This revelation that I got extremely lucky, has always been on my mind. If I had been born just a couple of decades earlier, and in the same area, who knows what may have happened to me.
On the hinges of self-awareness. I decided to break the rules for once in my life. I had to visit Kings Park and see what it was like for myself. For those of you who don’t live in the New York Area, Kings Park has a gate around it. It’s situated in the middle of a wooded area, but it’s not like there are guards and an electric fence or anything. It’s private property, so you’re not supposed to trespass, but I can’t say that almost my entire high school didn’t go anyway.
But I never did. I was always too terrified of the legends, and of Cropsey in particular.
I’ll tell the story of Cropsey quickly because it’s relevant to the history, but not really relevant to this story. “Cropsey” was a legend that popped up in the Long Island Area, saying that one of the patients from Kings Park had escaped, and was killing people in the woods around the old hospital. Only part of this was true. There was someone killing young and mostly disabled children around the hospital, but it wasn’t an escaped patient. It was an old ward of the hospital that was living in tunnels and bunkers underneath the hospital.
There’s a really great Netflix documentary on the whole story if you’re interested.
Since the legend of Cropsey turned out to be based on truth, I decided this was something I just didn’t want to mess with. Kings Park would just be another broken down building in the area whose memory would pop into my head at weird times.
This all changed after college and my diagnosis though. I know I wasn’t diagnosed with anything heavy, but I still felt a sense of responsibility, or the camaraderie of a sort, and had to see what they experienced.
So one night around 7:30 pm, I headed over towards Kings Park with a flashlight, a backpack, and a water bottle. I figured I wasn’t going to need anything else but I did have a small hunting knife with me in my pocket. Just in case.
I got to the broken down foundations of the psychiatric hospital that tortured so many innocent children and I couldn’t find the strength to do anything more than just stare up at the walls. This thing is truly massive. If you haven’t seen it, it’s got about 15 floors and it just goes straight up.
I decided I had to push myself into the uncomfortable, and I found a window on the ground floor that was open, and climbed in. I will say in hindsight that it was stupid of me to go alone. But I had to do this for myself. It was something that I was conquering (or so I thought in my head).
As I wandered aimlessly around the corridors, looking at all the graffiti on the walls, seeing the broken-down bed frames with rusted metal and fingernail claw marks on what’s left of the doors, I got real chills.
For some reason, I felt particularly drawn to the 3rd floor. I really can’t explain what it was, but my feet just moved on their own, toward this one spot on the third floor of the abandoned hospital. There really wasn’t anything special about it; it was just a hallway outside of a couple of rooms, near a communal bathroom. But since I was there, I looked around. I smelled the stale musk of the abandoned building, and scanned the exposed brick with my eyes.
As I was looking through the shattered drywall to the exposed brick beyond, I caught a glimpse of a spot that was just slightly darker than the rest of the brick and mortar. Intrigued, I moved closer and shined my flashlight right onto the dark spot. With a little poking, prodding, and removal of even more drywall, I was able to fish it free: A small, string-bound diary, made entirely out of loose-leaf paper. There wasn’t a cover so to speak, so it was able to be folded up nice and neatly, and tucked away into an empty brick space behind the wall.
My curiosity was thoroughly piqued, but I wasn’t dumb enough to start reading right then and there. It was dark, and I was still inside a supposedly haunted asylum. I took one last look around the place, made peace with myself and the patients of the building, and went home.
As soon as I got home and took a shower to rinse off whatever was left of Kings Park, I opened up my backpack to retrieve the diary. It seems to be the diary of a young girl who was put into the hospital back when it was in operation. I figured I’d write down the first entry here and I’ll share the remainder in the next couple days.
April 24th, 1918
It is my first day here. Mama told me to keep track of the days and who I am so I don’t forget. I am Florence Blackwell, and I am 10.
Mama and Daddy made me come here to the hospital to get better. They said I was sick, and that’s why I wet the bed at night. Daddy said that once I get better, the other girls in town will want to play with me. Mama was sad when she dropped me off. She had tears in her eyes like she was going to cry, but I told her “don’t be sad Mama I’m going to get better for you!” and the nice lady in the nurse hat took me inside of the hospital while Mama cried from the outside.
I don’t know why Mama was so upset. Daddy was happy to see me go to the hospital to get better.
