“Haunted asylum” sounds redundant, doesn’t it? Of course old, abandoned buildings that once housed mentally ill patients would be haunted!
The trope has popped up in multiple movies and TV episodes–usually featuring teenagers too dumb to know that spending the night in any abandoned building is a bad. But there’s more to the story than Hollywood wants you to know.
You could certainly argue that so-called lunatic asylums are terrifying enough without the threat of ghosts. These places were reviled for their inhumane treatment of patients; many of them were eventually shut down and left abandoned.
Many of the most notorious asylums were built according to the Kirkbride plan. In the mid 19th century, the asylums were revolutionary for providing patients with access to fresh air and natural light. However, despite the modest improvement in living conditions, patients were still treated with incredible cruelty.
At the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia, for example, patients were severely overcrowded. The hospital was supposed to house just 250 patients, but by the time it was shut down, 2,600 people were being held there.
Their solution to overcrowding? Forced lobotomies.
The state arranged to have patients lobotomized and then released into the general public. The patients confined to the asylum included those with mental disabilities, along with alcoholics and drug addicts.
These eerie monuments to pain and brutality are finding a new life as ghost-hunting hotspots. As you can see above in the Travel Channel show “Portals to Hell,” the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is reported to be massively haunted. You can visit the hospital for ghost tours–including the overnight package.
Some of the ghosts encountered by visitors include Lilly, a little girl who was born at the hospital, as well as Civil War soldiers. One infamous ghost is that of a mentally disabled man who was murdered by his criminally insane roommates. Another has been known to mess with visitors’ flashlights during night-time tours.
Although the Trans-Allegheny facility is the most famous haunted asylum in America, there are many, many others. Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane in Ovid, New York, is another Kirkbride plan facility.
There are thousands of bodies buried in unmarked graves there, as well as the notorious attic full of suitcases. The grim discovery revealed the belongings that patients brought with them to the hospital. You can see the fascinating pictures here.
Rockhaven Sanitarium in Glendale, California, is another former asylum, albeit with a less sinister reputation. Founded by Agnes Richards, a nurse who had seen the horrors of Kirkbride asylums, Rockhaven was built in the Spanish Mission style and featured a sculpture garden. Although it was eventually shut down, Rockhaven symbolizes a more humane alternative to the crushing horrors of the other asylums.
That doesn’t mean the place is free from ghosts, however. Location TV station KCET reports that Rockhaven is a hotbed of paranormal activity. “Unusual encounters include lights switching on, clocks changing time, figures passing in front of windows, disembodied voices, knocking on the walls, and items appearing out of nowhere (most spectacularly, a piano that had previously only been seen in vintage photographs),” they claim.