout of the building itself.

During one of its many renovations, West Hall had many parts of the building completely redone, with the walls knocked down to make the building bigger. As a result, there are many strange areas where the stairs and hallways will suddenly merge in order to allow easier access to different parts of the building. Most of the stairs that dot West Hall don’t lead to where you think they would; some of them take you into the eerie, dark depths of the building where the wood finishes peel off the ground. You can’t really blame the school though. The building is one of the oldest on campus.

I wanted to learn more about West Hall, and since it is home to so many courses within the HASS department, I contacted HASS Dean Mary Simoni. She then referred me to the Getty Campus Heritage Study, conducted for RPI in 2004 as part of a $ 150,000 program. Getty Campus Heritage Initiative Grant, awarded to the School of Architecture for studying in detail the buildings that make up the campus. Reading this study opened my eyes to the complex and bizarre history of West Hall.

The Trojan colony arose shortly after the end of the American Revolution, and as the city grew, it needed a hospital to support its growing population. However, during its construction, the hospital itself was widely viewed as inefficient and poorly constructed – a complaint that has plagued the building ever since. Reverend Peter Havermans and the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, the people behind the establishment and management of Troy Hospital, were very influential members of the burgeoning medical field in New York and New England. At the time, it was the first hospital north of New York City, and it had a huge stake in medical research, from Albany to Castleton, Vermont.

Havermans, who led the movement to create the Troy Hospital, was widely known for his dedication to the well-being of all, regardless of social class. In response to a particularly fiery group of detractors aiming to cut back on building his hospital, Havermans gave a speech explaining why the practice of medicine was important:

“They [the poor] are not like animals that die by the wayside. Their sufferings are those of rational creatures – members of the human family – who can realize their plight, know and feel their distress, and yearn for relief as well as consolation. And wouldn’t it be a sin against God and man to stubbornly refuse help to accomplish such a purpose?

This sentiment resonated in the hearts of many residents of the city of Troy. Embodying many of the ideals of egalitarianism that defined early American history, while addressing an ancient ideal of Western medicine that emerged from the physicians of ancient Greece: that we should treat patients, whatever their class.

However, the hospital itself fell far short of these Hippocratic ideals. The disease was much less understood than it is today. Many physicians still retained such medical practices as bleeding, cupping, purging, and excoriation or scarification, which often resulted in chronic damage and great physical pain for patients. Doctors working at Troy Hospital often believed negative things about the people they were responsible for caring for. The disease was often thought to be caused by the amoral actions of sufferers, so doctors had no qualms about subjecting their patients to highly experimental procedures. Many patients have been slowly poisoned to death with unregulated doses of toxins such as mercury and arsenic, as often untrained physicians believed this to be the only and most appropriate way to cure their most critically ill patients. sick.

Over time, however, the hospital as a whole has steadily improved, both socially and financially. After burning in the mid-19th century, it was rebuilt along with the rest of the city by Frederick Cummings, a prolific architect who gave the building a refined European finish, which brought an air of sophistication to the establishment. The city’s wealthiest and best-connected residents depended on the facility to care for their sick. Over time, their medical practice has refined and modernized.

The onset of World War I, however, canceled this work and resulted in the slow decline of the Troy hospital as a whole, due to the enormous volume of medical expertise required during the Great War. This forced the purpose of the institution to change quite quickly, so that Catholic nurses who had once been responsible for caring for the infirm were now looking for a way to contribute to the local economy; without doctors, many nurses found themselves unable to find work in the hospital.


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