The lady who took me inside of the hospital said her name was Nurse Wilson, but that I can call her Mary. Mama and Daddy always told me never to call an adult by their real names but I think I can call her Mary. She’s nice to me not like that Doctor. I don’t remember his name but that Doctor was not nice. Mary brought me into a big white room in the hospital and asked me to take off all my clothes so I can put on a big white gown and the doctor can take a look at me.
Mary helped me out of my dress that Mama made me, and stand in the middle of the white room with a vent on the floor. Then Mary left and the doctor man came in. Or at least I think he was a doctor. He told me to stand with my arms out just like a starfish, and to close my eyes and hold my breath. Then he took out a giant hose, and sprayed the water directly at me. I fell backwards onto the floor from how heavy that water was. He didn’t stop the hose though. He kept spraying me with the heavy water on the floor of the tiled room and he didn’t stop until I was crying and crying and shivering from the cold water.
The doctor man stopped the hose and told me to get up. He put a white gown on the floor in the puddles of water and told me to wear it.
I put on the gown and Mary came back in. I cried to her, and she just pet my head and let me cry.
Mary brought me to my room where I’m going to get better in the hospital. It had 1 bed, and there were two other girls in the room already. They were both sleeping when I walked in so I didn’t get to say hi to them, but Mary slipped me back my little diary and told me to hide it so the doctor cannot find it again.
I was so tired I fell asleep next to the other two girls but I didn’t sleep for long. In the middle of the night, I opened my eyes to see one of the other girls about 3 inches from my face just staring at me while I was sleeping. She looked at me with really big eyes and a big smile on her face, and when she saw me looking at her, she turned her head to the right like a puppy, and said, “It’s time.” When she said that, someone in the hallway screamed like their Daddy was hitting them with a belt. They screamed and screamed, and then someone else screamed too. And then all of the kids on the floor were screaming as loud as they could.
I don’t know how I am supposed to get better when all these kids scream in the night. I hope they aren’t hurt but I also need to get better so I can go home to Mama.
Mama said to write every day and remember who I am, so that’s what I will do.
* * * * * *
After I read that first diary entry, scribbled in a child’s handwriting on a piece of loose-leaf, I was spooked to say the least. I was actually holding a relic from a condemned insane asylum dating back all the way to 1918. I immediately ran to my computer. Surely there must be some kind of record of the patients put into care at Kings Park. I know it was a hospital where patients were tortured and even killed, but there should be at least some semblance of record keeping.
While I could find articles labeled “Kings Park Patient Records”, I couldn’t find an actual list of everyone who was under care there. Also, unfortunately, Florence Blackwell was a popular name, and Google searches of her name basically lead nowhere. I figured since my modern-day technology was striking out, the only way out was through, and I had to read more of the diary to get anywhere.
I will admit that I was scared. I’m still scared to leaf through the whole thing, and I’m not reading farther than I really have to. I’m terrified for little Florence and what may have happened to her and the others in that ward. And the simultaneous screaming in the middle of the night? Something was up and I wasn’t sure I really wanted to know what it was. But going back to the sense of camaraderie and duty that I felt while exploring Kings Park in the first place, I felt that same sense of duty to Florence. Her story needs to be told, and her memory needs to be honored. So I kept reading.
April 30, 1918
My name is Florence Blackwell, or Patient 0724. I haven’t written anything here in a while since I have just been so busy learning all the new things in this Hospital. Mary comes to visit me every morning and gives me a little cup filled with 4 different pills. All these pills are pretty small and round, and white, except for a really big one that she gives me. It’s twice as big as the others, and sometimes I accidentally cough it up when I try to swallow it. But Mary always helps me. She pets my head, gives me some water, and tells me to tilt my head back and try again.
These pills always make me feel funny. It feels like my head is static on the radio. Mama always used to listen to the radio to see about the war and when Daddy was going to come home, and sometimes the man on the radio would stop talking and there would just be a loud static noise coming from the radio. It was so loud Mama would scream a little if it scared her and run to the radio and turn it down so it didn’t hurt my ears.
I wish Mama could help me turn down the static in my head.
After I get my pills in the morning, Mary brings me and my other roommate down to the main room for breakfast. This is always the scariest part of my day. There are people all over in wheelchairs, and some of them don’t even know they’re a person. At least that’s what my roommate 0698 says. 0698 was the one who stared in my face that first night. She’s been here for 2 months now, and she’s almost 13. She wants to get out by her 13th birthday so her Daddy can take her out for a soda like a teenager.
The people in wheelchairs have no hair, and they stare out into space. I think they’re looking at their imaginary friend, but 0698 says they’re not looking at anything at all. Sometimes a little drool falls out of their mouths and they don’t even notice when it drips onto their laps.
