The Babcock Building

“Things change. People come and go. You quietly remain…”

POETIC REFLECTIONS

The Babcock Building of the SC State Psychiatric Hospital was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 and closed in the early 1990s. William S. Hall Psychiatric Institute and several other buildings remained active on the campus in Columbia, SC while I was in residency and fellowship from 2009 - 2014. I did rotations on this campus, took many walks around the campus, and always felt most drawn to the Babcock Building and its iconic cupula. I left Columbia in 2018 and was heartbroken to hear that the Babcock Building had been damaged by fire in September 2020. I was so afraid the building would be destroyed; however, the building was bought and is being renovated. I was fortunate enough to take a tour of the building this past February, and I wrote this poem after being deeply moved by my visit.


Time steps on, and I keep returning to you –

Always thinking it will be for the last time.


Things change. People come and go.

You quietly remain.


Your checkboard entrance is more broken, more worn each time I cross it.

This time you are charred, singed…crumbling into ash.

Life tried to be done with you.

I thought we were done for.


Not you. You were never done. Never finished. Never giving up. Never losing your mind.

I did not realize how capillaries were secretly growing inside of you,

Expanding out like webs to your brick walls, your tin roof.

Feeding twisted arteries and plump veins to pump blood into my muscles and sinews.

I am in awe of the creatures we are becoming.


I have never truly seen you as I saw you this day.

I have never let myself be seen by you.

You saw who I am. Who I am becoming.

I am so sorry I thought we were done for.


I should have known you could never die – you living being. You magnificent living being.


Breathing in, waiting for you to exhale me.

Spiraling deep down within you.

I am dizzy inside you, teetering on the edge.

Just right on that edge with you holding the back of my shirt.


It is divine. You are holding me on the edge of everything. And you do not let go.


I want to be held by you for all time.

I am not able to contain all the love and gratitude I have for you.


I ask again, how are you part of my journey?

I wonder if I have been one of the thousands of people who you have homed in this world.

The lost orphan souls that you keep gently harboring, lifetime after lifetime.

I want to hide in you for all time.


There is light in our darkness.

You and I have just had to use our hearts to see it.


Dr Mason is the Division Chief of child & adolescent psychiatry at Prisma Health in Greenville, SC.