ATLAS OBSCURA

A Photographer Finds the Ghost of Woodie Guthrie in an Abandoned Asylum

In the legend of folk icon Woody Guthrie, his final 15 years as a hospital patient tormented byHuntington’s Disease are often forgotten. The vibrant musician from Oklahoma boiled over with hundreds of songs of worker empowerment, and odes to the downtrodden burst from his guitar slapped with the words: “This Machine Kills Fascists.” His "This Land Is Your Land" is practically an alternative populist national anthem. Yet his final years are also a part of who he was, even as his mental and physical abilities deteriorated with the degenerative hereditary disease so that he couldn’t even hold a guitar. 

Photographer Phillip Buehler set out to document the abandoned Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Morris Plains, New Jersey, where Guthrie was a patient from 1956 to 1961. Buehler has been photographing “modern ruins” for decades, and wanted to document this old 19th century ruined building before it faded from memory. 

For more of Phillip Buehler’s photography of Woody Guthrie’s final years, keep reading on Atlas Obscura… 

(If you find yourself in the NYC area this weekend, Buehler will be at the Va