“LUNATIC ASYLUM APPARITIONS AND MENTAL HOSPITAL HORRORS” #WeirdDarkness

“LUNATIC ASYLUM APPARITIONS AND MENTAL HOSPITAL HORRORS” #WeirdDarkness

Listen to ““LUNATIC ASYLUM APPARITIONS AND MENTAL HOSPITAL HORRORS” #WeirdDarkness” on Spreaker.

Mental Institutions, psychiatric hospitals, lunatic asylums… whatever you want to call them, they can do good work if given the right resources and staff, helping patients to live through or possibly even overcome mental health crises. But even in the more well-funded locations, nightmares still occur according to both staff and patients. And even when those institutions are abandoned and left to rot, many refuse to release the tormented souls who have somehow found themselves entrapped there in the afterlife. We’ll look at haunted asylums, we’ll hear some horrifying true stories from both patients and workers about what happens inside asylums that are still in operation, and we’ll learn about the horrifying reality of mental asylums in the 19th century acting almost like amusement parks for paying visitors.

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SOURCES AND REFERENCES FROM THE EPISODE…

“Madness In The Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum” by Katie Serena for All That’s Interesting: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/3k8t8far and Kathy Weiser-Alexander for Legends of America:https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/mryb2uv3
“Athens Asylum for the Insane” by Kathy Weiser-Alexander for Legends of America: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/mvx5kr9z

“The Buffalo State Asylum” posted at The Scare Chamber: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/2a5jacp3
“Haunted Asylums” by Christopher Myers for Ranker: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/bdt42kwa

“Psych Ward Horror Stories” by Duke Harton: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/2a4avdvz and Isadora Teich: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/57t2z279 for Ranker.

“Seeing the Sights at the Psych Ward” by Christy Box for Ranker: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/mr3bn87b

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PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT:

DISCLAIMER: Ads heard during the podcast that are not in my voice are placed by third party agencies outside of my control and should not imply an endorsement by Weird Darkness or myself. *** Stories and content in Weird Darkness can be disturbing for some listeners and intended for mature audiences only. Parental discretion is strongly advised.

INTRODUCTION=====

***After being interrupted by the Civil War, construction on the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia was finally completed in 1881, though the first patient was actually admitted in 1864. The facility was built following the Kirkbride Plan which called for the massive gothic buildings typical of asylums during the era. It was designed to house 250 patients, but at one point overcrowding led to 2,400 patients. During its 130 years in operation, the facility bore witness to countless horrors within the grounds. Misbehaving patients were routinely chained up in solitary confinement for months at a time. Several murders occurred here, with the victims including both patients and staff. One murder was committed by a patient named Joe. With the help of a friend he grabbed the recently lobotomized patient Charley and placed him on the ground. They picked up a bed and placed a post on Charley’s head… and then jumped on the bed. While countless souls have been witnessed wandering the halls of the abandoned asylum, the spirit of a young girl named Lilly is particularly well documented. Asylum expert Shelley Bailey was with a group in the “blue room” when she encountered the spirit. The group asked Lilly if she would like to play, and placed a red ball on the floor. A few moments later, the ball rolled on its own to the far wall. The group played with Lilly for several minutes, bouncing the ball back and forth with their invisible playmate.

I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.

SHOW OPEN=====

Welcome, Weirdos – (I’m Darren Marlar and) this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.

Coming up in this episode…

Mental Institutions, psychiatric hospitals, lunatic asylums… whatever you want to call them, they can do good work if given the right resources and staff, helping patients to live through or possibly even overcome mental health crises. But even in the more well-funded locations, nightmares still occur according to both staff and patients. And even when those institutions are abandoned and left to rot, many refuse to release the tormented souls who have somehow found themselves entrapped there in the afterlife. We’ll look at haunted asylums, we’ll hear some horrifying true stories from both patients and workers about what happens inside asylums that are still in operation, and we’ll learn about the horrifying reality of mental asylums in the 19th century acting almost like amusement parks for paying visitors.

If you’re new here, welcome to the show! While you’re listening, be sure to check out WeirdDarkness.com for merchandise, to visit sponsors you hear about during the show, sign up for my newsletter, enter contests, connect with me on social media, plus, you can visit the Hope in the Darkness page if you’re struggling with depression or dark thoughts. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.

Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!

STORY: MADNESS IN THE TRANS ALLEGHENY LUNATIC ASYLUM=====

In 1858, construction began on a new mental health facility in Weston, West Virginia. The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was meant to be a sharp departure from other institutions of the time.

Its creators wanted patients to be comfortable, not simply imprisoned the way they were at many other facilities.

At first, these plans for “moral treatment” seemed to be working. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the asylum began experiencing overcrowding. By the 1950s, the building was holding ten times the number of residents it was designed for, and the quality of care started to decline.

