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The Art Institute of Chicago – Where it is Always Halloween?

I was at the Art Institute a few weeks ago, and for some reason, all I saw was death.

It started with Charles Ray’s “Unpainted Sculpture.”

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Dig the “Jesus is Lord” decal on the upper left (rear). I knew it was a death car as soon as we walked in the room. Why else would it be here? Thankfully, it wasn’t the actual car, and what we were seeing was an exact replica cast in fiberglass.

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We walked around the car, and even though I knew I wasn’t looking at anything “real,” I still felt really screwed up about it. It was an exhibit, and it was put here to be observed and talked about, but it feels sort of wrong to talk about. Yet here I am. I don’t know who the driver was. It would almost make me feel better somehow to know, although I don’t know why. It wouldn’t change anything. Maybe the message is that death is faceless, nameless. A force that will one day come for each of us, and all that will be left are shells of materials around us. We won’t be here anymore.

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That message taken at face value is macabre and ominous, and totally depressing. But, it doesn’t have to be. There’s no sense getting down about a fact that you are powerless to change. And in that letting go, is freedom. Besides, only empty soulless people even believe in death. It is a change in circumstance, to be sure. But it isn’t real, you know.

The artist could not be reached for comment, but the placard on the wall said: “After studying automobiles that had been involved in fatal collisions, Ray eventually chose a wrecked 1991 Pontiac Grand Am that he felt held the presence of its dead driver.” Is there a ghost in the machine? I don’t know, but I’m sure it happens. The scene was uncomfortable, as though I was having a glimpse of something private, something that no other human being was meant to see.

“Unpainted Sculpture” was not a permanent exhibit, but the remaining images that continue to haunt me are.

Frances Bacon’s “Figure with Meat,” 1954

No further explanation is needed. This is very similar to the first Bacon painting I saw (in Des Moines, of all places). The guy made Halloween art, plain and simple. It looks like something that should be hanging on the wall of a haunted attraction. How he ever got himself into museums, I will never know. This fact proves that many artists are famous for shocking the conscience rather than for creating anything of substance beyond the shock.

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Kurt Seligmann’s “Magnetic Mountain,” – 1948

Fascinating, but totally weird. Interesting factoid – Seligmann authored a history book about the occult (The Mirror of Magic), and was readily acknowledged by the Surrealists as an expert magician. I’m going to steal a phrase from Bob. When we were out in Bisbee, Arizona, he called that town Beetlejuice on Drugs. That’s what I call this painting. I’m not saying it isn’t interesting or thought-provoking, but it creeps me the hell out.

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Yve Tanguy’s “The Rapidity of Sleep,” – 1945

Does it mean you have slipped away into Freddy Krueger’s Dream Land, or that you are dead, sleeping the ultimate sleep?

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Salvador Dali’s “Inventions of the Monsters,” – 1937

You can always count on Dali to put together something that will totally rock what you think the world is. He tapped into his dreams, churled them around, and came up with his image of a world without a safe haven. What I want to know is – was he actually the great prophet of the modern age?

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Giorgio de Chirico’s “The Philosopher’s Conquest,” – late 1913, early 1914

This one is less obviously macabre, but macabre it is in fact, still. I saw his “Gare Montparnasse” painting at the MOMA last year, and was blown away. The artichokes are nutty, but he has the clock and the train again, which we know are symbols of death.

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Rene Magrite’s “The Banquet,” – 1958

I love this one. Although, the more I look at it, the more convinced I become that I am standing inside the painting. The scene is a crumbling European castle full of royal vampires, and they have just arisen from their coffins because the sun is now setting. They’re coming to get you, Barbara. Wait! That line is for when the zombies are coming, not the vampires.

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Sweet dreams. Happy early Halloween!

