Emory Campus, Briarcliff A Building in Stranger Things as the Hawkins National Laboratory
by Ben Parker
The production site for the “Hawkins National Laboratory” in the science fiction thriller series, Stranger Things, is currently owned by Emory University as Briarcliff Campus. The storage facility has a strange history in and of itself. In the 1920s, the property was renovated from a farm to the regal, multi-facetted Briarcliff Estate, by the son of the owner of Coca-Cola at the time, fixed with greenhouses, tennis courts, a zoo building, and a community pool. A real-life Gatsby, Buddie sold Briarcliff to the State Alcohol Commission to be an alcoholics rehabilitation center in 1953. From 1965-1997, it was then owned and operated by Emory Hospital as a psychiatric unit called the Georgia Mental Health Institute (Williams).
In the series, Stranger Things, created by brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, the facility of Briarcliff holds a darker meaning. Known as the “Hawkins National Laboratory” in the show, the facility was constructed as one of the many CIA facilities in the United States researching MK Ultra mind control. At the laboratory, countless human test subjects, held against their will, undergo torturous psychological experiments. When one test subject gives birth to a child born with telekinetic abilities due to the experimentation, the child is taken from her mother by the program director of Hawkins and raised there, given a number as a name and constantly being tested on. The shady, unethical practices of the laboratory are concealed to the public, under the guise of an electricity company.
The state of Georgia is increasingly becoming a hub for television and film production. Georgia has offered a tax credit of 30 percent to productions that spends at least $500,000 in the state (Ho). By creating this condition of a tax incentive, Georgia has successfully channeled an outlet to put more money into the state’s economy. This not only brings in money from the production companies themselves, but it also imagines the facility as a “creative locale,” promoting tourism and increasing property value (Rappas and Kayhan). Although this is good for Georgia economically, it raises the question as to how the space now pertains culturally.
For one, finding information on the psychiatric unit that Briarcliff once was is now less accessible to the public, erasing history of the property. A simple search for the “Georgia Mental Health Institute” in the archives of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, gives way to the first result, an article entitled “Visit metro Atlanta ‘Stranger Things’ Shooting Locations” (Waterhouse). This creates a “third culture” of the facility, or a history based off of universal themes that do not lend to Atlanta specifically (Tinic). This false reality created by the shows’ presence has created speculation toward Emory, as fans rely on this third culture as truth. Several media outlets including Architectural Digest and the AJC have headlined articles about the facility as “haunted,” while within the readings of the articles, nothing has been cited to prove as such. Although the history of the area is questionable, the shows’ frightening spin on it has increased the property’s mystery. All that is left sure about the space is that it is now a “media neighborhood,” as the content is imbricated there as a part of daily life (Parmett). The facility is only accessible to film production companies renting out the space (Lefton). Because of this, the property will probably not be restored or improved. Urban regeneration is usually a positive of runaway production, though because this area benefits from appearing run-down, it will remain as such.
Ho, Rodney. Another Record Breaking Year for Georgia Film and TV: 455 Productions, $2.7 Billion in Direct Spending. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 21, August 2018. Accessed by https://www.ajc.com/blog/radiotvtalk/another-record-breaking-year-for-georgia-film-and-455-productions-billion-direct-spending/lWsXHKRljoebL2I09KAwqO/
Institute, The Templin, director. Hawkins National Laboratory | Stranger Things. YouTube, YouTube, 23 Oct. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mp-MDCpc9M.
Lefton, Monica. “Stranger Things in Familiar Places.” The Emory Wheel. 15 November 2017. Accessed by https://emorywheel.com/26443-2/
Parmett, Helen. “Media as a Spatial Practice: Treme and the Production of the Media Neghborhood.” Journal of Media and Cultural Studies. 2014.
Rappas, Ipek and Kayhan, Sezen. “TV Series Production and the Urban Restructuring of Istanbul.”
Stamp, Elizabeth. “Stranger Things’s Filming Locations are Just as Spooky in Real Life.” Architectural Digest. 4 August 2016. Accessed by https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/stranger-things-filming-locations-are-just-as-spooky-in-real-life
Tinic, Serra. “The Runaway Locations Industry and Transnational Production Cultures.”
Waterhouse, John. “Visit Metro Atlanta ‘Stranger Things’ Shooting Locations.” The Atlanta Journal- Constitution. 4, January, 2017. Accessed by https://www.myajc.com/entertainment/television/visit-metro-atlanta-stranger-things-shooting-locations/zoLnZ66iNU3YZmAPYuL6AM/