Unsupervised patients began acting out, setting several fires and even murdering fellow residents. Local newspapers caught on to what was happening and investigated, releasing stories about how dirty and neglected both the asylum and its patients were.

The facility closed in 1994, and today urban explorers and ghost hunters alike can be found roaming its abandoned halls. Take a peek inside this allegedly haunted asylum and its tragic history.

The Trans-Allegheny Asylum wasn’t always such a nightmarish facility. In fact, when construction began in the 1850s, the concept behind the institution was revolutionary.

The building was the brainchild of Thomas Story Kirkbride, a physician and crusader for the mentally ill who founded what would eventually become the American Psychiatric Association.

Kirkbride built on the foundation established by famous reformer Dorothea Dix, who sought to disabuse people of their misconceptions about mental illness — namely, that it was a shadowy, irreversible condition best treated in darkness with force and physical restraint.

Shaky as the science behind some of Kirkbride’s medical ideas was, it undeniably led to a more humane and effective plan of treatment for the residents of his asylums than any other practice of the era.

Kirkbride emphasized the importance of light and fresh air. He suggested that asylums be designed with open halls, high ceilings, plenty of windows, and ventilation that allowed for cross breezes.

He also emphasized freedom. Patients suffering from mental illness, he felt, should be allowed to roam as much as possible and find stimulation for their minds. They would behave better, not worse, if given more control over their own lives.

His ideas inspired the construction of 73 hospitals across the country built using the “Kirkbride Plan” in the second half of the 19th century — including the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.

When it opened its doors in 1864, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, renamed the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane and later Weston State Hospital, was a model of Thomas Kirkbride’s ideals.

It could house 250 patients, each with its own comfortable room. The building featured plenty of windows, giving residents access to natural light and fresh air.

The grounds covered more than 600 acres, according to Legends of America. They even included a working farm, a dairy herd, a water reservoir, and an ice plant. It was, as architect Richard Snowden Andrews had intended it to be, a self-sufficient, state-of-the-art facility, designed to make patients feel at home, well cared for, and restored.

As time went on, however, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum found its tranquil facilities overrun. By the 1930s, the hospital couldn’t keep up. The patients inside were running wild, and the outnumbered orderlies struggled to regain control.

In October 1935, residents of the institution set fire to the fourth floor of the building, completely destroying it. Another time, two patients tried to hang another resident with bedsheets. When that didn’t work, they crushed his head with a metal bed frame, killing him.

And in yet another incident, a nurse went missing — only to be found dead two months later at the bottom of an unused staircase.

At its peak in the 1950s, the hospital was crowded with 2,400 patients, more than ten times the number it was intended to house. And soon, local media started investigating the poor living conditions at the facility.

Throughout the 1900s, the Charleston Gazette published several reports exposing the terrible conditions within the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. In 1949, according to the Weston Hospital Revitalization Committee, the newspaper printed that the asylum looked “like a hogpen” and “smelled even worse.”

And in 1985, the paper reported that the hospital was “dirty and unkempt,” and that patients were naked and “confined to dirty wards with bathrooms smeared with feces.”

The exposé published by the Gazette spurred a movement to close down the hospital, but it wasn’t until 1994, after decades of squalor, that the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum shut its doors forever.

By the time the asylum was closed, only one part of it had been expanded enough to sufficiently accommodate demand: the cemetery.

Now, the once-ornate building, intended for healing but destined for destruction, sits abandoned, as if the patients simply vanished into thin air. Rooms are still filled with medical equipment and decrepit furniture, and wheelchairs litter the hallways.

Some believe the hospital is haunted. Visitors report seeing ghostly figures walking through the hallways at night and balls of light floating through the air.

The tales of hauntings and unearthly spirits lurking within the building and on the grounds started long before it ceased to be a hospital. After a few decades, the reports of hauntings and the sounds of restless souls became commonplace. Some workers were said to have stayed only a few days, quitting after hearing inexplicable noises, such as the squeaky wheels of gurneys rolling along a tiled hallway.

Thousands were committed to the asylum, and many died there. Over 2,000 people are buried in the cemetery.

The spirits are numerous and range from Civil War-era ghosts to children to ex-patients and staff.

Murders, rapists, and other violent offenders are said to continue to dwell in the building along with others whose only crime was depression or substance abuse.

Sightings include staff and visitors seeing ghostly figures walking through the hallways at night and glimpsing shadowy figures at all hours. One doctor even reported that a spirit followed her home and continues to trouble her to this day. Others have reported seeing a ball of light moving in a hallway and spying apparitions dressed in white.

On the first floor of the building, which is called the Civil War Wing, and is the oldest part of the hospital, is said to lurk a former patient named Ruth. However, it is unknown the reasons why Ruth apparently hated men and had a practice of throwing things at them. Today, her spirit still wanders in the hallways, where people have been pushed up against walls and have heard whistling sounds emanating from the hallways.

