America's Most Haunted Asylums!
Compiled by April Slaughter and Troy Taylor
If spirits are truly the personalities of those who once lived, then wouldn’t these spirits reflect whatever turmoil might have plagued them in life? And if hauntings can sometimes be the effects of trauma being imprinted on the atmosphere of a place, then wouldn’t places where terror and insanity were commonplace be especially prone to these hauntings? As an answer to both of these questions, we need point no further to the crumbling remains of the former state hospitals that dot the landscape of America.
In the tamat years of the mostly abandoned old asylums, after the last patients had departed, staff members in the buildings started to report some odd occurrences. Could events of days gone by still be lingering here? What macabre history occurred in these now crumbling building? There are many tales to tell about these sad and forlorn places. They are strange stories filled with social reform, insanity – and ghosts.
Rolling Hills Asylum
E. Bethany, New York
In January 1827, the Genesee County Poorhouse was opened to house and provide means of work for individuals struggling to make their way. The mentally ill, physically disabled, orphans, those struggling with addictions, and vagrants and paupers were all residents of the asylum. With an estimated 1,700 bodies buried in unmarked graves on the property, it is no wonder that Rolling Hills has attracted a great deal of attention from both the living and the dead. Visitors often report seeing the apparitions of many peering out from the windows above. Resident and benevolent ghost Roy Crouse, a patient who passed at the asylum in 1942, often interacts with investigators and seems to keep a watchful eye over the property owners. It is not uncommon for visitors to witness shadow people moving about the rooms and hallways of the asylum, to be touched by unseen hands, and hold conversations with the disembodied.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
Weston, West Virginia
Originally designed to house and care for a maximum of 250 souls in 1864, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was bursting at the seams with patients numbering over 2,400 by the 1950s. The massive 242,000 square foot facility was intended to treat the mentally ill, but it is alleged that its history is riddled with incidents of abuse and neglect. These horrors, combined with the sheer number of deaths that occurred within the walls of the asylum, have left an indelible supernatural mark on the property since its closing in 1994. Screams reportedly emanate from the area of the facility once used to administer electroshock therapy. The sound of gurneys being pushed down the hallways, whispered conversation, and the sightings of various apparitions are all commonplace. The fourth floor is particularly active, though experiences have been reported throughout the entire building.
Norwich State Hospital for the Mentally Insane
Opened in 1904 on the Thames River, the original hospital was a single building resting on 100 acres that was later joined by an additional twenty structures stretching the property lines to nearly 900 acres. A series of tunnels were constructed below the buildings for easy passage and access to each. The hospital was responsible for the care of the mentally insane, the chemically dependent, those stricken with tuberculosis, as well as some of the state’s most violent and disturbed criminal offenders. The number of patients admitted peaked in the 1950s at over 3,000, but steadily declined until the hospital was finally closed in 1996. The structure now sits vacant and rotting, but is allegedly still inhabited by patients who, even after death, call Norwich home. Curiosity seekers report hearing items moving about on their own. Faces appear and disappear through broken windows, and an unexplainable mists form and move throughout the building. Blood-curdling screams and sounds thought to be inhuman are just a few of the paranormal experiences reported to occur here.
Bartonville Insane Asylum / Pollak Hospital
Construction on the first buildings here actually began in 1885 and were completed in 1887. The hospital, when completed, resembled a medieval castle with battlements and turrets. It was a foreboding structure and one not fit for the kind of progressive medicine that was planned for it. Despite the huge costs involved in building it, it was never used and was torn down in 1897. In 1902, Pollak hospital would reopen with Dr. George A. Zeller, a pioneer in mental health, at the helm and with 33 different buildings used to house patients. The hospital’s burial ground eventually grew to include four cemeteries, which were located behind the main buildings. By 1973, the Pollak Hospital was one of the last buildings on the grounds of the asylum that were still in use. During the hospital’s years of operation, hundreds died within its walls and according to stories and eyewitness accounts, scores of their spirits stayed behind to walk the wards and hallways of the crumbling building. The atmosphere of the place alone is more than enough to justify the reports of the apparitions and strange energy encountered there.
