More than a hospital: Oral history project preserves memories of Greystone

A new website chronicles Greystone's history...via first-hand accounts.
A new website chronicles Greystone's history...via first-hand accounts.
By Stephanie Kip

For some, it’s been a healing process. For others, it’s a cautionary tale about the importance of saving historic institutions from demolition.

So far, 23 people have shared their stories for the Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital (1876-2008) Oral History Project.

The last vestige of Greystone's one-massive Kirkbride Building, in October 2015, shortly before its demolition. Photo by Berit Ollestad
The last vestige of Greystone’s one-massive Kirkbride Building, in October 2015, shortly before its demolition. Photo by Berit Ollestad

“I’ve waited a long time for someone to ask me about Greystone,” said one interviewee.

The project is an outgrowth of a panel presentation in October 2016, one year after the demolition of Greystone’s iconic Main Building. The event was live-streamed to more than 1000 people, and focused on advocacy efforts to save the Main Building and other historic buildings.

People attending the event expressed an interest in sharing their memories with the general public and saving them for posterity.

And so I established this project, to share the voices of those directly involved with the original Greystone Hospital. They give detail and personal commentary not offered elsewhere.

Grover Kemble sings 'They're Trying to Tear Ol' Greystone Down.' Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Grover Kemble sings ‘They’re Trying to Tear Ol’ Greystone Down,’ at Greystone in 2015. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Parts of Greystone’s unknown history, such as it being the home of the psychiatric nursing field, are revealed.

Former employees such as Grover Kemble, local musician and director of Greystone’s music therapy department, wanted to talk about their positive interactions with patients and hope for a broader acceptance of mental illness.

The website explores some of Greystone’s mysteries:

  • What happened during Bob Dylan’s visits to Woody Guthrie, Greystone’s most famous patient?
  • Why couldn’t Greystone’s most iconic building be saved, despite all the public support to have it re-purposed like other Kirkbride Plan buildings?
  • Did any Greystone patients receive good care?
  • What happened when Governor Codey investigated Greystone in an undercover disguise?
  • Why did whistleblowers testify before the NJ state legislature regarding patient care and what was the outcome?

The website adds new interviews on a quarterly basis. Everyone’s story is interesting and anyone who was connected to the original Greystone Hospital (before 2008) and would like information about sharing their memories is invited to contact me here or call 973-271-5549.

Stephanie Kip, project manager for the Greystone Oral History Project, is a retired Parsippany librarian. She also is project manager of the Library of Congress Veterans Oral History Project in Parsippany, and is former program administrator in the Bellevue Hospital (NYC) Department of Psychiatry.

Video: Grover Kemble sings for Greystone, months before it came down.

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  1. ….this is a very important project….I’m still seething a bout the building being torn down ….I will never understand or accept the stupidity of this action….Stephanie’s work is very well documented and folks that are interested will learn a lot about this monumental institution …Grover Kemble