It’s been months since Jamaica’s Mary Immaculate Hospital closed.
But for the past few weeks, former hospital and contract workers have spent their afternoons packing up the hospital’s innards to be shipped to other hospitals as far away as Tennessee.
Everything in the 107 year-old hospital has been sold—from its reams of printer paper to an old ‘50s jukebox that used to entertain the residents of the nursing home here.
According to hospital workers, the building is being prepared for its future owners. On October 16, eight months after Mary Immaculate’s owner, Caritas Healthcare, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the hospital will go up for auction. The starting bid is $4.35 million.
Some still have hope that another health care company will buy the building and open up another hospital. But hope fades with each stretcher and IV pole that rolls out of the hospital’s doors.
Many civic leaders I’ve spoken to point out that the hospital sits on the most prime real estate in Jamaica—overlooking the sprawling green lawns of Rufus King Park. They think it’s going to be turned into luxury apartments.
And I get the same impression.
Last week, I went on a tour of the building with Mary Immaculate’s former carpenter, Ed Nielson, so I could see the hospital before it was gone. Once inside, I was able to see how hard it is to erase history. It is neither quiet, easy, or fast.
If you look past the piles of garbage, the torn window shades, and the broken furniture, it’s easy to imagine the millions of patients this hospital has treated over the decades, and the old nuns and priests roaming the halls. As we walked down the hallway to the hospital’s chapel, Ed paused to point out the rings of rust on the cream-colored walls. That’s where I hung the old historical photos, he said, shaking his head. When we walked past the grand staircase (you may remember this from the movie Fame), we stopped to admire its old-world grandeur.
When we reached the chapel, Ed couldn’t turn on the lights. The diocese had come to take those away weeks ago. So we stood in the middle of the chapel, bathed in the quiet, soft light of the waning afternoon.
Ed used to take care of this chapel. Although the diocese took out everything except the confessional, the pews and altar, Ed could point to everything’s former place.
This is where the crucifix was, Ed said, pointing between the pumpkin-colored silk drapes on each side of the altar. And this, he said, pointing to the back corner of the chapel, is where the organ used to be. There, scattered throughout an ankle-high pile of garbage, we found shreds of the vintage 1920s hand-painted turquoise and gold canvas that used to decorate the ceiling.
And that, Ed said, pointing to the massive arched windows that line the chapel’s walls, used to be stained glass, imported from Germany. But they took that, too.
I saw photos of this glass later—rich blues, greens, and reds depicting images of Christ and his apostles. It was much like you would see in any Catholic church. But thinking back to how smudged and dirty the windows look now, the stained glass seems much more beautiful than the churches I remember from my youth. Like how things seem more precious, more important in retrospect, when you know they’re gone forever.
Below is some more audio from Ed. He speaks about the possibility of turning Mary into apartments, how he feels this has affected Jamaica, and also takes us to the hospital’s cafeteria.