Danvers State Hospital
This elaborate and massive 700,000 square foot gothic structure was built in 1874 to help ease the overcrowding of local area hospitals caring for the mentally ill. 2,000 patients filled every available space by the 1930s, which was an issue considering that it was only designed to house a maximum of 450. Lack of funding produced the minimum amount of care, and patients often underwent ‘therapies’ to subdue and control behaviors, including lobotomies, insulin and electroshock therapies, and many were placed in straightjackets. Patients were eventually removed to other facilities and the state officially closed Danvers in 1992. Since then, the overwhelming energy of the property has attracted attention from those who believe it is haunted by the souls who once lived and suffered within its walls. Apparitions of past residents, unexplained footsteps, disembodied screaming, and the sudden and violent movement of objects within the building are not uncommon. Danvers was the filming location for the eerie 1999 horror film, "Session 9."
Topeka State Hospital
This facility was opened in 1879 to help ease the issue of overcrowding at the nearby Osawatomie State Hospital. As with a great deal many of these facilities at the time, TSH eventually gained a reputation for patient neglect and mistreatment, mainly attributed to a lack of proper funding. Stories of patients being left to spend their days confined to rocking chairs in the hallways were common. It was also alleged that at least one patient was left in leather restraints so long their skin had begun to grow around them. Forced sterilizations for certain patients came into practice beginning in 1913 and carried on until 1961 when they ceased altogether. Therapist Stephanie Uhlrig was murdered on February 23, 1992 by patient Kenneth D. Waddell and discovered in a facility bathroom. These incidents alone would be enough to spark stories of paranormal activity on the property, but the existence of a 2.8 acre unmarked cemetery on the grounds has certainly added to the mystique. The state of Kansas closed TSH on May 17, 1997. The main building, as well as others, were ultimately demolished in 2010, but those who’ve spent time on the grounds believe it is still a hotbed of paranormal activity. Mist-like apparitions have often been photographed, and the sound of crying/sobbing has been captured on digital audio recordings. Music is also often heard in real-time emanating from the area where the main hospital building once stood.
The Athens Lunatic Asylum (as it was originally known) first opened its doors to the mentally ill on January 9, 1974. Its picturesque setting was thought to aid in rehabilitation, but patients most often lived out the remainder of their lives in the facility once admitted, and many were subject to treatments that could hardly be deemed as anything less than cruel. Patients were commonly subjected to ice bath and electroshock therapies, the most unfortunate among them given lobotomies. In December of 1978, patient Margaret Schilling was found missing. A maintenance worker discovered her lifeless body over a month later in an area of the facility that hadn’t been in use for quite some time. A permanent impression of her body is still visible on the concrete floor. Margaret’s ghost allegedly haunts the Ridges to this day. Her apparition has been seen roaming about the hallways and peering out of windows. The on-site cemetery is also said to be frequented by the ghosts of those who passed away at the asylum and whose remains were left unclaimed by family members. A peculiar circular arrangement of headstones in the cemetery is rumored to be a sacred meeting place for practicing occultists. The Ridges saw the last of its patients in 1993, and the buildings became the property Ohio University. The Kennedy Museum building is now the only remaining structure open to the public.
Pennhurst State School & Hospital
Spring City, Pennsylvania
Pennhurst originally opened in 1908 as the Eastern State Pennsylvania Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic. As with most institutions of its kind, it quickly became overcrowded with patients. The facility’s administrators and staff were not only unable to adequately care for those placed at Pennhurst, many of them became neglectful and highly abusive over the years. In 1968, Bill Baldini of CBS10 exposed many of the institution’s atrocities in a five-part television news report entitled “Suffer the Little Children” in which he referred to Pennhurst as a ‘monument to apathy.’ In 1983, nine employees were charged with assaulting patients as well as arranging and encouraging altercations between the patients themselves. The neglect and abuse continued for years until the facility was finally shut down in 1987. The amount of suffering that occurred within its walls is inconceivable. It is no wonder that a certain type of energy still hovers over the property today. Disembodied screams of pain and agony are often heard emanating from the buildings. Full-body apparitions walk the premises, and have allegedly engaged visitors to the site. Doors inexplicably open and slam shut, objects move without explanation, and a heavy, oppressive feeling is nearly palpable. Many asylums and hospitals are said to be haunted, but few have a reputation as deserving as Pennhurst.
