Urban Exploration Sanitarium: Griffin Chapel

I passed a white SUV as I pulled onto the tiny paved road leading up to Griffin Chapel. I parked in what I assumed was a parking lot, although it could park only two cars at maximum. Then, I noticed the white SUV pulling into the lot across the street. It sat idling, so I stayed a while in my car wondering why this person had stopped. The SUV didn’t budge.
Did the person inside think I was going to break into an abandoned building in broad daylight right next to a busy street? The SUV pulled back out of the lot and came across the street again. Screw it, I’m not doing anything illegal. If they want to say anything to me, maybe I can ask some questions about the campus too.

Most people who pass Griffin Chapel on the street have questions about it. They want to know what is was used for and why it is not used anymore. Urban legends around town label it and many of the other buildings on campus haunted. I think this is the primary reason that people have attempted to gain access– legally or illegally– to the chapel. but, Griffin Memorial staff do not let people inside anymore due to the asbestos hazard. Occasionally, people will have an account of how they “got in” and what it was like, but as with the other legends and stories surrounding the building, most are inaccurate –although, I can see how such stories might come about.

I walked up to the front of the building and looked at the large concrete American Legion seal above the door. The chapel was built for Central State Hospital by the Legion in 1936, and was also used as the sanitarium’s multi-purpose building. From what little information is out there on this building, it seems like it was well used in the past. It had a lighted stage for productions and a film projector. My guess is that these activities would have been part of the recreational therapy that patients received daily.

Today, the doors to Griffin Chapel are barred and padlocked. Boards cover most of the windows and the basement is flooded with several feet of standing water. After the building had become inoperative, and before suffering several fires in 2010 and 2014, Griffin Chapel was used as the hospital’s storage facility. I don’t know why they would use this particular building for such a purpose. It seems they would have put it to more active use. As I went around the building snapping pictures, the number of questions that popped into my head only increased… where was the person in the SUV when I actually needed them?

I stuck my camera in some of the broken windows hoping for a lucky shot. The flooded basement wasn’t a bad one. In fact hours later, when I posted the image to social media, I friends commented that it was “creepy”. Although “old” and “creepy” are not necessarily mutually exclusive, I feel like they are too often synonymous in the world of urban exploration. The chapel really is a lovely structure despite being almost 80 years old and neglected for so much of that time.

Unfortunately, the watchdog in the SUV never showed up again and many of my questions were left unanswered. However, I was able to find out from some good old-fashioned research, that after decades of disrepair, the Norman City council is considering re-purposing The Griffin Chapel instead of demolishing it with the rest of the campus. I hope they install a plaque like they did at Sutton Wilderness. It would be nice to know more of the building’s history. Especially since information is under lock and key these days.

All images copyright: Catherine Carter 2015

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