Preston Castle Foundation Marks New Ownership with March 21, 2015 Deed Ceremony

Gather around, gather around. Open invitations have been issued to mark the transfer of ownership over at Preston Castle. PrestonCastleInvite-1

About thirteen years ago, the State of California leased the Preston Castle to the Preston Castle Foundation under a 55-year lease. As you might imagine, real rehabilitation strides can only be made with ownership. Now the property can go from preservation to rehabilitation. History or criminology buffs may know the building because it dates back to 1894, when it was the Preston School of Industry. The building pictured below (courtesy of Jerry Funderburgh, Vice President of the Preston Castle Foundation) was actually the administration building.

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The Preston School of Industry was part of the rehabilitation movement to teach juvenile boys useful skills instead of resorting to incarceration alone, and it was in operation through 1960. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Paranormal buffs know the building from local legends and many television shows that have covered the unsolved murder of Anna Corbin, among other mysterious occurrences. I have always said that it would be on my list of locations if I ever get around to writing a sequel to Haunted Asylums, Prisons, and Sanatoriums.

Castle Spirits is the in-house group that coordinates the many paranormal events that the Preston Castle Foundation schedules. In fact, they are hosting their very first paranormal conference the last weekend of May. Besides encouraging the paranormal events, the Foundation offers a wealth of programs for the entire community. They have wine tastings & tours, photographer’s day, flashlight tours, movie nights, and even a golf event planned soon! Such good news out of Ione, California.

To keep up with events over at The Castle, visit their site or “Like” them on Facebook:

http://prestoncastle.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Preston-Castle-FoundationIone-Ca/169888893061409?sk=wall

Nopeming Sanatorium – the “Waverly Hills Sanatorium” of Duluth, Minnesota?

AMENDMENT – posted 11/10/16 – http://www.nopeming.com. They are open for tours!!!

I recently caught the Ghost Adventures episode on Nopeming Sanatorium in Duluth, Minnesota. I don’t watch a lot of television, and I especially don’t watch a lot when I’m working on a new book project, but I am glad I caught this episode. I thought the whole tone of the show was respectful, informative, and tastefully done. The history of Nopeming Sanatorium is very similar to that of Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky. Like Waverly Hills, Nopeming was built in the early 1900’s to serve as a tuberculosis hospital. It was then operated as a nursing home until it finally closed in 2002.

The owners were interviewed in an article for the Twin Cities Pioneer Press (linked below) prior to the episode airing. The building is not open to the public, and that was made very clear in the episode and in the article. Orison Inc. is a non-profit that assumed ownership in 2009. The reported goal was to turn the property into a charter school for special needs children. Funds are low, so the owners have listed the property as available for filming with the Minnesota Film Board’s website and they accepted the offer (it was not listed what their site fee was) from the Travel Channel for Ghost Adventures to film and investigate. My favorite quote from the article comes from Tanya Graysmark, who is on Orison’s Board of Directors: “I don’t think any of us believes it’s haunted, but Orison will gladly accept money from people who would have Americans believe otherwise.” I think that’s exactly the way to be.

People have strong opinions about the paranormal. It really is a subject sort of along the lines of religion, politics, and sex. I recently met a terribly rude lawyer who berated me and insulted my intelligence for writing “one of those ghost books.” He sneered at me and asked: “How can you write about that? I don’t believe in that.” I smiled sweetly and asked him how many books he’s been paid to author. His eyes opened wide, just like his mouth, but he couldn’t make a number come out. To me, the point is not really to prove anything. I am already secure in my personal beliefs and experiences, and my life’s purpose is not centered around trying to convince anyone who is essentially walking around empty and soulless. That’s your personal belief that you are going to have to deal with later, and I really just don’t care. I’m not your minister, your psychic, your healer, or your God. I’m just a fellow traveler, and I really hope if I ever met you that I didn’t try to make you feel like less of a person. I’m getting on a bit of a tirade here, I need to reign this in.

A controversial topic has always been if paranormal investigators are exploiting the history of a location. What Orison is doing is trying to save a building and they are exploring multiple income streams to make that happen. That’s admirable. That’s how businesses survive. If something isn’t working, you try something else. Community thinks you’re crazy for letting the paranormal people come to town? Is the community paying your utility bills?