A couple of violent events occurred in Ward 2 on the second floor. In one room, a man was stabbed 17 times by another patient. In another room, two patients committed suicide by hanging themselves from curtain rods. Here, shadowing figures have often been seen, and on at least one occasion, an EVP captured someone saying, “Get out.”

On the third floor, two patients tried to hang another patient, and when he didn’t die, they bludgeoned him to death. The ghost of the murdered man is said to continue to haunt the room in which he was killed. Another ghost named Big Jim is also said to maintain a presence on this floor, and a nurse called Elizabeth. Other occurrences on this floor include doors that close by themselves, fleeting glimpses of apparitions, shadowy figures, and a number of strange noises that have been caught on EVPs.

Another well-known spirit is located on the fourth floor – a child named Lily, who sits patiently in a toy room, waiting for someone to play with her. Wearing a white dress and said to be about nine years old, Lily likes to play games with visitors and staff, as toys move around of their own accord and a Music box turns on by itself.

Legend has it that Lily was a little girl who spent all or most of her short, sad life inside the asylum’s walls. One story says she was dropped off at the hospital by her parents, while a second tale states that she was born there to a committed mother. She died of pneumonia at the age of nine and has never left the only home she had ever known. Her room on the fourth floor is still filled with toys, as if she’s waiting for someone to play with her. The dolls and balls reportedly move on their own, while a music box turns on at random.

Though Lily appears pleasant enough, other more sinister spirits linger on the fourth floor, including a black mass-like object and a strange apparition called the “creeper” that crawls along the floor. The sounds of something or someone banging on pipes are often heard here.

Another ghost on the fourth floor, which many have seen, is a soldier who they call Jacob, who is said to stroll the hallways.

Numerous unearthly sounds have also been heard, including screams inside the electroshock room, banging, mysterious slamming doors, throaty moans, ominous breathing, and hysterical laughter from empty rooms.

Other paranormal activity includes objects that seemingly move of their own accord and visitors’ reporting the feeling of being watched.

While skeptics deny the paranormal rumors surrounding the facility, there is one thing all can agree on: The crumbling building serves as a reminder of a shameful past and an urgent call to do better in the future.

BREAK=====

Coming up… crazy stuff happens every day in mental asylums. Take it from the employers, or former inmates: living in a mental institution can be hard and often scary. Not that long ago – before the modern renaissance of psychological research – mental institutions weren’t only scary, they were dangerous. At those abandoned asylums terrible things used to happen to patients. Maybe that’s why some of them never left – even after death.

But first, we take a look at an asylum that has since become a hotel you can book a room in… and another asylum that is now university; but that doesn’t mean all of its residents are among the living.

<COMMERCIAL BREAK>

STORY: THE BUFFALO STATE ASYLUM=====

Haunted hotels and abandoned insane asylums are high value locations frequently sought after by ghost hunters and anyone looking for evidence of the paranormal. From the Millennium Biltmore Hotel to the Waverly Hills Sanatorium, thrill seekers are seldom let down. But what if there was a hotel that was once an insane asylum? That’s what you’ll find when you visit Buffalo, New York, and stay at the Hotel Henry, formerly the Buffalo State Asylum.

Construction on The Buffalo State Asylum, also known as The State Asylum at Buffalo, started in 1872, and spanned 203 acres of untended farmland in the middle of the city. Its design incorporated the “most-enlightened” and “humane” principles in psychiatric treatment of the nineteenth century, combining the principles of Henry Hobson Richardson, Frederick Law Olmstead, and Dr Thomas Story Kirkbride.

Henry Richardson, the father of the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style, incorporated the ideas of Thomas Kirkbride into his design. According to Kirkbride, patients should be housed according to the “type” and “level” of their illness. This led Richardson to designing a building with two central towers and five wings flanking the towers on each side.

Frederick Olmstead, who had also landscaped Central Park in New York City, was responsible for the gardens outside.

The asylum opened in 1880, and was considered, for the time, to be a state-of-the-art psychiatric treatment facility. It was advertised as a peaceful retreat for effective mental health care. Photos illustrated the grandeur of the hospital, showing grand pianos, a stocked library, beautiful dining rooms and parlors, and for those interested, a baseball field.

According to Kirkbride, an individual’s physical and social environment could cause, or cure mental illness. So the goal was to provide a healing atmosphere. Patients were encouraged to socialize, meeting for dinner, or joining a baseball team with the other residents in their wing. They could learn a musical instrument, and even perform stage shows for the patients in nearby wings.

In addition to what they could do, they were also expected to work. Working was viewed as therapeutic, and jobs ranged from maintaining the gardens and farm or perhaps something more skilled, like working in a shop where handmade items were sold – items made by patients. These items ranged from rugs to blankets and so on.