I had two roommates the first night I got to the hospital, but the other girl besides 0698 was brought out of our room the next morning, by two large men in white jackets. She looked really scared, but they grabbed her by both of her arms and dragged her away. I think she probably could have walked there, but they helped her anyway. That next morning at breakfast, my roommate was in a wheelchair staring out at nothing at all. She had a big bruise by her eyeball, but 0698 said to look away and pretend we don’t know her.
The screaming keeps happening every night. I still don’t know why everyone is screaming in the middle of the night.
I am Florence Blackwell, I am 10 years old, and I miss my Mama. I’m going to keep writing my name so I don’t forget it since no one calls me that anymore.
May 3rd, 1918
I am Patient 0724, or Florence Blackwell, and I will be 11 years old in exactly 1 month. I only know that because today is a special day. When Mary came to give me my pills this morning, she told me that today, May 3rd, we are going to have a special doctor come visit and help us.
I hope that this doctor helps me most because I want to go home to Mama. I haven’t gotten any letters from Mama or Daddy, but I hope Mama is alright. She had a couple of bruises on her face that she covered up with makeup before I left. She told me that she fell, but I hope she doesn’t fall anymore when I’m not gone. I don’t want her to get hurt.
0698 and I made our way down to the main hall where the new doctor was going to be. I was pretty tired since the screaming lasted an extra-long time last night, and early in the morning the two men in white jackets came to bring me back to that room where I got blasted with the water. This happens every couple of days, and I’m getting good at not falling anymore. I don’t even cry when the water accidentally leaves a bruise on me.
We got to the main hall and 0698 and I sat down in the back while all the nurses and doctors were upfront with the patients in the wheelchairs. There was a little stage set up, and a doctor had a patient in a chair in front of him.
He said that his name was Dr. Freeman and he came all the way from Pennsylvania to help us. Technically he’s still in doctor school, he said, but I think he can be called Doctor anyway. Doctor Freeman said he was sad to see all the patients like us being so sad and sick, and he created a way to help us get better. He said that he was the only one who has done it so far, but it will be very popular once he graduates from doctor school.
Dr. Freeman used a bunch of big words that I don’t know, but I did hear one word I recognized, “brain”. After a big show of Dr. Freeman talking with big words, he took up an ice pick and moved to the head of the patient strapped down on the stage.
In one motion, he shoved the ice pick into her eye and wiggled it around.
I lost my breakfast right there and Mary had to bring me back to my room. But on the way back, all I could hear were screams and clapping. Dr. Freeman had made the patient better by hurting her? That doesn’t make sense to me, but hopefully, I will find out what happened when I meet Dr. Freeman tomorrow.
I will be 11 in one month exactly, and I hope Dr. Freeman can make me better soon so I can go home to my Mama.
* * * * * *
After reading about Florence’s latest entries, I was chilled to my core. I knew that lobotomies were a part of life at that time, and especially a part of life within the mental health community, but that didn’t make it less jarring to read. Especially from the perspective of a 10-year-old girl. What kind of a mental health facility forces its patients to sit and watch a lobotomy being performed by a man with an ice pick. This man was literally injuring people permanently for the rest of their lives and everyone thought it was great, because it turns patients into a less “violent” type of patient. I decided to do a little bit of research on the history of lobotomies and it looks like the procedure wasn’t even normalized until a couple of years later, which means this entire situation was completely experimental. This man didn’t have a medical license, and didn’t have a clue what he was doing. He was essentially just sticking a sharp object into someone’s eye socket, and wiggling it around until the connections between the prefrontal lobe and their brain were severed.
The more that I thought about the procedure being done in front of an audience, the more I wanted to lose my lunch. Before reading any further though, I wanted to do a little more research into who Florence was, and if we know who she was at all. If I couldn’t find anything online, I figured there must be some kind of written record that just hadn’t made its way to the internet yet. So I went to my local library. We have a historian that works there, and I made an appointment, and brought Florence’s diary with me for her to evaluate. I didn’t want to exactly say that I found the journal while trespassing on Kings Park grounds, so I said it was a “family heirloom” of sorts, and I wanted to know more about who wrote it.
Immediately, she was intrigued and after a little bit of ruffling through a big bookcase behind her desk, brought out a registry of people and families that lived in the area at the same time that Florence would have. This was a jump, because for as far as we know, Florence wasn’t local. She could have been brought here from almost anywhere.
