It’s my pleasure to welcome fellow paranormal romance author Claire Gem today. She’s sharing a fascinating ‘story behind the story’ about abandoned Talcott Hall – which, if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know I have a thing for abandoned buildings! Read on to learn more about the history, mystery and horror of this creepy psychiatric center, which inspired Claire in her upcoming book, SPIRITS OF THE HEART.
“Please tell me the smoke isn’t coming from Talcott Hall.”
I spoke these words in a frantic phone call to my sister, Terri DelNegro after seeing a post from a mutual friend on Facebook that said, “There’s smoke billowing over the grounds of the old Psych Center.” Terri is also my cover designer and dear friend who lives in the town where I grew up—Middletown, N.Y.
In that town are the state grounds of an abandoned mental asylum, one I was intimately familiar with as a child. You see, my father, who suffered from alcoholism, was an inpatient more than one time in that facility. In the 1960s, alcoholism was considered a mental illness, not a compulsive behavioral disorder. Back then, illnesses such as epilepsy and diabetes also labeled the patient “insane.”
My earliest memories of the Psych Center are of visiting my father on Sunday afternoons, where he and my mother sat at a picnic table under the shade of giant maple trees while my younger brother and I fed peanuts to the squirrels. Only about six or eight years old at the time, I never understood why my mother cried every time we visited him. Or why Daddy couldn’t come home with us.
Having haunting memories about this place even after half a century had passed, I felt compelled to write a novel set on the grounds of the Middletown Psychiatric Center. Many of the buildings have since either been razed or repurposed, but there are still a few hulking buildings remaining. One of these is—or was—Talcott Hall.
A monstrous, intricately designed brick masterpiece, the building was a thing of beauty encasing what must have been, for those trapped within, a house of horrors. During Talcott Hall’s heyday, mental health treatment still consisted of procedures now looked upon as torture, including hydrotherapy (soaking in ice cold or scalding hot baths) and electro-shock therapy. Lobotomies were still common practice, though none of record were performed at this particular facility.
Talcott Hall was the building reserved for the least tractable, most violent patients. There were bars on the windows, and steel cages encased the external fire escapes. The patients who were admitted to Talcott Hall, in all likelihood, were never going home.
Two weeks before that frantic phone call, I had spent an entire day with Terri, who is a professional photographer as well as a brilliant graphic artist. We drove around the grounds, discussing the plot of the book I’d begun writing. She snapped over a hundred photos that day—most of them of Talcott Hall. The tall chain link perimeter kept us from getting too close. But we could feel them, both of us: the ghostly vibes emanating from that lonely place, even from a dozen yards away. In this video by Antiquity Echoes, glimpses of the interior of the asylum clearly speak to its haunting qualities.
And then, mysteriously, Talcott Hall caught fire and burned to the ground.
Well, not exactly to the ground—the sturdy exterior was constructed of brick and iron. But the morning after, Terri sent me videos of bulldozers scooping what was left of the stately old building into a heap that billowed gray smoke for days.
I was heartbroken.
I’d been in the exhilarating, early stages of crafting SPIRITS OF THE HEART, which centered around Talcott Hall and the ghosts trapped within. Suddenly, it was gone. My muse had gone up in smoke. The fire was labeled arson, but no one was ever charged. I put the manuscript aside, unsure of whether or not the story would ever come to fruition.
Until the day I knew it had to. Talcott Hall must be resurrected, I decided, in my book. And its fiery fate would become one of the most terrifying moments in the novel.
Was it coincidence that Talcott Hall burned down two weeks—to the day—from the day Terri immortalized it in photographs? I don’t believe so. I also don’t entirely believe it was random arson, especially since the building had sat empty, its windows all broken out, with vines winding their way up its edifice and hawks building nests atop its turrets, for over twenty years.
I believe the fire was a sign. I believe it was my ghostly muse tapping me on the shoulder and whispering in my ear: “When Talcott Hall goes down, it must go down in flames of fury.”
In Spirits of the Heart, it does.
Many thanks to Nick Elia of the Middletown Fire Department, who took some amazing photographs of the fire, and granted me permission to use them in promoting my book.
SPIRITS OF THE HEART – A Haunted Voices Novel
An addiction counselor and a security guard struggle to reunite a little girl and her father—two spirits trapped within the walls of an abandoned mental asylum.
Laura Horton returns to her hometown to start her career with the Alcohol Crisis Center. But her homecoming is jarring. Her old friend moved out unexpectedly, so Laura’s new roommate is the friend’s intimidating ex-boyfriend—in a house that snugs up to an ancient graveyard.
Miller Stanford works nighttime security for the State grounds. He’s a man with a shattered past. His Dad destroyed their family with alcohol, a weakness Miller is terrified will consume him too. The last thing he needs is an addiction counselor—a sexy blonde one, to move in and start watching his every move. When he begins to see specters in the dark, he starts questioning his own stability.
But Laura sees them too—Greta, a pathetic child-spirit searching for her father. When Laura starts digging into old asylum records, she reveals a horrific cover-up. Can Laura and Miller unravel the mysteries of Talcott Hall without jeopardizing their love—and lives—in the process?
MEET CLAIRE GEM ~ Strong Women, Starting Over ~ Redefining Romance
Claire is a multi-published, award winning author of emotional romance—contemporary, paranormal, romantic suspense, and women’s fiction. She writes about strong, resilient women who won’t give up their quest for a happy-ever-after—and the men lucky enough to earn their love. No helpless, hapless heroines here. These spunky ladies redefine romance, on their terms.
Her paranormal/romantic suspense, Hearts Unloched, won the 2016 New York Book Festival. Her latest release, The Phoenix Syndrome, won the women’s fiction division in FCRWA’s The Beacon Contest.
A New York native, Claire has lived in five of the United States and held a variety of jobs, from waitress to bridal designer to research technician—but loves being an author best. She and her happily-ever-after hero, her husband of 38 years, now live in central Massachusetts.
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