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Hunting Ghosts (the Academy, Pt. 5) - Cedar Grove, NJ (2023 update)

"The best kind of souvenir is a memory." -unknown



We've been to North Carolina! And Pennsylvania! And Rhode Island! And New York! And Florida! This is it - we are onto the final stretch of this series, taking us to the Essex County Hospital in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. The facility was a psychiatric asylum from 1920-2007. Before then, it was a standard hospital. As part of its lore, 24 patients froze to death in their beds in the winter of 1917, when the heating system failed. These days, it's a campus of crumbling buildings that are probably too large and too far gone to serve any practical use. Maybe it's a great place for ghost hunting, though. Read for the conclusion of this series.




Essex County Hospital exterior in Cedar Grove, New Jersey - photo by KilmerMedia

It was certainly a long drive to reach the finale of this adventure, from Florida to New Jersey... and it's now a bittersweet time. We have the episode to film here, then it will be time for us all to say our "goodbyes". After this, I plan on packing my life up in Ohio, then seeing what L.A. can offer.

Fortunately, we have some spare time built into this final stretch. That gives us all a chance to wander around New York City. Some of us want to go this way, and some want to go that way.... so we split up, with plans to reconvene for a nice dinner.

I visit Times Square, Central Park, the Empire State Building, and a camera superstore where, at the very end of this trip, I consider spending the entire stipend I've saved up ("per diem") on a new camera. Ultimately, I hold onto the cash, since making that move to L.A. soon will be a dive into the unknown.

As for now, after a busy day of sightseeing, the crew meets up for dinner at a restaurant in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, recommended by one of our camera operators who has, coincidentally, worked on the show "Hell's Kitchen." The meal is a big hit and is a nice opportunity for us to reflect candidly on the demanding, yet rewarding experience that's about to come to a close.

Back at work, the disused Essex County Hospital is a dump. It's creepy and grimy and potentially dangerous. Asbestos warnings are posted in some of the buildings. Thick paint chips are piled up on the floor in every room. Flashlights reveal how much dust is continually wafting through the air in these buildings. Those of us who happen to have bandanas wear them over our faces to try to keep from sucking in the particles blowing around. When time allows, I make a run to the hardware store and buy up the entire stock of N95 masks for the crew.

Following the investigation, surprise! Ghost Hunters will be doing a live show on Halloween night, for the third year straight. We've been wondering if there would be more work for us. Now it's official, and the investigation will take place here, at Essex County Hospital, which is great... and convenient!

Leading up to the big event is a busy time. All the equipment needs to be inventoried, inspected, and cleaned - that includes the big RV. Simultaneously, to get set up for the live show, I get to make several trips to New York City (about 20 mi. away) to pick up some gear. Navigating through traffic is no fun, of course, yet I like being in the middle of the big city energy again.

Back at the old hospital, it feels like an invading army has taken over. The crew has suddenly tripled, or maybe quadrupled, and our core team is no longer in charge. Broadcast trucks come in, we now have a security team, and additional Production Assistants suddenly show up on site. The latter aren't any spring chickens, either. Nearly all of them are eager to work and keep asking me what else they can do to help out.

Ultimately, like Halloweens before, the live show makes for a long, but fun night. The big difference this time, though, is that I get to delegate much more than having to do actual work. That seems fair enough to me, after plenty of the uncomfortable tasks left unsaid that I've had to do while out on the road. Don't take that the wrong way, though, since I wouldn't trade this experience for the world.

Former Essex County Hospital in Cedar Grove, New Jersey - photo by KilmerMedia

Finally at the end of this journey, I am eager to get home and start plotting out my upcoming, cross-country move. For now, though, I seem to be forever trapped at the airport in New Jersey... The plane I'm on pulled out from the gate, then stopped moving. We wait and wait and wait, with only vague "Sorry for the delay, folks; we should have you in the air soon" apologies occasionally coming from the cockpit. I think an hour passes by before we finally get the full story: we had to yield to Air Force One, so the President could take off. Thanks a lot, Obama.

Anyhow, see you in Cali!


2023 note: The Essex County Hospital facility is no more. Demolition started in the mid-2010s, turning part of the land into a county park, and townhouses and condos have been built on the rest. As for me, hey, I'm still working in TV!

Also, this experience has become part of my identity. At times, I've ended up with an audience at wedding receptions and funerals both, where people I don't know well, or at all, have told me their ghost stories. I've certainly been asked about mine. And I've been asked what it was like working with the "ghost busters." They must have confused me for someone else at that party! It's been fun, though, and has certainly enhanced some conversations.


"Hunting Ghosts (the Academy, Pt. 5) - Cedar Grove, New Jersey" (2009) Written by: Justin Kilmer

Unless otherwise noted, all media and text on this page are copyrighted © by Justin Kilmer.


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