The National Register of Historic Places contains a few locations that I can think of that have managed to offer full menus of programs to please every type of visitor imaginable. Eastern State Penitentiary, Weston State Hospital (Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum), Alcatraz, Utica State Hospital, and the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane can all be studied in a lesson on how to transform an abandoned building into something worthwhile. The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is the one I am most familiar with, so I will talk about them. They have created a museum in the lobby area that relates to historic psychiatric treatment, along with an art exhibit from former patients. They run daily history tours throughout the Civil War wing, and the entire building. They host photography tours, serve as a filming location, and have events throughout the year – concerts, movies, festivals, just about anything you would expect from a cultural center of the town. Of course, they run ghost tours and ghost hunting events at night. The purpose is to become a center of culture and also make a profit while you do that. Those paranormal people will pay anywhere from $1,000 – $1,500 a night to shut a place down. That can sure help make a dent in those utility bills and property taxes.

Dan Turner, the historian who was featured on the episode, shared this historic postcard of the campus:

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Like Waverly, Nopeming featured a bat-wing design to optimize light and air for the TB patients.

A modern exterior shot was also provided by Dan Turner:

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The Ghost Adventures Crew was said to be the first organized paranormal team allowed access to the buildings for an investigation. When I heard that, I instantly had high expectations for the show because I know from my own little ghost adventures that these types of places can feel quite intense. Within just a few minutes of the show, when they were still doing their initial walk through, they captured an amazing shadow person in the tunnels! There will always be people who are critical of “evidence” and I am too. I can tell you that the image they showed from this tunnel is what I saw with my own eyes while I was exploring death row in Missouri State Pen in connection with Haunted Asylums, Prisons, and Sanatoriums. Either I saw a legitimate shadow person or my eyes were playing tricks on me. I don’t know which one it was, but I can tell you that it felt legit to me while it was happening. Right or wrong, scientific or not, I am a person who has learned to trust my feelings. If I get a bad feeling about a place or a person, I bail. (This is a priceless life lesson, by the way. It’s okay to walk out – of old buildings, bad relationships, situations that just don’t fit your life anymore, etc. You don’t endure bad things and get a prize at the end. The prize comes when you leave and build something new).

After watching the show, I reached out to Dan Turner to get a comment about his opinion on paranormal investigators and how they can co-exist with the history of the buildings. Here is what he had to say:

“I may be biased because I appear on the episode as a historian, but I thought it was well done. I was impressed that roughly half of the episode was dedicated to explaining the history, interviewing former workers and the caretaker, and spending time speaking with a local Elder. It’s sadly rare to see Native Americans asked their opinion on anything on television, and to give the Elder the opportunity to explain his belief system boosted my overall opinion of the paranormal genre. The episode demonstrated that such shows can be more than ‘ruin porn’ spliced with orbs and commentary. I agree totally that paranormal groups can be excellent fundraisers, but convincing property owners that do not believe in ghosts often seem hesitant to start conversations. My hope is that Nopeming become a sort of northern Waverly Hills, and that historical and paranormal tours can coincide. The best way to teach history is to connect the past to the tangible; there is nothing quite like visiting a place and becoming fascinated with a space to pique one’s curiosity. Some would say that buildings like this do not have any connection to our modern world, but just look at the anti-vaccination movement! I’d like to show them some of the abandoned hospitals built around the country, where countless people died from diseases that we can protect ourselves against now. I want to point at Nopeming and say, “Do you want to live in a world where you get a bug and die painfully in a place like this, away from your friends and family?” Thank god I don’t need to worry about contracting TB or polio or smallpox or measles or diphtheria…”

Well said, Dan Turner. Thank you for your comment and for sharing your photos.

Property owners would do well to keep their personal beliefs out of fiscal decisions. Opening your building for paranormal investigators is the same thing as opening for photographers. Who cares? As long as you open with the caveat that you are allowing people in at their request and not because you are claiming the place is haunted, I see no harm in it. Everyone has a different motive for the form of leisure they select on any given day. We are living in a world where maybe we just want to leave our cookie-cutter houses and go see something new. Maybe we just want to go somewhere where somebody isn’t trying to sell us a McDonald’s hamburger and a t-shirt that falls apart after two washes. Urban exploration tours have been popping up all over the place – Detroit, Buffalo, even Chernobyl. There are a lot of people out there who will pay top dollar to experience something new. Make no bones about it, there is a market for paranormal and urban tourism. We have all seen Disney World. We weren’t impressed. Who is going to step up and compete to win our dollars?