Over time, the facility came to boast a woodworking shop, community store, bakery, and sewing room.

But things weren’t exactly as idyllic as they would have you believe. On February 7, 1881, a story appeared in The New York Times, headlining, “BRUTES IN AN INSANE ASYLUM: A story of Cruelty from The State Asylum at Buffalo.” This story would go on to tell the story of the inhumane treatment of John Turney, a patient at the hospital.

One day while bathing, John was being noisy. Annoyed, two men, employees of the hospital, choked him with towels so severely that they had to resuscitate him. John was held under water until he was nearly drowned. At night, the men would go into his room and hit and kick him for even the slightest disturbance.

On one occasion, one of the men pressed both thumbs against his windpipe and jammed him into a chair so hard, the chair left holes in the wall.

Another man, Abraham Vedder, also suffered at their hands. On one occasion, he appeared one day with a black eye, skin peeled off his throat, and his stomach was black and blue with bruising.

If any man was slow to enter the dining room, he would be knocked down, kicked, and cursed at.

Another article, published in May 1894, tells the story of a man named Fred. Fred was a tall, powerfully-built young man when he first arrived at the hospital. It is said that his mind had become unhinged by misfortune. Within days he was confined to his bed, where he remained in a deplorable condition for months.

He was denied visitors for a long while, and when they were finally able to see him, they found him bruised and helpless. “They hung me up with a towel and pounded me,” he told his mother.

After he was released he spoke only a few words, among them complaints of pains in his chest. “They used me hard out there.”

The stories go on and on. An inquiry was requested and in the end, John Ordronaux, State Commissioner in Lunacy found, “…although sufficient proof has not been adduced to justify a conviction, yet suffers in public estimation from the fact alone that the evidence is conflicting. Where such evidence, therefore, leaves the presumptions equally in question the effect nevertheless operates to the public discredit of the parties concerned and their services should, in the Commissioner’s judgment, be dispensed with for prudential reasons.”

Mr. John J. Clifford, an attendant at the hospital was suspended, while Mr. Frank P. Churchill, a keeper, resigned.

The Buffalo State Asylum continued admitting and seeing patients until 1974, when all patients were transferred to the new Buffalo Psychiatric Center, and the asylum was abandoned. As the building fell into disrepair, rumors of ghosts began to spread.

It is unknown just how many patients died while in custody of the asylum, but it is believed that they still roam the grounds, and especially enjoy the tunnels that run below the buildings, connecting them.

Renovations on the Buffalo State Asylum began in 2013 and it was transformed into an elegant, luxury hotel in partnership with Hilton. Spanning approximately ⅓ of the original asylum, Hotel Henry opened in 2017 and boasted 88 guest rooms, 11 meeting rooms and over 25,000 sq. feet of event space, the hotel was open and ready for guests.

In 2018 Hotel Henry was named one of the “World’s Greatest Places” according to TIME Magazine. Guests could expect to find the usual amenities, but also an on-site boutique, restaurant, and business center. What they may not have expected were the permanent residents – the ghosts.

Guests have reported seeing flickering lights, objects moving on their own, as well as cold spots throughout – especially in hallways and staircases that lead directly nowhere. Even more chilling are the voices that can be heard crying for help.

STORY: ATHENS ASYLUM=====

Today, this complex, called the Ridges, is part of Ohio University, but these historic buildings once housed the Athens Lunatic Asylum. Not only are these buildings steeped in history, but some are also said to still “host” visitors from the past.

The historic hospital got its start in 1867 when the Ohio Legislature appointed a commission to find a site for an asylum in southeastern Ohio. A suitable site was found in Athens, and Levi T. Scofield was chosen as the architect. The buildings and grounds’ designs were influenced by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, a 19th-century physician who authored a book on mental hospital design. His designs were often recognizable for their “batwing” floor plans and lavish Victorian architecture.

The original design included an administration building with two wings, one that would house the males and the other for females. The building itself was 853 feet long, 60 feet wide, and built with red bricks fired from clay dug on-site. Built onto the back were a laundry room and boiler house. Seven cottages were also constructed to house even more patients. There was room to house 572 patients in the main building, almost double of what Kirkbride had recommended, leading to overcrowding and conflicts between the patients.

The administrative section, located between the two resident wings, included an entrance hall, offices, a reception room on the first floor, the superintendent’s residence on the second floor, and quarters for other officers and physicians on the 3rd and 4th floors. A large high ceiling amusement hall filled the 2nd and 3rd floors, and a chapel was included on the 4th floor. Behind and beneath the building’s public and private spaces were the heating and mechanical systems, kitchens, cellars, storerooms, and workspaces.

