Bad Water
October 25, 2005

Halloween is creeping closer, so I thought I'd tell another creepy story. No ghosts ... I think ... it gets kind of confusing to tell at one point ... but it's a good creepy story.

I've changed some details and most names just because I think it's probably a good idea. You'll see.

(The beginning of this story does involve relating a bit of child abuse. I've tried to keep this non-graphic and sketchy, but it is important to the story.)

I have a friend who has lived just outside of Kalamazoo, Michigan for most of his life. His mom was the "hands-off" type which sounds cool to a kid until you realize that means you're completely alone. By the age of ten, he was "dating," if you want to call it that, a twenty-year-old woman who worked for the volunteer fire department in one of the little towns that are scattered around Kalamazoo and Battle Creek (home of Kellogg's).

Now Mike is a pretty cool guy, but that early relationship and the neglect of his folks really screwed him up a bit. Not only did his dad once say, "Well, I didn't like him dating so early, but what could I do about it?" but he never gave Mike any curfew or rules or anything. In fact, there were times when he didn't come home for two or three days and nothing was really said.

What Mike's folks didn't bother to find out about the relationship with Tina could fill several novels, but this is a blog and I'm trying to keep this to just one entry, so I'll cut to the chase. Besides having a sexual relationship with a ten-year-old boy, the relationship was abusive in other ways as well. After earning Mike's trust and the ten-year-old's version of love and adoration, Tina introduced Mike to her other passion: the occult.

Again, I don't know if these folks were serious about the occult or just messing around with younger kids' heads and I'm not sure it really matters. The truth of it is that Tina and some of her friends had a little group of twenty-somethings several of whom had a younger kid as a "partner." These folks bonded together in the firehouse and would use their little tight-knit group for orgies (including the kids). They'd also light black candles and say spooky things and scare the crap out of the kids.

One of the stories Tina used to tell Mike was about the old mental hospital and how one day Tina would take him there and chain him to the walls and leave him to die.

Naturally, Mike was terrified of Tina.

Fast forward to Mike's early 20s, when I met him. I'd go up to Kalamazoo and visit him and we'd wander around town. There's one building in the downtown area which just gave me the creeps and I still don't know why. It's just an old "skyscraper" (from back in the day when skyscrapers were only 20-30 stories high) with Kalamazoo something or another painted on the side ... just a typical painted-on sign that you see on a lot of old buildings. It's not even a creepy font, just a basic Times/Times New Roman style font.

I mention this in passing to Mike one day and he tells me it's because Kalamazoo is evil. Now, knowing his history a bit, I blow him off. Of course he's going to overreact to such things. That kinda thing will seriously mess you up.

"Anyway, it's the whole town," he continues. "The local tribe's word for Kalamazoo meant 'bad water,' and they didn't just mean this nasty river."

"What do you mean? Why'd they think the water was bad?"

As it turns out, the area made people go crazy.

Don't believe me? Look up the history of mental health in the United States. The first mental hospital in Michigan was in Kalamazoo and it was one of the first mental hospitals in the United States.
There's a reason for that.

Just from local lore, there seem to be an improbably large number of stories about people going stark-raving mad.

As we're wandering through town in the huge cargo van -- there are about six of us including Mike and I -- we pass by one of the large, old graveyards. We decide to get out and wander around for a while, looking for old gravestones to rub. We spend about an hour telling each other creepy things and looking at the truncated rock slabs that supposedly tell our stories after we're gone. Dates and a short verse from the Bible somehow don't seem to tell enough of the story.

Or maybe I'm just long-winded.

At any rate, almost as one, the six of us look up at the building on the hill above us. It's more hidden than visible, to tell the truth. You have to search through the summer trees to find it and you have to really be looking through the winter trees to see it, too.

A little odd that we all decided to look that way at once.

"What's that?" Dave asked. There was an instant chorus of discussion.

"The old asylum," Mike said. Everyone there got quiet for a minute. I think we all knew at least that much of Mike's history.

You know what we used to do with the really crazy people back in the 1850s and up through at least 1900? The really, really, dangerous crazy ones? They'd put those folks down in the "basement." Only it was generally more like a kind of roughed out dirt basement. Or one carved into the bedrock below. A very primitive kind of basement.

