Molly Stark Sanitarium

by Kristin Werstler (Univ. of Mount Union)

Second Place

She is crumbling. Vines, nature’s burly hands, crush her brick structure and hide her curving architecture. The green, leafy rope drapes over open balconies, every piece connected like a web blanketing the abandoned hospital. In some ways, it’s beautiful, nature taking back what man demolished – habitats for the tiniest insects, homes for plants to take root – and in others, it’s sad. Molly Stark, an abandoned tuberculosis hospital, is a piece of history that’s slowly fading out of the memory of an entire community. The historical landmark is facing the threat of demolition - once officials spend 124,000 dollars removing the asbestos from the building, of course.

Historical buildings left abandoned, like the tuberculosis hospital, are prone to their own kinds of infections. In this case, Molly Stark’s highly unmaintained structure makes it a perfectly habitable place for asbestos, a cancer-causing molecule that kills over 3,000 people annually.

Ohio, the home of Molly Stark, is one of the top ten states for the most asbestos related deaths. But that might have less to do with the asbestos gone airborne in the hospital, and more with the factories and houses constructed with the poisonous material. Most people don’t realize that asbestos molecules live with the same molecules that make up ceiling tile, insulation, and talc-containing crayons. Until the 70’s, asbestos was used to make everything from siding material to wall paint, because the chemical is highly heat resistant, a great insulation tool, and has such an elastic strength it can withstand huge amounts of tension. It’s also incredibly toxic. When the dust particles are pushed into the air, anyone who breathes in the poison suddenly has a much greater risk for lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis, an inflammatory condition of the lungs.

Molly Stark’s foundation might’ve been poured in Louisville, Ohio, but the asbestos dust living in her body now tints the lungs of every teenager, history enthusiast, scrapper, and ghost hunter that has trespassed in the mysterious tuberculosis hospital.

Trapped within the walls of the hospital is a dank, musty smell of old plaster decaying. Immediately upon entering, your eyes sting. You inhale recycled breaths, because a mask, or at the very least a shirt, covers your mouth from breathing in the toxins. A layer of rubble separates your feet from the ground, making every step a hike. On the disintegrated desk, yellowing patient files, once people, lay scattered about.

Crawling up the wall and infiltrating the ceiling is the poison running like veins through the halls of the hospital. The clean up of the asbestos would have to come before the demolition, or the toxin could be released in the air around the hospital. Small homes and businesses surrounding Molly Stark stare up at the massive structure, waiting for the bomb to explode.

Unless someone can rebuild the bomb and prevent the explosion.

“That’s what happened to the Mansfield Reformatory.” Greg Feketik, the senior founder of Tri-C Ghost Hunters, speaks of the former prison-turned-haunted house. “They were originally going to tear [the Reformatory] down and then this group of people in the area came together and raised the money and look what they turned it into. That place is just totally awesome.”

He shakes his head.

“It’d be a shame for them to tear [Molly Stark] down.”

It would cost 12 to 14 million dollars to refurbish the building to its 1930’s glory. The high costs make people question why anyone would rebuild when they can simply build. Why not create a new addition to the nursing home next door, or build apartment complexes? Why remember the past when we need to fix the future?

Long after the patients vacated the hospital, new residence came alive in the form of asbestos, though visitors still stop by. Everyone from paranormal thrill seekers, to historians, to the timid-yet-curious college students feel the urge to explore. Undeterred by the number of arrests doubling in the past year, probably because most arrests end with a reasonable fine and a misdemeanor. Even the police hold a somber attitude about having to keep people safe by keeping people out. Everyone gazes upon the structure in silent awe of the historical importance and the science of deterioration weaving together and pulling us in.