The site, which was first comprised of 141 acres, would eventually grow to 1,019 acres, including cultivated, wooded, and pasture land. The grounds were designed by Herman Haerlin of Cincinnati and would incorporate landscaped hills and trees, decorative lakes, a spring, and a creek with a waterfall. Not only would the patients enjoy the beautiful landscape, but citizens also enjoyed the extensive grounds. Though the facility would never be fully self-sustaining, over the years, the grounds would include livestock, farm fields and gardens, an orchard, greenhouses, a dairy, a receiving hospital, a Tubercular Ward, a physical plant to generate steam heat, and even a carriage shop in the earlier years.

The hospital, first called the Athens Lunatic Asylum, officially began operations on January 9, 1874. Within two years, it was renamed the Athens Hospital for the Insane. Over the years, its name would be changed many times to the Athens State Hospital, the Southeastern Ohio Mental Health Center, the Athens Mental Health Center, the Athens Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center, and the Athens Mental Health and Developmental Center.

During its operation, the hospital provided services to a variety of patients, including Civil War veterans, children, the elderly, the homeless, rebellious teenagers being taught a lesson by their parents, and violent criminals suffering from various mental and physical disabilities. With diagnoses ranging from the slightest distress to severely mentally ill, these patients were provided various forms of care, many of which have been discredited today. The asylum was best known for its practice of lobotomy, but it was also known to have practiced hydrotherapy, electroshock, restraint, and psychotropic drugs, many of which have been found to be harmful today.

More interesting are the causes listed for admission, including epilepsy, menopause, alcohol addiction, and tuberculosis. General “ill health” also accounted for many admissions, which included in the first three years of operation 39 men and 44 women. For the female patients hospitalized during these first three years of the asylum’s operation, the three leading causes of insanity are recorded as “puerperal condition” (relating to childbirth), “change of life,” and “menstrual derangements.” According to an 1876 report, the leading cause of insanity among male patients was masturbation. The second most common cause of insanity was listed as intemperance (alcohol). Depending upon their condition, a patient’s treatment could range from full care to amazing freedom.

Over the years, numerous buildings were added, including a farm office, a new amusement hall, additional wards and residences, a laundry building, power plant, garages, stables, mechanics shops, a firehouse, therapy rooms, and dozens of others. By the 1950s, the hospital was using 78 buildings and was treating 1,800 patients.

In the 1960s, the total square footage of the facility was recorded at 660,888 square feet. At this time, its population peaked at nearly 2,000 patients, over three times its capacity. However, the number of patients would begin to decline for the next several decades as de-institutionalization accelerated. As the number of people at the Asylum declined, the buildings and wards were abandoned one by one.

Comprised of three graveyards, burials began soon after the institution’s opening as there were deceased patients who were unclaimed by their families. Until 1943 the burials were headed only by stones with numbers, with the names of the dead known only in recorded ledgers. Only one register exists today, which contains the names of 1,700 of the over 2,000 burials. In 1972 the last patients were buried in the asylum cemetery. Today the cemeteries continue to be maintained by the Ohio Department of Mental Health.

In 1977, Athens Asylum made news when it housed multiple personality rapist Billy Milligan. In the highly publicized court case, Milligan was found to have committed several felonies, including armed robbery, kidnapping, and three rapes on the Ohio State University campus. In preparing his defense, psychologists diagnosed Milligan with multiple personality disorder, from which the doctors said he had suffered from early childhood. He was the first person diagnosed with multiple personality disorder to raise such a defense and the first acquitted of a major crime for this reason. Milligan was then sent to a series of state-run mental hospitals, including Athens. While at these hospitals, Milligan reported having ten different personalities. Later 14 more personalities were said to have been discovered. After a decade, Milligan was discharged. He died of cancer at a nursing home in Columbus, Ohio, on December 12, 2014, at 59.

The next year, the hospital made the news again when a patient named Margaret Schilling disappeared on December 1, 1978. It wasn’t until January 12, 1979, 42 days later that, her body was discovered by a maintenance worker in a locked long-abandoned ward once used for patients with infectious illnesses. Though tests showed that she died of heart failure, she was found completely naked with her clothing neatly folded next to her body. More interesting is the permanent stain that her body left behind. Clearly, an imprint of her hair and body can still be seen on the floor, even though numerous attempts have been made to remove it.

By 1981 the hospital housed fewer than 300 patients, numerous buildings stood abandoned, and over 300 acres were transferred to Ohio University. In 1988, the facilities and grounds (excluding the cemeteries) were deeded from the Department of Mental Health to Ohio University.

The Athens Center officially closed in 1993, and the remaining patients transferred to another facility. The property stood vacant for several years before restoration began. The name of the property was changed to the “Ridges” and in 2001 renovation work was completed on the main building, known as Lin Hall. Today it houses music, geology, biotechnology offices, storage facilities, and the Kennedy Museum of Art. Over the years, other hospital buildings were modeled and used by the University, although many others still sit abandoned.

