Finley: Respect Eloise's real-life horror stories

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Not to be a holiday buzzkill, but I find it disturbing the old Eloise hospital has been turned into a giant haunted house for Halloween.

I'm sure it's a magnificent attraction, and hear it is among the scariest house of 'haints' ever. It should draw visitors in from all over. 

My issue is that real people lived genuine horror stories in the Wayne County facility, which served for decades as a repository for the hopelessly poor, mentally ill and destitute infirmed.

Real pain stalked its hallways. Real abuses were inflicted on the most vulnerable and forgotten members of society.

I find it disturbing the old Eloise hospital has been turned into a giant haunted house for Halloween, Finley writes.

This is ground made hallow by the tremendous torment that was endured there. To have the suffering and misery mocked up for the amusement of Halloween thrill-seekers seems disrespectful.

Eloise opened in 1839 as a poorhouse and farm. Later, it added an infirmary for impoverished patients, then an asylum and a tuberculosis sanitarium. 

At one time, it housed 10,000 patients, with 2,000 staff, and was the largest psychiatric hospital in the United States. 

From its inception to its closing in 1982, it served primarily a desperate, miserable clientele. Eloise was a last resort, and often a lost stop.

I covered the hospital's final days as a young reporter. The stories that unfolded there still trouble me. It was scary stuff, scarier I'm certain than any of the props and staged frights hauled in for Halloween. 

On the way to the airport, I often drive by the old hospital buildings off Merriman Road and the cemetery nearby where many of those who died at Eloise are buried.

Each time, I feel the presence of the tortured souls who surely still haunt this place. 

Many, if not most, of those who will pay to experience the Halloween version of Eloise will have little idea of just how frightening it really was.

Others, such as Rick Wiener, chief of staff for former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, will never forget, and can't forgive this insult to the agony endured by Eloise patients, including his mother.

"My mom was admitted there more than once," Wiener said in a Facebook post. "Using it as a haunted house makes me angry beyond words. It is so hurtful to the survivors and their heirs. Do we just do anything for money now? Anything."

And do we have no respect for the memory of those whose lives were made wretched by a system that too often treated the mentally ill as guinea pigs and the poor as not worthy of living among us?

The objection to the haunted house isn't a matter of political correctness or cancel culture. It's about recognizing that some things are too terrible and tragic to trivialize.

It's also about not glorifying the days when the mentally ill were stigmatized and so feared and misunderstood that it was considered necessary to lock them away in places like Eloise, where we didn't have to see them. 

Perhaps I'm looking at this wrong. Maybe the anguished screams that once rang through these buildings will be exorcized by the delighted shrieks of Halloween revelers. Maybe the joy and laughter will wipe the walls clean of the agony that still clings to them.

But as someone who heard the screams when they were real, I just can't get there. 

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

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