Stories of hauntings in its abandoned military hospital piqued my interest to this destination. I have read its history, how it molded the landscape on this side of Pampanga, and how the huffing of Mount Pinatubo puffed out the lights of this former US military base. It also shares a story of rising up from the volcanic ashes to become a prime destination for business and pleasure. This is progressive township of Clark in Pampanga!
Clark Field was originally established as Fort Stotsenberg in 1903 under the US Army. A portion of the camp was used as a landing field and was called Clark Field, in honor of Harold Clark - a military aviator who resided in Manila from 1904 to 1910. It was one of the largest airfields during World War 2 and served as a major operations center of the Japanese Imperial Army. It remained as a major stronghold of the US and Philippine military forces after the war until the departure of the Americans in 1991, following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.
Clark has long risen from the ashes spewed by Mount Pinatubo. From a military base to a bustling tourism and economic hub, this destination serves as the gateway to the north with a long list of places to discover and explore. My recent visit had me walking around the historical core of Clark. The place where it all started.
The best way to start exploring the historical core of Clark is a quick visit to the Clark Museum. Located at one end of the parade grounds, the interactive museum walks you through the history of Pampanga and Clark. It also showcases the faith and culture of the Kapampangans. The museum also has a 4D Theater that will walk you through the early beginning and development of the township of Clark in a movie.
The Clark Museum has 4 galleries to enjoy. Gallery 1 walks you through the geology and geography of Pampanga. The province is a flat land sandwiched by two volcanoes - Pinatubo and Arayat. Both volcanoes played a huge role in the geography of the province. It has been the home of the Aetas and has a unique biodiversity. The uniqueness of Pampanga transcends to its colorful culture and this is featured in Gallery 2 of the museum. It walks you through its religious celebrations, Kapampangan culture, and creativity.
Gallery 3 and 4 focuses on the early beginnings of Clark as a military base to its development as an economic hub in Central Luzon. Gallery 3 gives you a brief on its historical core with its collection of artifacts from the past. It walks you through the humble beginnings of Fort Stotsenberg until the evacuation of the Clark in the wake of Mount Pinatubo’s eruption. The history leads guests to the present-day Clark with its industries, development, activities, and attractions. It also gives you a preview of the future of its township.
Unfortunately, I was not able to check out the 4D Theater because I was not able to catch the scheduled showing time. The museum and the theater have separate entrance fees of Php100 each. Both the museum and theater are great ways to start your exploration of Clark because it gives you a better overview of the destinations to visit.
Fort Stotsenberg Historical Marker / Clark Parade Grounds
Just right in front of the museum is the Clark Parade Grounds - a sprawling open oval field at the heart of Clark’s historical core. Barn Houses, that now serves as offices and restaurants, are lined up along the sides of the field. The grounds give you a landscape view of the area at any point of the oval. It kind of reminded me of the UP Oval, the only difference is that you get to see the other side of the oval from where you are standing.
The parade ground is a popular spot for activities with family and friends. The wide expanse allows you to choose your spot to enjoy an afternoon picnic or to simply enjoy the views and the activities happening around you. As I walked along the jogging trail, I enjoyed watching a soccer game, kids playing by the grass, families spending time with each other, and friends doing their jogging rounds while sharing stories and laughter. This is a perfect spot in Clark to wind down at the end of the day.
The Clark Parade Grounds was a mute witness of the place’s early beginnings. The Fort Stotsenberg Historical Marker stands alongside the pillars of the gates of the original camp along the oval. It outlines the history of the field as an Aeta community before becoming a militart camp and eventually as an economic center in Pampanga. A monument was built that flanks the pillars to emphasize the military history of the place.
The grounds is also a perfect place to catch the sunset. I realized this as I enjoyed an afternoon stroll around the grounds. You can choose a spot where you get to enjoy the warmth of the sun as it sinks down behind the mountain ranges along the Mount Pinatubo area.
Barn Houses / Historical Structures
The Clark Museum has a display that mapped out Clark Airbase. Interestingly, these buildings were assigned a number for reference. Most of these structures are still in use today, either as an office or for business, and most are clustered along the historical core of Clark. Some now stand in ruins that serve as a memory of Clark’s heydays.