We searched and searched the book for a birth record, or something to prove that Florence existed. And we actually almost missed it. There was a small entry from 1908. All it said was that “William and Margaret Blackwell had given birth to a baby girl. Name unknown.” That must’ve been them. It HAD to be them. Sure enough, there was a World War I draft registration card for William, and they were from a couple towns over.
These were too many similarities to be a coincidence. I was convinced this had to be Florence.
I’m not exactly proud of what I did next, but I stalked the Blackwell family on Ancestry.com, and let me tell you, there are hundreds of people in the Long Island area with the last name Blackwell. But after a couple of sleepless nights making the best of my college-educated research skills, I found them. With butterflies in my stomach, I sent a Facebook message to what seemed to be a family member. I’m withholding names for reasons, because I don’t want anyone to bother him.
He was a typical old guy on Facebook, sharing memes about President Trump and clickbait ads asking for thoughts and prayers, and I really didn’t think he was going to answer me. But he did. William and Margaret were his great-grandparents, and their daughter, Eleanor, was his grandmother. She was born in 1919, and apparently had a hard life. Her father was an abusive drunk who came home with “shell shock” after the Great War. Her mother was too submissive to say anything, and took the brunt of his anger to protect her daughter. Eleanor grew up thinking she was the oldest and only in her family, but on her mother’s deathbed in 1929, when Eleanor was only 10, she confessed that Eleanor wasn’t the oldest. There was a daughter before her, one with a physical deformity that William had taken most of his anger out on. This physical deformity actually makes a lot of sense in the context of the next entry she had written. She used to wet the bed, and William couldn’t stand to look her in the face. Eventually, he tucked her away at a mental hospital, and that’s all she knew. Margaret had never seen her daughter again.
While that was a lot of information to share with a stranger through Facebook, I think it was probably information that this man wanted to get off of his chest. Imagine a family secret like that just burning a hole inside your memory.
I offered to let him see the diary once I was done doing some research and figuring out what happened, and he agreed, because he also wanted to know exactly what happened to Florence, and figured with me being a good bit younger, I knew my way around a computer and the internet. So I decided to keep plugging along and sharing Florence’s story.
May 4th, 1918
I met Dr. Freeman today. He kept poking my face. Usually, that makes me mad. Daddy used to poke my face and try and make it look “normal”, he said. But I didn’t mind when Dr. Freeman did it. He was a doctor after all. Maybe he really could make me look normal so that I’d be pretty like Mama. He asked me a whole bunch of questions, like did I ever get mad, or did I ever hit my Mama or Daddy. I said of course not I wouldn’t hurt my Mama but I think he thought I was lying. He kept writing a bunch of stuff down on his note pad. He writes way faster than me, but probably because he’s an adult and knows a lot of stuff. Dr. Freeman kept asking if I had a pet, and I told him about my bunny, and how she had run away to be with her other bunny friends, but Dr. Freeman didn’t seem happy about that, and wrote more stuff on his pad. He asked me if I ever started fires and I said of course not. There was a fire down the street from my house that killed a lot of people back when I was 9. Then he asked me about my wetting the bed. I told him that that’s why I was here. I had to fix my problem so that I can go home to Mama and Daddy won’t be mad at me anymore. He said that he thought I wet the bed because I was just like some other very bad children he met at other hospitals and he had made them not be violent anymore, and he could do the same thing to me. I don’t think I am violent, but if Dr. Freeman says it could happen, maybe it could happen. Maybe I could turn out to be like Daddy instead of Mama. I just want Dr. Freeman to make me better to go home to Mama.
P.S. I am Florence, 0724.
* * * * * *
After that second update, I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach; something bad was going to happen to Florence. In my heart I wanted to be able to hold her, to console her, and tell her everything was okay but she lived 100 years ago. She feels so real, and her problems so relevant, that it’s hard to believe this happened so long ago.
With a heavy heart, and a stomach full of butterflies, I continued reading the journal.
I’m not sure what day today is, but I think it’s still May, because I don’t feel 11 yet. I think if it was past my birthday I would feel a whole year older, and I don’t yet, so it can’t be June. I’ve been really busy getting better lately. Mary comes in every morning to give me my pills, but lately she’s got scratches on her arms and when I asked her where they came from, she just told me to take my pills. I don’t know if I feel better yet, but maybe it’s because we’re trying so many new things to help me! We do the water blasting every other day now, but we started a whole new thing to make me feel better. I don’t wet the bed anymore, so I think I’m better but Dr. Freeman says I’m not yet so we keep doing this new thing.