Essex Mountain Sanatorium
Verona, New Jersey
In 1902, the Newark City Home for Girls was opened to house and care for young delinquent females, but within a few short years, the number of those in need of assistance declined and the building was left vacant. With a steadily rising number of individuals in Newark battling tuberculosis, the facility reopened as the Newark City Home for Consumptives in 1907. As the need grew, so too did the number of buildings constructed on the property. In the 1950s, with the discovery and development of antibiotic treatment for tuberculosis, the number of patients dwindled, and the empty buildings were used to house the overflow of mental patients from Overbrook, a psychiatric treatment facility nearby. The sanatorium closed its doors with the release of its last patient in 1977. Over the years, rumors have circulated that the souls of escaped lunatics haunt the tunnels below ground. Trespassing on the property is forbidden, but that hasn’t kept eager ghost hunters from sneaking inside to experience the phenomena of Essex for themselves. The ghostly apparitions of children reportedly run through the hallways and dart into rooms on the third floor of the main building. Strange mists appear and dissipate without explanation, and people often report hearing screams of agony throughout the property.
Manteno Mental Hospital
Manteno admitted its first patient in December of 1930 and operated for fifty years before being closed in December of 1985. Unlike most preceding asylums, this facility was laid out in a cottage plan to create a community-like setting. The mentally ill were treated here along with those stricken with typhoid and tuberculosis. “Mittimus” patients (individuals found innocent of a felony due to insanity) were also placed at Manteno beginning in the 1960s. As was so often the case with such facilities, overcrowding and a lack of competent staff led to a decline in the quality of care and contributed to the rise of patient neglect. The residents of Manteno were no strangers to suffering. Many died here, including those who fell victim to murder and suicide. While most of the cottages and facility structures are no longer standing, the Morgan cottage remains. Those who venture inside to investigate (despite the fact that trespassing is forbidden) have experienced a wide range of paranormal phenomena. A shadow figure has been seen and photographed in the cottage, and sounds of various kinds, seemingly without origin, are often heard inside. EVP recordings demanding visitors to ‘GET OUT’ are common, and an unmistakable sense of foreboding leaves a lasting impression on many who enter.
State Lunatic Asylum No. 2
St. Joseph, Missouri
The asylum in St. Joseph opened in November 1874 with 25 patients. Dr. George C. Catlett was the hospital's first superintendent. Demand caused rapid growth. The original 275 beds filled quickly. An additional 120 beds were added, and then another 350. Relatives who could no longer provide for their family members' special needs admitted most patients. A devastating fire in 1879 only temporarily slowed that growth. When the hospital reopened in 1880, it became a sanctuary not only for the mentally ill, but also for tuberculosis patients, syphilitic patients, alcoholic patients, and patients with physical disabilities. By the early 1950s, the patient population had grown to nearly 3,000, which made the hospital one of the largest employers in St. Joseph. It was not until the 1970s that the hospital began to downsize in order to concentrate on treating the mentally ill. Patients who suffered from physical illnesses were transferred to other hospitals for specialized treatment. Although closed for many years, the former hospital is now home to the Glore Psychiatric Museum, which is named for its founder George Glore, who spent most of his 41-year career with the Missouri Department of Mental Health nurturing its collections into arguably the largest and best single exhibition explaining the evolution of mental health care in the United States. It has since been named one of the "most unusual museums in the U.S.” and it’s also one of the most haunted. The building is very actively haunted by spirits from the past and scores of paranormal encounters have been reported, from running footsteps, slamming doors, voices, cries and even apparitions of patients, nurses and doctors that are present one moment and vanished the next.