Photo: Haunted Skillman Institute, New Jersey

This is the original text (unedited): My roommate went to the abandoned insane asylum town in Skillsman, NJ today and took about 50 bazillion photos for one of her classes for a project. She showed uploaded them all on facebook and her friend who went with her pointed out something very odd in one photo of a rundown building. And my roommate didn't notice it at first, but it looks like two school children looking out the window. It sent chills down my spine when I saw it, and she didn't even say look at the window. I immediately saw this and got creeped out, and I'm the last person who believes in this type of stuff.

Here's the original photo she emailed to me. It's actually creeping her out pretty good, so if anyone can tell me any logical explanation, I'd love to tell her it's something else so she's not freaking out about it. She won't even look at the rest of her photos now.

Someone she knows pointed out that it may be the old screens in the window fading in color or something since they're old. But I haven't a clue!

NOTE: After some digging, I have learned that the buildings on this property were supposed to have been razed...though, the claim here is that this photo was taken of a building on the original property. This photo and the interpretation may be a stretch, but I have little doubt that the Skillman location is (or was) haunted. Please read the accounts below...Lon

UPDATE: 'SW' sent me an image (below) of one of the other windows on the original photo.


The Snake Pit Called Skillman

In Montgomery Township is a facility unique among New Jersey’s abandoned mental hospitals, as it was not originally conceived as an institution to house the mentally ill—its original purpose was the research and treatment of epilepsy. Over the past 100 years, the facility has been referred to by several names, such as Skillman, the State Village of Epileptics, and most recently, the North Princeton Developmental Center. Perhaps most telling of all of the institution’s nicknames though, is the moniker it earned in the local press at the height of its operation: “the Snake Pit of New Jersey.”

The original property—the State Village for Epileptics—operated as a complete, self-sustained village, including hospitals, housing, farmland, cemeteries, a power plant, and a wastewater treatment facility.

The State of New Jersey closed the North Princeton Developmental Center in 1995, and the last patients were removed in 1998 and the complex was closed for good. Afterwards, the property went into disrepair and many of the buildings were left vacant and not properly maintained, and the place rapidly deteriorated. Up until recently, the many buildings of the vast complex stood vacant, derelict, and ramshackle.

The State of New Jersey closed the North Princeton Developmental Center in 1995, and the last patients were removed in 1998. After its closure, the property went into disrepair and many of the buildings were left vacant and not properly maintained, so the place rapidly deteriorated.

Montgomery Township purchased the 230-acre property, which borders Route 601 and Burnt Hill Road, from the state in January 2007 for $5.95 million to create Skillman Village. Demolition and asbestos cleanup began in early July 2007 and at this writing, over 93 buildings on site have been taken down, with about 10 buildings being saved for their historical importance.

Demolition started only after county officials eased local residents’ fears about exposure to asbestos and other harmful substances by claiming demolition would not begin until after the school was over and would be completed by early September before school began again. Environmentalists were on site re-testing for any contamination and the township was happy to report that the health risks were minimized.

The Courier News (9/11/07) reported that Montgomery Township Mayor Cecilia Xie Birge said the site was “‘beautiful’ once the buildings disappeared – a far cry from the property once being a hangout for vandals and visitors after it was publicized in a state magazine as being haunted.”

But then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Weird NJ was invited to photograph the property one last time before the bulldozers and environmental crews began dismantling and clearing the site. These are the last pictures taken, and a few remembrances from the files.

Freaky Poetry and the Morgue at Skillman

One of my friends was determined to find the morgue, so we did. It was small: only four drawers. It smelled like the inside of a mausoleum. There were burnt candles on one of the trays.

A locker room we found looked like people had been in a mad rush to leave. Family photos, cans of food, hospital gowns, and freaky poems were all scattered about. I usually don’t scare easily, but we heard noises so scary that we fled the building. –Karen W.

A Cold Slap in the Face at Skillman

Immediately after entering the building there was a feeling of dire mistake. Bam! It was like a slap in the face: pure darkness and extremely cold. My feet instantly lost feeling. Goose bumps formed that were so hard it was like my arm had Braille on it.