It comes as no surprise that the buildings of this historic asylum are allegedly haunted. One of the most famous ghosts is that of Margaret Shilling, who left her body print upon the hospital floor. Her spirit is said to have appeared staring down from the window of the room where her body was found, has been seen attempting to escape, and has been known to wander various parts of the building at night. And, according to some, she is not alone. Other former patients are also said to remain in residence, with reports from visitors seeing strange figures standing in the empty wings of the former hospital, hearing disembodied voices and squeaking gurneys, seeing strange lights, and hearing screams echoing through the walls. More frightening, there are rumors of spirits of patients who remain shackled in the basement. These many spirits are thought to be those who died or suffered at the hands of staff in the asylum.

The cemetery is also said to be haunted by shadowy people and strange lights. In one area, the graves’ linear shapes form a circle, which is said to be a witches’ meeting point.

Tours of the outside grounds of the old asylum are held on the third Sunday of each month.

STORY: HAUNTED ASYLUMS=====

While films like House on Haunted Hill and Grave Encounters provided fictional glimpses of haunted asylums, the reality is just as bone-chilling. Not only is the sight of these abandoned buildings terrifying, the possible spirits inside will also send chills down your spine. Ghost stories from old mental institutions involve spirits who were never able to escape from their mental torments. Haunted mental asylums and abandoned mental institutions are hotbeds for paranormal spirits. These stories from these haunted mental institutions are sure to scare even the sanest individual.

***First opened in 1827, the Rolling Hills Asylum in New York started as a poor house where society’s dregs could be housed and purportedly receive care. Habitual drunkards, paupers, and lunatics were all welcome at the asylum, which included a farm where the able bodied would work to reduce the cost of housing. In 1928 a separate stone building was added to the facility specifically for the housing of “lunatics.” The insane were housed there until 1887 when they were transferred to other facilities in the state. It closed outright in 1974. The thousands who died in the facility over its long years of operation are buried in the nearby potter’s field. Proprietress Sharon Coyle-Farley is just one of the many to have witnessed shadow apparitions playing tricks on the living. She was with two other paranormal investigators when one of them began being poked and prodded by an unseen force. Sharon quickly took a picture and captured the dark form of a hand reaching out to touch her friend. In another encounter, Ghost City Tours actually managed to capture a shadow figure on video as it walked across the decrepit hallway.

***Pennhurst State School and Hospital was a terrible place. Opened in 1908, it was first named the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for Epileptics and Feeble Minded. Almost immediately, it was overcrowded. The sprawling complex was designed to be self-sufficient, and while it was open it received very little contact with the outside world. Rampant neglect escalated to the point where patients would be left bound in their metal cribs for months. Patients suffered abuse, rape, and death at the hands of both staff and other patients. Punishments for bad behavior were harsh. For example, when a patient showed a proclivity for biting, they would have their teeth removed. An expose by NBC titled “Suffer the Little Children” began drawing attention to the conditions at the facility in 1968, and in 1987 it was closed. Over 10,000 patients were admitted to the asylum over the years, and its unclear how many died there. Paranormal investigators regularly record EVPs in the dilapidated old buildings, frequently hearing the screams of children calling out from beyond the grave. The Ghost Adventures crew captured a plethora of paranormal evidence during their investigation of Pennhurst. They encountered inexplicable footsteps, ghostly screams, and disembodied voices. Zak Bagans was even assaulted by one spirit wielding a stick with nails sticking out of it. This paranormal hot spot can best be described as extremely active.

***The Kentucky facility known as Waverly Hills Sanitorium was initially opened in 1924 as a hospital to treat tuberculosis. In 1962, after advances in medicine rendered tuberculosis a thing of the past, it closed its doors only to reopen a year later as a geriatric hospital for the treatment of mental illness. It was closed in 1980 amid evidence of abuse and neglect, and has stood vacant since – save for the spirits that still reside there. One such spirit is a young nurse who worked at the sanatorium in the 1930s. After finding out she was pregnant out of wedlock, and allegedly contracting tuberculosis, she did something drastic. She decided to hang herself in Room 502. When the Ghost Adventures crew investigated the site, they caught some pretty compelling evidence. A shadow figure was filmed walking through the halls toward the camera. They also captured the audible moan of a patient who had long since left the living, but not the building.

***The first patient was admitted to Willard Asylum in New York in 1869 with great expectations of improving the care of the chronically mentally ill. Said patient had previously been kept confined for 10 years, usually naked with only a blanket, so the bar was set pretty low. The asylum operated until 1995 when it closed for budgetary reasons. Parts of it have been reopened as the Willard Drug Treatment Center, a specialized state prison for drug offenders. One ghost in particular has been seen many times over the years. One of the doctors at the asylum who had long, red hair became a patient herself. As one of the old buildings was being restored for housing, there were two corrections officers staying there overnight. After catching a glimpse of the red-haired apparition, they left in the dead of night, leaving all their belongings behind.

