Urbex photography is derived from Urban Exploring. You visit abandoned places and buildings and environments that are not open to the public. These forbidden locations are often so interesting because of the story they tell, but it remains illegal to enter. The most important rule is that you are not allowed to break anything or take anything with you. You show respect for the environment you are in and you leave everything behind as you found it. Urbex photographers protect their locations. After all, they are ‘secret, forbidden places’. However, locations are described with hints on Facebook and urbex forums. Addresses are not done. Find the place, be smart and always try to get in touch with the owners of the place or the building. Some urbex spots have become so well-known that they have been found with simple googling.
With respect for the deceased, I visited the famous “Cemetery of the Insane”, a cemetery from the last century for psychiatric patients. These patients usually stayed in a closed clinic for most of their lives and died there too. They had no ties with family or the outside world.
This place has an unusual history. It is a castle whose farm from 1809 served as a beggar institution. The asylum acquired the nearby moorland in 1853. The farm remains in use as such until 1991. The beggar institution continued to exist until 1891, after which the gatehouse until 1920 was the home of an institution for the re-education of children that were convicted for crimes. From 1921 the insane institute moved into the castle. Near the farm, a plot is set up as a cemetery for deceased patients.
The plot where the graves are, separated from the farm and enclosed by pine forest, was recorded in the land register in 1913 and described as a cemetery serving the asylum. Patients often stayed their entire lives. The institution therefore took care of the burial of its patients themselves. From 1921 to 1981 there were 1750 patients, exclusively men.
The cemetery is currently transferred to a nature and forest management service and is part of the “Hoge Kempen National Park” (Belgium). It was decided to let it exist and still to be in harmony with nature. This means that the current vegetation remains untouched and spontaneous heath growth is deliberately not contained.
The cemetery is divided into six plots, consisting of lawns with heather and rows of gravestones. The simple concrete crosses are all provided with a metal plate with the name and date of birth and death of the deceased (with the exception of a number of wrought iron crosses and gravestones).
The plots are separated by drifting spruce. Two bricks and plastered morgues flank the entrance. It concerns square buildings under a hipped roof. At the end of the main avenue, in the south of the cemetery, a calvary (large Jesus cross) is erected.
There are various myths about the sinister cemetery. For example, a small teddy bear was spotted for a few years on one of the crosses, which invisible hand moved to a different cross every evening. There would also be a witch around during the night hours. If you walk across this creepy place, you immediately believe it.
I received access to the site from a coincidentally present older carpenter. He remembered a visit to the farm from his youth. “I can still hear the screams, nothing but the screams of confused people, locked behind thick doors, not a nice picture”. When I leave the cemetery, I see the names in front of me. Norbert, Julien, Pierre, French. What life did they have to live? I walk away silently. I hope to get them out of oblivion.
The pictures were taken with a Sony a7III and three vintage lenses: the Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon 35 mm/2.4, the Helios 22-2 58 mm/2.0 and the rare Tokina 70-220 F4.