They take me into a big room with lots of machines and wires all over the place. In the middle of all of these machines is a chair. They put me in the chair and strap my arms and legs in so I can’t hurt myself. Then they put on a headband on my head, and there are two little circles that go on either side of my forehead. I don’t really like this part, because it’s painful, but they turn the machine on and the circles on my head start to hurt really badly. They do this a couple of times and every time the circles hurt more and more. Sometimes I scream because it hurts, but most times I’m very brave. Usually, when we’re done, I take a wheelchair back because I’m just so sleepy, and I get bruises on my forehead. Mary doesn’t like when I get this treatment. Her face goes all white and she helps me into bed with a pat on the head like she does.
My roommate 0698 is gone now. I don’t know where she went, and no one will tell me when I ask, so I stopped asking.
The screaming still happens in the middle of the night, but I’ve seen that a lot of patients, people that were here when I came in, aren’t here anymore. I don’t know where they went either.
For now, I’ll just keep doing my treatments and hopefully, Mama will come get me soon.
Mary told me I’m 11 now. I don’t know what day it is, but Mary said it’s past my birthday but I don’t feel 11. I still feel 10, but I don’t feel very much anymore. The painful circle treatment has been happening more and more and I’m sleeping a lot after it. Mary always comes in late at night to stroke my head, and sometimes lies with me in my bed when I’m asleep, without my realizing it, and I wake up with her beside me.
Mary came into my room late tonight, after everything was dark, and told me she had a secret. She said I have to write everything down in my diary and hide it so no one can find out what we did. She said that we have to go and leave really soon. I don’t know how I can leave I’m so tired all the time, but she said we have to because soon Dr. Freeman is going to put an ice pick inside my eye just like that day on the stage. That scared me because she screamed really loudly, and I don’t want to hurt any more than the circle treatment. She said she doesn’t want me to get the ice pick, so we have to leave. That she’s going to take me far, far away, but I have to pick a new name so that no one knows who I was here at the hospital. I can’t remember my full name, but I think I’m going to pick Margaret. I don’t know why but that’s a pretty name.
Mary said we’re going to go real soon, so I have to go to sleep to get enough rest to go far away.
P.S I’m sorry I forgot my name, Mama.
June 12th, 1918
My name is Mary Baker, and I am a nurse at Kings Park Psychiatric Hospital. I felt the need to complete 0724’s diary so that whoever finds this can get a complete picture of the horrors that were done here. There was nothing mentally wrong with 0724. I knew it, and the doctors knew it, but her parents dropped her off here and we had to treat her like any other patient. That is, until Freeman came along. He said that 0724 was some sort of psychopath, and needed to be dealt with. That’s when he started to increase the frequency of the hydrotherapy, and even threw in electroshock therapy. That poor little girl doesn’t know what is happening to her, but she is the bravest girl I have ever met in my four years working at this dreadful place.
I know that 4 years is a long time, but let me tell you, whoever finds this diary, what I did to help the patients here. Every night, I would take a look at the list of the next patient to undergo that terrible “therapy” that Freeman calls a “Lobotomy”. It’s monstrous if you ask me. I would look at which patient was next to receive that treatment, and quietly slip into their room, and kill them. Make it look like an accident so no one suspected me, and silently save them from becoming a pawn in their game. The patients call me the “Angel” since I come every night around the same time, and they’ve actually begun to scream when they see me walking the hallways. But no one has investigated because all these kids are just “crazy”. I had to face the facts, though. Death is preferable to living in a vegetative state, which is what most of them become. And when I realized that 0724 was next on the list, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I decided we’re going to escape. Her parents obviously don’t care about her, and I do. I’m taking her away and we’ll live off the grid. Change our names, move far away, and no one will ever know. No one will ever miss us.
So whoever finds this and reads this, you know the facts. Mary Baker and whoever 0724 was, no longer exist.
I handed the diary off to Florence’s family, and needed a good while to wrap my head around what happened. Mary was an angel of death. She killed the patients that were going to be lobotomized because that’s what she thought was the right thing to do. She left this journal for someone to find, so that she can make amends with what she did. She couldn’t keep it bottled up inside, and couldn’t just stop and leave without saving Florence, so she just left and took Florence with her. I hope to God that Florence was safe, and able to live out a happy childhood, but with Mary, I just don’t know.
Credit: Alyssa Gallo
Publisher’s Note: This story is followed by a sequel. To read the next chronological installment of this series, please click here.
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