The morgue, well-known as somewhere dead bodies are stored, is a depressing place – a place where murder victims, unidentified corpses, and the victims of unexplained disease end up.
No one wants to visit morgues at the best of times, but perhaps the ultimate in creepiness are morgues that still remain long after their time – abandoned, with nothing left but decaying interiors and the ghosts of the deceased people who passed through them.
10. Mortuarium Schoonselhof, Antwerp, Belgium
"Exploring the morgue and autopsy room gave us a bit of a morbid feeling,” says the photographer who took these pictures. “This morgue was abandoned some years ago; they left all tools and chemicals in its place. We found autopsy instruments untouched for years (we hope). There were some needles and sewing materials, a strainer scooper and some electric bone saws. In the window was a chalkboard for recording examination data."
The autopsy personnel seem to have left a syringe behind, visible amongst the peeling paint – which shows the level of decay.
The pipe in the table pictured here goes down to the drain, which took care of any the bodily fluids when the pathologists cut open the bodies as well as allowing the table to be washed off completely before the next corpse arrived.
An autopsy is technically the examination of a body in order to see how and why the person died – as well as what disease may be present. Someone may die of a heart attack, for example, but also have a brain tumor at the same time.
9. Beelitz-Heilstätten Morgue, near Berlin, Germany
Once the morgue of a lung and respiratory sanatorium, this next site was built in 1898 and abandoned in 1994. Since its abandonment, decay has set in, and the open windows probably don't help. The building has quite a history: it was one of the biggest hospital sites in Germany, and during the First World War it was converted into a military hospital, in which more than 12,500 soldiers were nursed. Its most infamous patient was Adolf Hitler, who recovered here in 1916.
These were cold storage lockers for bodies. After WWII, in 1945, the hospital was turned over to the Russian military, who kept it until 1994 before leaving it to wrack and ruin. The site is currently being redeveloped.
8. St. Mary's Hospital Morgue, UK
This particular hospital was an asylum. As you can see, it is boarded up now, but it seems hospital green really was the color scheme used everywhere, including in the morgue! With its drainage pipe, the table looks as if it awaits its next cadaver.
7. Harold Wood Hospital Morgue, Essex, UK
In this unsettling image of a morgue it looks as if the medical examiners just walked out after cutting somebody open. The stains on the floor might be a mixture of organ juices, formaldehyde and other chemicals, and the water that was used to wash the body down.
According to photographer, Romany WG: "Unfortunately the only thing worth photographing in this hospital is the morgue slabs and the body fridges. A fellow [urban] explorer went back recently and found a lot of x-rays of deceased children. Why would these things be left in an abandoned hospital? It's unethical."
6. St. Peter's Hospital Mortuary, Surrey, UK
In this dark and dreary image, you can see not only the table that the cadaver would have been laid on but also the counter where autopsies were carried out (for example on the brain) and other necessary procedures such as the weighing of organs.
In French, “morgue” means “to look at solemnly, to defy.” The word was used to describe a mortuary in Paris, operational during the mid-15th century, in which bodies were laid out to be publicly identified. The famous French novelist Emile Zola has a singularly graphic description in his book Therese Requin (1867), where he wrote: "He went straight to the glass separating the spectators from the corpses, and with his pale face against it, looked. Facing him appeared rows of grey slabs, and upon them, here and there, the naked bodies formed green and yellow, white and red patches. While some retained their natural condition in the rigidity of death, others seemed like lumps of bleeding and decaying meat."
5. Morgue at Cambridge Military Hospital, UK
This morgue is incredibly decayed and seems to be returning to nature, with leaves covering the autopsy table and floor. Yet there is also something of the absurd here, with a telephone left on the table as if waiting for someone to answer it.
The area around this morgue is apparently patrolled by Ghurkhas (the British army brigade traditionally made up of Nepalese soldiers) making it extremely difficult for urban explorers to get to; the photographer certainly had a bit of work doing so!
4. Unknown Morgue, UK
These are not bakery ovens! Rather, they are the body lockers or refrigerators that the bodies waiting to be identified or autopsied were kept in. We asked the photographer if he ever felt morbid or sensed the eeriness of such places but he answered that he is one of those people who don't pick up such atmospherics easily.
Unidentified people are often kept in morgues until they can be matched with a missing person; sometimes for years. Fortunately, the identification process is no longer performed publicly the way it was Paris in the 1400s. Instead, the bodies are kept in refrigerated lockers until they can be identified.
3. Unknown Sanatorium Morgue, Germany
The urban explorer and photographer who took this creepiest of shots spoke about his experiences of photographing morgues and mortuaries: "I have been to quite a few morgues around the world and have to say they are really creepy places. It’s always in the back of your mind – the things that have happened in them – and some places have a few old instruments left around like toe tags and bone saws."
This autopsy room is small and looks enclosed, one of the reasons we suspect it might have been used in "difficult body" cases – where the body has been in water for a long time, or has decomposed to the extent that special air filters are needed for the pathologist to be able to work.
2. Ellis Island Morgue, New York
Ellis Island was, of course, the major gateway destination for the millions of immigrants who arrived in America between 1892 and 1954. More than 3,000 souls died in the Ellis Island hospital while it was open, with a significant number of the bodies passing through the morgue.
The photographer had this to say of his visit: "In 2008 I got the rare opportunity to see the parts of Ellis Island in New York City that has not been restored and are not open to tourists or the public. We walked through old mental wards, infectious disease wards, saw the morgue, and the giant furnace room. It was an amazing experience and you could really feel the history alive, right here and now."
1. Unknown Morgue, Location Unknown
Some photographers do not like to give out the name of the morgue they’ve explored or information on where it is located, so in this case, we simply don't know about such details. However, the photographer does have this to say: "Former morgue building used until 2009. Strange place... the power is still on, the tools work and there is water in the cranes. And a very large CCTV camera outside pointing straight on the entry point..."
As queasy as the idea of autopsies might make many people feel, they serve a valuable function and have done so for millennia. They uncover suspicious deaths, show errors in diagnosis, and answer bereaved families’ questions.
The rooms shown here may be abandoned and decaying now, but once they were places where the insides of peoples' bodies were exposed. In the row of fridges above were trays of bodies waiting to go under the pathologist’s knife or stored there afterward – people's loved ones, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, sisters or brothers. Or the forgotten people, the people who were unidentified when they died – those whose deaths the pathologist attempted to tease out clues about, to answer the “how” and to put a name to them.
Note: One eagle-eyed reader pointed out that this morgue might in fact be that of Harold Wood Hospital (see entry 7) – in which case this could well be a case of the Essex morgue revisited!
Harold Wood Hospital Morgue, Essex
Sometimes an item like a false hip joint will have a serial number on it that will allow a family to know it was a relative of theirs that died, for example. So as we enjoy, in a macabre fashion, these slightly disturbing pictures, let's also remember the people whose bodies once lay on the tables.