And in some of the old hospitals that had that type of system, they'd toss those dangerous folks who seemed to have no grasp of reality at all anymore down those holes. There'd be a barred trap door that the orderlies would just toss food and water down without opening the door up.

And of course, Tina had embellished these stories when telling them to Mike when she'd dated him. She'd told him how there was an underground hallway where there were chains still hanging from the walls ... from where they had chained some poor creatures by their wrists and their ankles to the wall. And Tina told Mike that if he ever told anyone, she'd take him back to that hallway and chain him to the walls. And she'd kill him.

Naturally, Mike was terrified. Even now as we're all standing around the graveyard, he knows we all want to go up there.

Without a word, we all file back into the van. Mike takes the wheel and begins trying to find the right road to get us back up to the old asylum. My knee is bouncing up and down in a rapidfire tattoo of anticipation. Dave hasn't stopped cracking his knuckles. Michelle is utterly white-faced, but corrects Mike once as he almost turns away from the hospital.

We were all completely in the thrall of this ancient building. When we finally pull up to the parking lot, Mike stops the van and rests his hands on the keys. "Do we have to?" is all that he says.

The rest of us are out of the van already. This is not normal behaviour for any of us. Mike is very gung-ho about facing his fears. Michelle is a fraidy-cat who we could barely get to go to a graveyard, much less this creepy place. I'm usually more sensitive to how other people feel -- I mean, this has got to practically be hell for Mike.

And yet I'm the first one heading for the gate.

"There's cameras."

We look around and spot more of the security cameras.

"They really on?"

Kimball nods. "Yeah, yeah they are. My sister works for the security place that monitors them."

I have walked completely away from the group at this point. I am standing at the gate and looking into the trees off to my left. I am certain we can get in without getting into any trouble.

This is really not like me. I am paranoid about doing "bad" things and trespassing is definitely a bad thing.

"There's a way in over here," I call out softly. I don't wait for the others, but begin walking into the underbrush.

Finally, Michelle and Kimball both start to panic.

"We have to leave now," Kimball says.

Now you have to understand, Kimball is a big football playing dude. As in he played for Michigan State, big. He was white as a ghost and heading toward me. He'd literally grabbed my arm before I even realized what he meant to do.

He had to drag myself and Dave back to the van. Everyone else came on their own, more or less reluctantly.

And for whatever reason that was causing him to act, he made Mike hand me the keys and told me to drive the hell away from this town. I looked at him like he was crazy, but before I could open my mouth, Mike took the keys back and started the engine.

"Aww, come on, guys, I never do stuff like this," I said as we started to slowly go back across the parking lot. I had the van door open and was ready to hop out whether Mike stopped or not when Kimball's hands grabbed my shoulders and hauled me back in. Dave shut the door.

Five or ten minutes later ... and finally out of sight of the hospital, Mike pulled over. "I can't drive anymore." He sat next to Michelle and kept telling her over and over, "I just wanna go back there. Why? Why would I want to?"

I got behind the wheel and Kimball, who hated driving the van, just kept a hand on my shoulder until I was on the highway and pointed out of town.

Ten minutes passed. Fifteen.

And I could feel something "snap."

"What the hell?" Michelle asked.

I pulled over on the highway shoulder. "So I'm not the only one who just felt that?" I was physically shaking -- not from fear, because I wasn't scared. It was more like the tremors you get after a heavy exercise ... quivering muscles from over-use.

Dave, Kimball, Mike, Michelle and Donna all shook their heads.

"Until just now I was gonna go back there by myself tonight," Dave muttered.

"Me, too."

Kimball just shook his head. "Ain't none of us ever going back there again. There's something not right there."

"Well I frigging TOLD you THAT!" Mike yelled. "I told you that place was messed up and you didn't believe me, you just thought it was old Mike going off again."

There was a chorus of heart-felt apologies at that.

I don't know if it was just the power of suggestion ... after all, we all knew Mike's story and we had just been in a graveyard. And we did all know the basics of how early mental health patients were treated. Did we all just work ourselves up into a frenzy over nothing?