This is the map of Clark Airbase on display at the Clark Museum.
Lined up on one side of the parade grounds are the Barn Houses. These large houses date back to 1903 when Fort Stotsenburg was established as a military camp. It was interesting to find how these structures give you that American-community feel, the kind that you watch on US shows. I guess living or working in these barn houses give you that refreshing and quaint provincial vibe overall.
There are a couple of historical structures that you can find along the perimeters of the parade grounds. Building 2122 was once a bowling alley that later on became the office of the Post Commander and now the Office of the CEO of the Clark Development Corporation. Building 2425 was built in 1914 and served as a post office. It now serves as a the tourism office of Clark. As you walk around the oval, historical briefs are given for each building that holds significance to Clark.
There are other structures that you find around the area. A walk around Air Force City will bring you to the Ruins of the Old Kelly Theater and Building 5788 - the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, I was not able to take pictures as it is prohibited inside the camp. Building 5396 is stationed off a little further and serves as another chapel of the camp.
Clark Philippine Flag Pole and President Manuel Roxas Death Place Historical Marker
Located at one end of the oval stands the Clark Philippine Flag Pole. The flagpole has been on that location since the early beginnings of the military camp. It was erected in 1906 with a cost of USD220. It now stands proudly as a symbol of independence and resilience.
At the base of the flagpole stands a historical marker of Clark being the death place of former President Manuel Roxas. He was the 5th President of the Philippines and died after delivering a speech at the Kelly Theater. His term was the shortest for a Philippine President at 22 months and 18 days. Two other memorials stand adjacent to his NHI memorial honoring the men and women who fought and died during World War 2.
Clark Abandoned Hospital
If there was one destination that really made Clark interesting to me from the start, it is the Clark Abandoned Hospital. My interest in dark tourism placed Clark on my map because of the creepy stories of this hospital. It was featured as one of the scariest place on earth. This time around I made sure to make a quick visit.
Completed in December 1964, the Clark Hospital was built at a cost of USD6 million and was considered as one of the most advanced medical facility in Asia during its heydays. It had a capacity of 200 beds and was a mute witness to the casualties of the Vietnam War. It ceased operations in 1991 after the Americans pulled out of Clark and the hospital was buried with a 12-inch deep volcanic ash. Looters and nature took over the structure leaving only its empty shell.
The stories of its hauntings were shared by locals and was even featured in international news. It is probably because of its bloody history that gave life to these haunting stories. From shrill screams to apparitions to objects being thrown, the stories have made rounds that either scared people away or attracted them to visit out of curiosity. They say that the morgue of the hospital was the most haunted.
Did I feel anything when I went to explore it? It made me feel uneasy when I was there. There were times when I could sense that a lot of eyes were looking at me that gave me the creepy feeling. I could sense a young boy who was curious of my presence. The chill ran down my spine a couple of times but I was not scared. More than the scare, I was interested with the stories inside the walls of the abandoned hospital. I am looking forward to walking its halls soon, after the National Museum turns it into a provincial branch of the museum where the living and dead can share its stories side by side.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Clark was like a phoenix that rose from the ashes of Mount Pinatubo. It continues to grow and change the landscape of the region from the time that it was established as a military camp to its current status as an economic center. It has seen the ravages of war and a volcanic eruption and yet it continues on picking up the pieces and rebuilding better from what was lost. A true symbol of the Pinoy’s strength and resiliency.
Every Philippine destination has a humble story on how it all began. Behind its development, you can find remnants and memories of the past that brought tears and smiles to its residents. It shares with you the ups and the downs of the past that paved the way to a stronger community. We need to value the past for us to see the best for our future.
Getting there: Major airlines have direct flights to Clark from major airports in the country and in some international airports. If you are coming from Manila, you can take a P2P bus to SM City Clark from Trinoma. You can take a taxi or Grab to the Clark Museum. You can explore Clark’s historical core by foot from the Clark Museum.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.