Dan has an awesome website for further reading over at Substreet, that is linked below. His writings and photos concerning Nopeming are compelling, but the entire site is full of the same quality.

Further Reading:

http://www.nopeming.com

Nopeming
Sanatorium
Duluth, MN

http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_27370228/spooky-abandoned-duluth-nursing-home-gets-national-ghost

Crescent Hotel and Eureka Springs, AK – Blog for Llewellyn Post

I am longing for a second visit to the 1886 Crescent Hotel this spring for our upcoming book with Llewellyn “America’s Most Haunted Hotels: Checking in With Uninvited Guests.” Bob is out flying tonight, and I was remembering the article I wrote for Llewellyn that is linked below, and just remembering that visit so vividly.

http://www.llewellyn.com/blog/2013/10/the-1866-crescent-hotel-and-spa/

Nobody seemed to know about all of the back patios:
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As always, our travels are indexed within “Play,” by Stealth Journals. A sample entry page can be seen below:

Stealth Journals
Eureka Springs: Indexed within our Play Journal, by Stealth Journals

Inside the Jerome Grand Hotel

Ghost Hunting at Arizona’s Jerome Grand Hotel

A glimpse inside our stay at The Jerome Grand Hotel. We were traveling in January 2015 for our upcoming book with Llewellyn “America’s Most Haunted Hotels: Checking in With Uninvited Guests.”

As always, we log our adventures inside our “Play” Journal, by Stealth Journals. “Play,” is an indexed book journal by Stealth Journals that should be used to record all of your good times.

 

Bisbee, AZ – One Perfect Day

An old mining town in the Mule Mountains, Bisbee is home to The Copper Queen, and we were there on an official investigation for our upcoming book with Llewellyn “America’s Most Haunted Hotels: Checking in With Uninvited Guests.” last week. One cannot live on ghost hunting alone, so off to the streets we went. When possible, I like to soak in the culture of the local town to better understand the atmosphere and history of the place I am writing about. Artsy, quirky, and weird is what I saw during my short time there (although to be fair, it was my second visit). “Weird” is not a derogatory designation, by the way.

Bisbee is a winding, hilly town populated with too many sets of stairs for me to count, let alone climb in a few short hours. Officially, the 1,000 step challenge does come with a map at the Visitor’s Center, but I think I found myself climbing up many sets of random stairs before I realized that I was trespassing onto someone’s property instead of staying on the official path. Thank God everyone was cool and this doesn’t seem like the type of place where people are going to call the cops on you (like Charleston, for instance, where they call the cops if your dog pees in the wrong yard). I can dig that.

Random stairs?

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Back on the path:

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The downtown view and street shots:

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The Copper Queen Mine Tour and the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum were world-class facilities that really impressed us. I know they will never do it, but if they opened up that mine to ghost tours, they would really see a lot more money roll in! You tell me, wouldn’t you pay $100 per person for you and ten friends to shut the mine down on Friday night for a few hours?! The place is AMAZING!

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After a fantastic pizza at the Stock Exchange Saloon and a brief conversation with the Duchess (who was wonderfully charming and fascinating!), we were off to meet Renee, our Ghost Host from the Old Bisbee Ghost Tour (and author), who briefed us on many of Bisbee’s historic haunted hotels. We then settled down for the night in the Julia Lowell Suite inside the famous Copper Queen Hotel.

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And that, my friends, is a tale for another time.

As always, we log our adventures inside our “Play” Journal by Stealth Journals. “Play,” by Stealth Journals, is an indexed book journal that should be used to record all of your good times!

