It's hard to think of anything creepier than an abandoned sanatorium or asylum. The very concept of locking away the mentally ill, let alone in such inhumane conditions as the patients of these asylums experienced, is horrifying today. Between 1825 and 1865, the number of asylums in the US skyrocketed from nine to 62... and that wasn't even the peak. Thankfully, a better understanding of mental illness and increased accountability have rendered most of these institutions obsolete, especially in the 1950s, with the invention of antipsychotic medication... but in many cases, the buildings (often beautiful, ornate old structures) remain, a grim reminder of an era of lobotomies, straight jackets, and electroshock "treatments". Here are a few abandoned asylums you can tour today.
Rolling Hills Asylum started its life as a poor house in 1826; it was originally created to care for orphaned children, destitute elderly, the physically handicapped, alcoholics, the mentally unstable and morally corrupt, even criminals, the homeless and the very poor. It was a functioning farm and the "inmates" (yes, they were all referred to as "inmates" regardless of their situation) did all of the work; those who were a danger to themselves or others were housed in a different building. Today, it is, without a doubt, very haunted, possibly by the spirits of those buried in the forgotten cemetery onsite. Historical tours, flashlight tours, ghost hunts, and horror movie screenings all take place here periodically... in case you've ever wanted to watch a scary movie in a haunted insane asylum.
The Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane opened in 1869 and quickly filled up with patients. Most of them spent the rest of their lives here on the grounds of the asylum. They were free to walk around, use the gym and bowling alley, or work on the farm, and were likely better off than they would have been at home... but they were still confined to the grounds, and many were subjected to brutal treatments. Willard was abandoned in 1995, and today the grounds are used as training facilities for the Department of Correctional Facilities. You can't really visit per se, but there's an exhibit that goes on display periodically that features the recently discovered suitcases containing the belongings of some of the inmates. Seeing what the institutionalized brought along with them, dolls, clothes, newspaper clippings, drawings... it's a humanizing experience that's incredibly powerful.
As if being an actual abandoned, haunted asylum wasn't enough, Pennhurst Asylum (aka Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic) operates as a haunted house during the Halloween season. Historically, it had a massive campus with 3,350 beds and was known for its often brutal treatment of patients. In the late 60s, an expose on the harsh conditions caught widespread attention, and in the 80s, workers were charged with abuse and assault of the patients and each other. Finally, a federal abuse lawsuit forced the closure of the asylum. If you're really dedicated to ghost hunting, you can rent out the place and do some investigating on your own... if you dare!
Construction on the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum began in 1858, and was completed in 1864. The building, which was designed in the Kirkbride Plan style, was self-sufficient, meaning it had its own farm, waterworks, and even a cemetery located on the 666 acres of land (spooky!). The long staggered "wings" of the asylum were built specifically to bring in fresh-air and sunlight, and to give patients privacy, which was something many were not used to during that time period.
Initially the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was only supposed to hold 250 patients, but at its peak in 1949 the asylum was holding upwards of 2,600 people in dangerously overcrowded conditions. At the time the hospital was home to people being treated for various conditions including, "epileptics, alcoholics, drugs addicts, and non-educable mental defectives", but by 1949 local newspapers were reporting on the poor sanitization and dangerous conditions at the hospital. Unable to keep its doors open any longer, Trans-Allegheny officially closed in May of 1994.
For many years the asylum had a reputation for being an extremely dangerous and violent place with many reports of patients attacking and even killing one another. There are stories of female employees who were raped and killed by patients not being properly monitored thanks to overcrowding and understaffing. One woman's body was even discovered after two months at the bottom of an unused staircase, where she had been killed and dumped.
Many believe that all of this death and violence that took place inside the hospital helped to create one of the most haunted buildings in the country, and often visitors report having run-ins with spirits still trapped inside. Many of those experiences include the sound of gurneys being moved, screams coming from inside the electro-shock room when there is no one else around, and strange shadows. The most active part of the building is rumored to be the fourth floor, where many have experienced banging, screaming, and even the spirit of a soldier named Jacob who has been seen walking the empty corridors in the night.
In 2007 the building was bought at auction for $1.5 million and even though the National Historic Landmark offers both historical tours and ghost tours, the survival of the building is still at risk. Guests are invited to take one (or all) of the 5 unique historical tours, and fans of the paranormal are in luck because TALA offers 8-hour ghost hunts of different wards depending on what you're interested in.
Historical tours run between March 29th to November 2nd, but make sure to book your appointment ahead of time. The hospital offers day time ghost hunts, and flashlight tours that will run you anywhere between 10 to 40 bucks, which for a 2 hour guided tour is pretty darn awesome.
St Albans Lutheran Boys School opened in 1892, and in 1916, it was converted into a hospital for the mentally ill. Electroshock therapy, insulin coma therapy, and hydro shock therapy didn't stop many patient suicides, and you can sense a lot of the dark energy here even just by coming onto the property. They offer tours and events on the property a few times a year, and ghost hunts are very popular at St Albans, so if you're feeling brave enough to explore, keep your eyes peeled.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium was actually built to house patients with tuberculosis, a very contagious disease that, in the 19th century had reached epidemic proportions. Hundreds of patients passed through the doors of the sanatorium and most never left; even though they weren't classified as mentally ill and didn't experience EST or ice baths, they still endured some pretty harsh conditions, including extreme isolation. By the time a cure was discovered in the 1940s, many had succumbed to TB here, and today, you can tour the incredibly haunted estate.
Cedar Lane Cemetery is home to rows upon rows of numbered iron markers. What these markers represent are the souls of the insane that died at Milledgeville's Central State Hospital, which at one point was the world's largest insane asylum. However, the insane asylum in Milledgeville was sorely lacking in effective burial methods. It's believed that the fields around where the asylum once stood are the site of a secret mass grave, where tens of thousands of souls are interred, without identification by way of grave markers. The hospital was built in 1842 in response to social reform movements. By 1872, the ratio of patients to physicians was a shocking rate of 112-1.
During the 40s the hospital had about 10,000 patients, who lived there for about 20 years on average. During this time shock therapy was introduced on a massive scale. As if that wasn't bad enough, in 1951, lobotomies were introduced. 125 patients received lobotomies. By this point, local area newspapers began to take note of the deteriorating conditions and frequently ran reports of patient abuse. Despite all this, people continued to send unwanted patients here. By the 60s the hospital housed over 12,000 patients.
Some patients were lucky enough to be discharged from the hospital eventually, following treatment. Unfortunately, many, many others were not as lucky. For these unlucky patients, what waited for them after death was burial in an unmarked mass grave. It's believed over 30,000 of these neglected souls are now buried throughout the surrounding grounds.
In the late 1930s, an African-American cemetery was dug up and the bodies were removed, often placed in small boxes, and marked with a lone metal pole. Each new body was identified numerically. There are six cemeteries that went neglected for decades. Many consider this mass burial ground to be the world's largest for the mentally ill.
The historic marker at the cemetery states the following:
"In 1997, a cemetery restoration began here triggered a movement to memorialize patients buried at state psychiatric hospitals nationwide. After discovering nearby neglected cemeteries interred some 25,000 people, members of the Georgia Consumer Council pledge to restore the burial grounds and build a memorial. A grassroots campaign raised funds to erect the adjacent gate and display 2,000 numbered iron markers displaced from graves over the years. A life-size bronze angel was placed 175 yards south of here to serve as a perpetual guardian."