***The UK lunatic asylum, Whittingham Hospital, was once one of the largest in Europe. Located in Lancashire, it first opened in 1873. In the 1960s, allegations of abuse and ill-treatment began emerging. It was alleged some nurses would give patients “the wet towel treatment” where they would wrap a wet towel around their neck until they passed out. It was also alleged a staff member actually set a patient on fire. All of the misconduct was denied, but much of the staff was discharged. The hospital remained open until 1995 when it was shuttered as part of the move toward deinstitutionalization. Lawrence Butterfield worked at the hospital from 1986 to 1988. Late one night, around 3 am, he was chatting with a coworker when suddenly the coworker fell silent. She told Butterfield she saw a shape on his shoulder for a few seconds before it disappeared. “I didn’t feel anything on my shoulder, but I can tell you after that I was a bit on edge for the rest of the shift.” Butterfield said. Ghost hunters have captured more than a few paranormal events at the location. Several EVPs have recorded groans, screams, and disembodied voices. Other investigations found evidence using a rem-pod (an electromagnetic frequency detector) and spirit box (an audio device designed to capture ghost communication).

***The Denbigh Mental Asylum was opened in 1848 as the first such facility in Wales. During its nearly 150 years of operation, the site offered lobotomies, electro-shock therapy, insulin shock therapy, and all sorts of other experimental treatments. After its closure in 1995, it became a hot spot for paranormal investigation up until much of the facility was destroyed by a fire. The UK-based Dark Arts Paranormal Team investigated the site in 2015. During their stay at the asylum, they conversed with spirits using a spirit box. The audio device scans through frequencies to make it easier for spirits to communicate using the white noise. One of the investigators had her hair pulled by a spirit. Later, the crew catches several spirit orbs darting across the camera.

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Psych ward stories have a spooky glamour to them, unmatched by any other spine-tingling tale. Haunted mental hospitals, spirits in captivity, sadistic nurses and orderlies – it’s enough to make the hardiest of hearts consider a nightlight. Many consider abandoned mental hospitals to be scary or straight out of a horror story, but based on the stories from actual psych ward workers and patients, the ones still populated with warm-blooded humans are far worse. A few of their stories, when Weird Darkness returns!

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STORY: PSYCH WARD HORROR STORIES=====

Psych wards have a bad reputation in general, and these true psych ward stories won’t do anything to fix it. While those who stay in psych wards can have any number of debilitating issues, or can even be put there unjustly, the way these places are managed and run can be the stuff of nightmares. These creepy true stories from psych ward patients and workers are enough to keep anyone up at night. A lot of these stories sound like something straight out of a horror movie. While much of what leads to people being sent to psych wards and what happens while there can be tragic and disturbing, it’s clear that many facilities have no idea how to actually help the mentally ill. Rather than receiving any help, many patients do and say whatever they have to, just so they don’t have to endure the facility anymore. Give a listen to these terrifying real life tales of those who have stayed in or worked in psych wards, as told by those who experienced them.

***This person talks about a fellow patient who liked to croon at night: “Well, this one night I remember falling asleep rather fast and waking up in the middle of the night to someone singing, it started off faintly then got louder as the person neared my room, I then realized someone was pacing the hall singing. It got much creepier, while he was singing he was running his nails down the walls as he paced back and forth and continued singing, what made it even worse he was singing about death and demons which totally was freaking me out. I remember my exact thoughts were, ‘I am going to die.’ It was like a scene from a horror movie, it went on for a good 20 minutes and I couldn’t figure out why the nurses weren’t doing their checks and why this kid was still pacing without being found. I was starting to get more and more nervous by the second when all of a sudden I hear from across the room one of the girls with extreme anger management problems start yelling for this kid to shut up. I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one hearing this and a second later I hear a loud bang like the door across the hall had [flung] open and then a thud. The girl had somehow flung open her locked door and tackled the kid to the ground. She was angry he was disrupting her sleep and I couldn’t [have been] more thrilled. After a couple seconds of listening to them wrestle around on the floor, I finally heard the nurses come running to break it up. Supposedly they had both [gone] to the kitchen to get coffee or something. I’m still not completely sure where they were during all of it. I suppose this story was on more of the funnier side but at the time it really freaked me out.”

***One Redditor wrote: My mom told me this story from her time at a neuropsychiatric ward while she was in grad school. She was making her routine room checks and happened upon the most horrific scene I’ve ever heard. This was during the night shift, and generally all the patients’ bedroom doors should be closed. So my mom turned a corner and noticed an open door. She saw a staff member’s legs on the floor, halfway out the doorway. When she looked into the room, she saw the patient, a woman with a severe postpartum psychiatric disorder, who had just gouged both of her own eyes out with her bare hands. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor, holding her eyes in her hands. The first staff member to witness the scene, who was now lying face down on the floor, had a heart attack when he first witnessed the woman while he was making his rounds. My mom screamed for help, and frantically tried to perform CPR on the staff member. All the while, the woman just sat rather calmly, holding her own eyes.