"We shouldn't be here," I thought.

The halls contained hundreds of doors, all wide open. We turned the corner and found ourselves inside the morgue. I stepped into the room, and the smell of stale air was inescapable. To my right on the counter were full bottles of formaldehyde and embalming fluid. The drawer where the body was kept was wide open.

Down the hall we found a room with a bed that had restraints on it, and in the closet we found patient files, a blood stained nurse’s gown, and an EKG machine that still had lines on the printout from the last patient it was used on. –Brittany G.

Some Skillman Memories

When my dad was a kid, he got into a lot of scuffles in the schoolyard as well as into fights with his brothers. My grandpa deemed him “unruly,” and sought help from the state to control him.

When my dad was 10, in 1965, he was sent to Skillman and stayed there for just over a year. Now, I always knew my dad was institutionalized as a child, but it wasn’t until recently that he mentioned the name “Skillman.” I showed him Issue #17 of Weird NJ, with the pics of Skillman, and he got chills. He can show me the window where his bunk was. He says he really wants to go there – he thought it was still operational until he read the story. I advised him not to go and get himself arrested.

The following is a first-hand account:

In your bunk, you had your bed and a little metal cabinet in which to store your belongings. My dad figured out a way to rig the door on the cabinet so he could quickly release it and use it as a shield at night, because often while you were sleeping another patient would try to attack you. He remembers several people, whose names I won’t mention, but they sound like people straight out of a movie.

There was a doctor there that took blood work from my dad–he had no fingers, only thumbs. I asked my dad how the hell he could control a syringe, and he said he placed it between his palms and operated the plunger with his two thumbs.

There was a kid there that carried a suitcase wherever he went. It was filled with plastic bugs. He’d ask everyone if they wanted to see his bugs (they were REAL to him!). A girl my dad’s age stabbed him in the back with a fork because he didn’t want to be her boyfriend. My dad used to purposely put small splinters in his fingers on the playground because they would send him to see a cute blonde nurse.

My dad tells me there was a wing devoted to deformities, or so it seemed. And there was one boy in particular that he remembers had an oversized head. He said when he looked in the kid’s eyes he could tell he was totally normal – his head was just huge, and my dad felt really bad for him.

One of the kids in my dad’s bunk had fashioned keys from coat hangers for the massive doors. So he and my dad wandered the halls late at night. My dad also rigged his window. The nurses would unlock it during the day and while it was open he jammed the lock so that when they locked it, it sounded locked, but it wasn’t. Then he could sneak outside some nights.

My dad said there was a 10 or 12-year-old boy that all the orderlies hated. And one day, he mysteriously drowned in the tub, but he never understood how because you weren’t allowed to bathe without a nurse being present. Then he said – speaking of tubs – they would fill two tubs, one with scalding hot water, one with freezing water, and they’d put a child back and forth in the tubs as punishment. He said the place creeped him out then – there was always an eerie feeling. And looking at the pictures gave him the same feeling all over again.

He said something that broke my heart, too. All of the nurses and doctors told him he didn’t belong there. He eventually was allowed to go home on weekends. He showed me a window in the basement, on the picture. He said that was their “day room.” When my grandparents would drop him off on Sundays, he would watch through that window until he couldn’t see their car anymore, and he would always get a lump in his throat knowing that they were leaving him there once again.

Skillman’s Phantom Harmonica Player

This story is 100% true, completely legit, and not exaggerated by any means.

About two years ago, a few of my friends and I heard about the Skillman Asylum and agreed to go check it out. When Erin, Luis, Tony and I first got there, we took note of the “No Trespassing” signs, but being young and reckless, we decided to go anyway. We simply stepped over the chain that was blocking off the driveway to the asylum and walked about 20 or so yards until we got to the first building on the premises.

Looking at the building, we automatically got a sense of (for lack of a better word) “weirdness.” We entered and immediately noticed the place was in ruins. There was graffiti everywhere, broken windows, holes in the wall, and everything was simply coated with a layer of dust and grime. Regardless, we continued along.