Further Reading:

http://www.discoverbisbee.com/index.htm

http://www.bisbee1000.org/

http://www.queenminetour.com

http://www.bisbeemuseum.org/

http://www.stockexchangesaloon.com/stock-exchange-saloon.aspx

http://www.oldbisbeeghosttour.com/

http://copperqueen.com/

Newport, Rhode Island – One Perfect Day

It had been some months since we had One Perfect Day outside of Georgia. Truth be told, I had just vowed in October to stay the hell off the airlines until at least 2015. Fast forward to Friday, November 15, 2014, and Bob and I could have been seen strolling through Forsyth Park around 1:30 p.m. We were talking about scheduling and work, and how we really just needed to go play the next day. A breeze or a certain reflection of sunlight will sometimes tell you things about the world, much like the many and varied looks a woman can convey according to her mood, and this was one of those times. I imagine I probably had the dog look. You know, when a dog catches a whiff of something in the air, and pauses and tilts his head until he sorts it out? I had to sort it out.

The message was that the world was ripe for another game of Delta Roulette. And so, like any gambling addict, I was back to the airlines again. There are only so many places you can get to out of Savannah around 5:00 p.m., so that is how we picked Newport, much like our Omaha game last April. The real key to winning Delta Roulette is to not care where you go, you just have to have a desire to go SOMEWHERE ELSE. The objective is to be loose in the world. Bags were packed in less than thirty minutes, and we were gone. Reservations were made at the gate. This is wing and a prayer travel, and not for the faint of heart.

Downtown Newport

I cannot even imagine what this place must be like in the summer months. It was so crowded that we could barely even function in the town after lunch. Much like Savannah’s River Street, the closer you get to the harbor, the tackier and more crowded it gets. Think more Bellevue Avenue and less Bannister’s Wharf.

Mansions of Newport

The plutocrats of the Gilded Age built their summer cottages along the cliffs. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt built The Breakers in 1895 and they managed to keep it in the family until 1972, when the Preservation Society of Newport County purchased the home. Bob hates tours, so off I went by myself to take the audio tour, which was actually quite interesting. I imagine fans of Downton Abbey and Highclere Castle would be fans of this place.

For those of you who have seen George Vanderbilt’s (the Commodore’s grandson) Biltmore Estate in Asheville, you will not be impressed with this tiny cottage. The Biltmore has secret passages, a bowling alley, an indoor pool, and a library that taunts me to this very day. The Breakers is just a country cousin. I’m not in the habit of going to visit people’s homes and then picking apart how tacky they are, so I will suffice it to say that the view from the second floor looking out onto the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean was breathtakingly beautiful.

There is no accounting for taste, but the drive along Ocean Avenue and Ocean Drive is undeniably one of the most picturesque in America. No, I have not driven along every single road along the coast of America to be able to speak authoritatively, but I don’t need to. I know something great when I see it.

Exterior shots of The Breakers, as seen from Cliff Walk:

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Exterior back view (from Cliff Walk) of part of Salve Regina University’s Campus: 

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Fans of Dark Shadows should swing by and gawk at Seaview Terrace (Carey Mansion).

Cliff Walk

After my tour, I walked through the backyard and toward the cliffs, where Bob was waiting for me.  They had erected a fence to separate the amateurs from the professionals. Having no desire to turn all the way back and then exit through the giftshop, I scaled their pitiful fence that attempted to separate me from Bob and part of the Cliff Walk path. While ascending, I was thinking about Sylvia Plath’s “Two Campers in Cloud Country,” where she talks about finding comfort in meaning so little. I think she was writing about the great pleasure of just being. The greatest peace I ever had was when I came to terms with the fact that there wasn’t really anything more than that (all of our projects and life’s great works are essentially just things we are picking to fill the time and occupy our minds until we expire – sorry, but think about that for a minute), and I began to view our leisure time as a sort of church.

It was too cold for me to enjoy the full 3.5 miles of trail along the Cliff Walk, but I would make a special trip back up here in spring to do it. This has got to be one of the best places I’ve walked in America. Sadly for you, I did not take any pictures. I was too busy living.

Enjoying the crispest of New England fall days, listening, and watching the ocean hit the rocks. Over and over again. And thinking about winning Delta Roulette.