I would think so except for a couple of things. We all turned and looked at the building at the same time. Every one of us. Like we'd all heard a loud noise, not the staggered one person looks up and the next person tries to see what the first one is looking at.
And two, the same time I felt something give way was the same time that Michelle exclaimed. And nobody asked her what she was talking about.

Since then I've done some digging via the internet, trying to find out more about the hospital. I keep intending that one day I'll do some serious research into the Kalamazoo area and maybe do a good scary novel based on that. Supposedly gangsters and murderers were also tossed in this particular "loony bin," certainly the types of folks that you might expect would leave around an evil ghost or creepy-crawly.

But I also found out that the building hidden in the trees atop the highest hill in Kalamazoo ... was the Tuberculosis Sanitarioum, not the mental hospital. Of course, the first buildings of the mental hospital were torn down long, long ago. The currently standing buildings were built later on the Kirkbird model.

Of course sanitarioum patients weren't always treated well, either, but still.

What was it about that building that called to us? And what was it that kept its grip on us for so very long?

Bad water .... I know the joke is that when going into a foreign country, don't drink the water ... but now ... now I gotta wonder if it's safe to drink the water in Kalamazoo, too.

Posted by Red Monkey at October 25, 2005 4:18 PM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


PM said:

Hey Ender! Thanks for being on my site for the past week... it was nice havin' ya spend the week with me. ;)

P.S. No, don't drink the water...

October 26, 2005 7:04 AM


lonniebhodge said:

Kellogg was the first ceritifable mental patient. GRRRRREAT! HUH? Do they still make the stuff there? Corn flakes not people flakes.

And NO, do not drink the water. I did grad' school there.

I still ain't right.

October 27, 2005 9:18 AM


justdawn said:

I read this earlier today and meant to comment. What a great story:) I love your site and will definitely be back!

October 27, 2005 11:57 AM


scribeswindow said:

I'm going to be sorry to see the back of Halloween, because then you're not going to be writing down any more scary stories. But really, you don't have to use Halloween as an excuse do you?........

October 27, 2005 7:06 PM


Croaker said:

Living in Michigan I have also heard about the "bad water" conotations. You always have such a great way with scary stories.

October 30, 2005 5:28 PM


Justin said:

i'd have to imagine that it's the fact that they basically put people there to die.
I live in mattawan (just west of kalamazoo) and have made it sort of a morbid hobby to research the psychiatric building, the old colony farm (which was built by the kalamazoo psychiatric for paitents who needed quiet countryside and we're sent there for GOOD behavior, and the tuberculosis sanitarium. unfortunately, the TB sanitarium is the one i know the least about.
i've been in there before and to my knowledge there are no hidden sections with chains hanging down. closest i could imagine would be the boiler room. the place is definitely spooky , and it boggles the mind that it hasn't been torn down yet.
chances are you guys were sensing the personality of the building, which believe me, has a siren like quality to it.
the psychiatric hospital is definitely a freaky joint, because there've been a few documented murders (my claim to spook fame deals with the nurse who was murdered and then stuffed above the pipes in the sub basement),
numerous paitent deaths, and then add to that that there's a tunnel system that connected the colony farm, and old bronson hospital...
yeah, kalamazoo is definitely creepy.
however i've never heard kalamazoo's entymology as referenced as bad water.

but i will tell you this. maybe it's just from living here or maybe i'm just numb to it, but i wouldn't quote kalamazoo as being evil...
but is rotting... almost like if the city had a soul,
it's died off and now the city is decaying.

December 7, 2007 1:27 PM


fifi said:

first, this guy fed you a line of bull, and didn't know anything about Kalamazoo, from what the word meant to what the hospital system was like.
Kalamazoo is said to mean "boiling water" , not Bad Water.
And the Kalamazoo Metal hospitals were considered to be the most humane asylums of the time. Treating their patients with kindness and allowing them freedoms that patients were not usually given at the time.
Anyone that wants to know more about the Kalamazoo Asylums should check out the book "Asylum for the insane : a history of the Kalamazoo State Hospital" By William A. Decker. It gives an extremely detailed and complete history of the Kalamazoo asylums and properties.

I hope that this clears up, or at least gives the people that read this a bit of clarity towards the historical details of this post, instead of legend and hearsay.

March 16, 2008 11:37 PM
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