Haunted Spotlight: Fairfield Hills State Hospital and the Sterling Opera House

Fairfield Hills State Hospital was built in 1931 to house mentally ill patients. Stories of abuse, shock therapy, psychosurgery, countless suicides and mysterious deaths filled the walls of Fairfield Hills, leading to the hospital’s eventual closing in 1995. (G F/Flickr, Creative Commons)

It’s that time of year again, when everyone becomes overly attached to the idea of ghosts and hauntings while raking leaves or drinking a pumpkin spice latte. Fall, namely Halloween, brings forth a new wave of obsession for ghost hunters and paranormal enthusiasts, and suddenly everyone can call themselves an expert when it comes to hauntings.

Connecticut is one of the oldest states in America, dating back to the early 17th century when it was called the River Colony. With such a historic past, there is no doubt that something paranormal would eventually make its way to the Constitution State. Eyewitnesses across Connecticut create solid evidence for hauntings taking place in our backyard. There is something hiding in Connecticut, specifically in Newtown and Derby.

One place that has gathered ample attention is the Fairfield Hills State Hospital that once resided in Newtown. Opened in 1931, the hospital was built with the intention to accommodate the overflow of patients from other mental hospitals in the surrounding area.

Fairfield Hills, however, did not have a clean record. Just like in any other mental hospital at the time, the patients—over 4,000 at full capacity—were treated harshly and lived in horrible conditions. Stories of abuse, shock therapy, psychosurgery, countless suicides and mysterious deaths filled the walls of Fairfield Hills, leading to the hospital’s eventual closing in 1995.

While there is no specific ghost story associated with the hospital, many eyewitnesses claim to have experienced potential hauntings within the walls of the abandoned buildings. Aspiring paranormal investigators have congregated on the grounds—which have been restored and reopened for municipal and cultural use—in search of answers.

Fairfield Hills has also attracted many members of the film and television industries; the hospital’s grounds and buildings were used as a set for the 1996 film “Sleepers,” and also featured on an episode of MTV’s “Fear,” due to both its history and haunted aesthetic.

Unfortunately for many investigators, the Town of Newtown has inflated its ground security due to the hospital’s growing reputation. Now the strict ‘no trespassing’ policy has turned many away from the mysteries that supposedly lie inside.

The Sterling Opera House in Derby is also gaining quite the reputation, just 25 minutes away. The opera house was opened in 1889, as one of the first entertainment venues in the lower Naugatuck Valley. It hosted a plethora of esteemed guests, including actor Lionel Barrymore, magician Harry Houdini and even pilot Amelia Earhart. However, the establishment ceased its function as a building of entertainment in 1945, moving on to become a city hall until the 1960s, when it was abandoned.

That’s when the stories started: shadow figures, disembodied voices, mysterious orbs and even the apparition of a woman in a Victorian-style dress appearing in various rooms of the opera house. Plenty of eyewitnesses have corroborated these accounts, but, just like Fairfield Hills, the Sterling Opera House does not have that singular tragic story associated with the oddities that occurred within its old walls.

Regardless, the building had collected enough attention for it to be featured on an episode of Syfy’s “Ghost Hunters” in April 2011, during which investigators found some evidence, but nothing incredibly enlightening.

Fairfield Hills State Hospital and the Sterling Opera House are two of the most well known haunted locations, although not the most haunted places here in Connecticut. It’s not recommended to seek out these paranormal happenings, but you never know what you might find this Halloween season.


Ryan Amato is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at ryan.amato@uconn.edu.