As always, we log our adventures inside our “Play” Journal, by Stealth Journals. “Play,” is an indexed book journal by Stealth Journals that should be used to record all of your good times.

Further reading:

http://www.newportmansions.org/explore/the-breakers

http://www.cliffwalk.com/

http://www.salve.edu/about-salve

http://www.seaviewterrace.org/

http://www.discovernewport.org/

A Look Inside the abandoned Glenn Dale Hospital in Maryland

The abandoned Glenn Dale Hospital in Maryland would be on my wish list of places to explore if it was cleaned up a little and open to the public. I know, an urban explorer I am not!

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2763803/Empty-morgues-abandoned-wards-corridors-overrun-ivy-Inside-deserted-Maryland-tuberculosis-sanatorium-children-deadly-infection-left-isolated-say-s-haunted.html

http://www.wtop.com/541/3718241/Ghost-Tales-Inside-Glenn-Dale-Hospital

Asylums That Are Being Repurposed

As you might imagine, as the author of Haunted Asylums, Prisons, and Sanatoriums, I like to keep up with the news on which abandoned asylums are being repurposed and opening to the public. I get so excited thinking about the history and architecture of the buildings being preserved! For me, my initial interest has always gone back to the thrill of just exploring a magnificent, historical building. Are these buildings haunted? Yes, in the sense of having stories and a rich history. Sometimes we can just appreciate art and architecture for what they are and put the ghost stories on hold.

The asylum conversions that I am most excited to see are:

1. Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane – Buffalo, New York:

This is a Kirkbride building from the late 1800’s that is being repurposed for a hotel and conference center. They are still doing events while the conversion is going on. I have tried twice to get up there to Buffalo and take an in-depth tour, but I keep having flight issues getting out of Atlanta!

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2. Fergus Falls State Hospital – Fergus Falls, Minnesota:

Another Kirkbride that is being saved by Historic Properties, Inc. If all goes according to plan, the hotel that is planned will open in December 2015. This will be a mixed use development, which will include restaurants and apartments.

3. Traverse City State Hospital – Traverse City, Michigan:

The Minervini Group has truly made The Village at Grand Traverse Commons a community. This is quite possibly the gold standard for asylum conversions. They have created a live/work community with park space, biking and hiking trails, and even a farmers market! If I moved to Michigan, I would SO live here.

4. Danvers State Asylum – Danvers, Massachusetts:

The former Danvers State Asylum was converted into apartments in 2008. The asylum is perhaps most famous for the movie Session 9.

5. Lakeville State Hospital – Lakeville, Massachusetts:

This is one that is purportedly still up for sale at a cool $7 million.

6. Fairfield Hills State Hospital – Newtown, Connecticut:

Commercial opportunities are abundant over on the Fairfield Hills campus. The public is welcome and hiking trails are available to enjoy.

Links:

http://www.richardson-olmsted.com/

http://www.buffalonews.com/opinion/buffalo-news-editorials/renovation-of-the-richardson-complex-is-transforming-an-architectural-gem-20141016

http://www.buffalonews.com/business/real-estate/effort-begins-to-transform-fantastic-jewel-of-the-city-20141009

http://www.kare11.com/story/news/local/land-of-10000-stories/2013/10/09/historic-mn-insane-asylum-spared-from-wrecking-ball/3867719/

Plans underway to repurpose an historic treatment center in Fergus Falls

Home

http://www.oddthingsiveseen.com/2008/06/avalon-danvers-apartments-nee-danvers.html

http://www.bozzuto.com/apartments/communities/630-halstead-danvers/media

http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/2014/10/25/what-like-live-danvers/vCSaVqX3PyhAiy9caPWF8N/story.html

http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130520/NEWS/305200317

http://fairfieldhills.org/property.html

http://www.prairiebizmag.com/event/article/id/21549/

http://www.9and10news.com/story/27389125/cordia-building-50-project-completed-at-grand-traverse-commons

http://mynorth.com/2014/12/village-grand-traverse-commons/

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