Eventually, we found the stairs to the basement. We walked down the stairs and immediately came face to face with one of the longest hallways I have ever seen in my entire life. It’s probably one of the creepiest images I have in my memory. I just knew that this wasn’t a place we should stick around.

We slowly walked down the hallway, repeatedly shining our flashlights behind us. We get to the end of the hallway, which ends in a T, and all of us sort of breathed a sigh of relief that we haven’t yet been murdered. That’s when the two guys in the group decided it would be hysterical to grab the flashlights and run. So they did.

At first, Erin and I started to freak out, and we were just about to go run after them when I decided to play my own little joke. I convinced Erin that all Luis and Tony were going to do was hide around a corner and scare the shit out of us when we came running after them. Instead, I said, “Let’s wait here and hide from them. Eventually, they’ll get bored once they realize we’re not following and start looking for us.”

Erin and I used our cell phones as pseudo-flashlights. We began banging on pipes in some feeble attempt to scare the boys. That’s when we heard shuffling coming from one end of the hallway. Thinking it was the boys coming to find us, we got really quiet, with huge grins on our faces, thinking we were just about to get our revenge.

That’s when the music started to play. At first, I tried to convince myself that it was some form of ring tone, but I knew it wasn’t. It sounded like a harmonica, and I’m not gonna lie: it sounded pretty good. So Erin and I were pretty much freaking out when we realized that this was probably an elaborate plan the guys cooked up earlier in the night. We eventually get bored waiting for them and we walked back upstairs and outside to wait for them. Five minutes later, the boys came outside and they seemed kind of nervous, but in good humor all the same. “That was really funny with the harmonica shit, guys, you scared the crap out of us,” said Luis.

Wait, what? Apparently, the guys were on the third floor of the building the entire time. While we were down in the basement banging on pipes, the guys were upstairs throwing around furniture to try to freak us out. Neither of us heard the commotion the others were making, but we all seemed to hear the music as if it was in the room right next to us. Erin and I even went as far as to do a (almost) full body search to try and find a harmonica on the boys, but no such luck.

To this day, they swear on their lives it wasn’t them. And I sure as hell know it wasn’t us either. -Lauren Maxwell

Ghosts Of Skillman Institute

I worked at the Skillman Institute for 15 years and was one of the last employees to leave. I live only five minutes from the Institute, so I’m very familiar with the area. I believe it is haunted, and I have seen and heard things myself.

On days when we used to work OT on the weekends, we would hear people walking and especially doors slamming. There was only one person in our office who was not afraid to work alone until one day when she heard someone walk into her office and close the door. She looked up from her desk to say “hello,” and no one was there. She then saw a dark figure moving back out the door. She packed up her things and left immediately. This was a person that did not, in any way, believe in ghosts and always told us we were crazy when we talked about what we saw and heard. After that day, she never worked alone in the building.

On another occasion, two of us were there and heard keys jingling, a door opening and closing, and footsteps. We had been expecting a third coworker to arrive so I walked down the hall to greet her, only to find no one there. We both knew we heard her come in, so we looked in the parking lot, expecting to see her car, only it wasn’t there. A half an hour later she arrived for work. There were many occasions where this sort of thing happened. The scary thing is that when we heard a bang or a loud noise, we would look at each other because we both heard it. It’s not like only one of us heard it and it was just our imagination – it was real – we heard it!

Our building had three floors. The attic housed records from long, long ago and had little side rooms. There were beds in the little rooms, and little doorways – we had to duck under to get through them. Who slept there? We never really knew and never ventured up there alone.

The institute has its own graveyard, which is creepy, and it had a morgue too. When it was closing down, there were several auctions/sales for items that they wanted to get rid of. They were actually selling medical equipment and scalpels, and they even had an electric shock therapy machine. My husband wanted to buy it, but I refused to let him!

I have driven through the grounds several times since the closure and feel sad that it finally closed its doors. But in my heart, I do know that the ghosts are still living there. -Terrilk

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