Photo: Eerie Pilgrim State Hospital still stands in Brentwood
Pilgrim State Hospital continues to loom over Brentwood—clinging to its past as the largest psychiatric treatment center in the world. Even as its land is being sold and its buildings torn down, the center still inspires curiosity about what occurred inside the walls years ago.
When the center opened in 1931, it was a tight-knit community, home to over 13,500 patients and 4,000 employees, that had all the amenities of the outside world.
“It was basically a city,” said Pilgrim State Museum Curator Al Cibelli. “Their own police department, fire department, general hospital…no one needed to leave the grounds.”
Cibelli has spent the past 10 years collecting artifacts from the Kings Park and Central Islip Pilgrim State locations—both now closed—to create an exhibit that honors the history of these once massive presences. The museum is located in one of the few buildings still operating on the Brentwood grounds and is open by appointment only.
Despite countless claims that Pilgrim State Brentwood and the two other abandoned mental institutions are haunted, Cibelli says he’s never had a paranormal experience.
“I’ve been in every tunnel, in every building, in every attic, and I never ran into any ghosts or anything like that,” he said. “I’m all over the place so you figure I would have…but no. Zero.”
Today, the population of Pilgrim State has diminished to around 400 clients. Most of the property has been sold for development, and many of the buildings lie in a half-demolished state—only adding to the uneasy atmosphere of the allegedly haunted grounds.