***The horror scenarios continue with this patient: “On my second night there, I heard screaming in the halls. The doors had no lock so another girl, probably about my age (early 20s) kicked my door open and stood in the doorway, staring at me with wide eyes and a knife in her hand. I sat there frozen for a few seconds before she was tackled by two security guards. A nurse came in and said to me, all rushed, ‘Don’t worry, we have everything under control, just stay in your room quietly.’ They then locked her in one of the ‘quiet rooms,’ a padded cell with a circular window, which was right across the hall from me, where she spent the rest of the night kicking at the door and yelling threats.”

***A psych ward worker wrote: We had a young lady in our custody with quite a few issues. We’ll call her Jane. On Jane’s first night at our facility, staff performing a bed check found Jane in a puddle of blood. Turns out, Jane had been slicing the skin around her shin with her finger nails and was pulling her skin up her leg, essentially de-gloving her calf. Jane also had a ritual she performed every night before bed. While in her room, she would walk to every wall and touch them in a crucifix pattern. After doing this for a few hours, she would sit on her bed and go to sleep. One night, Jane’s pace was frantic. Our night staff observed the entire interaction, and reported Jane screaming late into the night. When one staff member went to check on Jane, she reported Jane standing in the doorway smiling. The staff asked what was wrong, and Jane replied, “What makes you think you are speaking to Jane?”

***According to this patient, some people make checking in an annual thing: “The second time I was admitted to a psych ward, I had a roommate. She was a lovely woman, kind and smart, when she was stable. However, most of the time I knew her, she was not. She had bi-polar disorder, complicated by periods of schizophrenic manic phases. She saw butterflies on the walls in the middle of the night. She ran naked from room to room. She called me horrible names, told me terrible stories from her youth. Rooming with her was a nightmare. When I complained that I wasn’t able to sleep, and was a little scared, an orderly filled me in on the details. The middle-aged woman I was sharing a room with was a beloved Spanish teacher at the local high school. She had taught there many years, and every year, about 2 weeks after school ended she would have an episode exactly like the one she was currently having and recover in a few weeks. Up until now, she had never hurt anyone, so I should be fine, and I was left in that room.”

***A pharmacy technician gives her story: I worked at a hospital with a psych ward for some time. We would have to go around with a cart and dispense the patients’ medications, and being a 5’2″ girl, a security guard or male nurse would accompany me, just as a precaution. I never had any real issues other than the occasional death grip onto my arm or manic outbursts, but there was one boy who was entirely different. His chart said he was nine and he had pale skin, dark hair, and huge bright, green eyes. He always greeted me in the most polite way, asked how I was doing, and always found something different to compliment me on every time. He was extremely well-spoken and mature for his age, so I began looking forward to seeing him, as normal small talk is definitely cherished in that setting. If he saw me outside of his room in the halls, he made sure to say hello and always called me “Miss Jones” or “ma’am.” One day, a couple of our female nurses saw me pause to chat with him in the hallway, and waved me over to ask if I was out of my mind. Apparently, when he was in kindergarten, he grew an intense attachment to his young female teacher. This escalated to the point of him calling her “Mom” and leaving notes for her about how he wished he were her son. He had a normal home-life with both parents, and the teacher tried to explain to him that she couldn’t be his mom because that would hurt his real mother’s feelings, and that she already had that job covered. So, he went home and, killed his own mother in her sleep by cutting her throat, so his teacher could be his mom. The female staff had a general rule of not interacting with him excessively to prevent any kind of attachment from forming. So, don’t judge a book by its cover, I guess.

***This patient relays the story of a brush with a celebrity – almost: “I was held involuntarily for 72 hours once (suicide attempt). In this particular ward, you weren’t allowed to have any electronic devices (cell phones, music players, etc.), except this one girl in my room always had headphones on and was constantly rocking out… to nothing. There’s more. I was so miserable, I pretty much slept/stayed in bed the whole time, skipping therapy sessions and only got up when they brought my pills. Ended up passing time just listening to my roommates. I overheard the same girl talking about her ‘fiance.’ She talked about how he was a famous pop star in Taiwan, how he went to Berklee [College of Music], did contact lens and McDonald’s commercials, and proposed to her over YouTube. The other patient she was talking to ate it up. However, also being from Taiwan, I quickly realized she was describing Wang Leehom, and that this girl was indeed crazy. She was also ecstatic that she was being released that day, after having been in the ward for two weeks.”

***Another worker reported this incident: I was working an overnight shift on an Alzheimer’s ward at a nursing home. It was about 2:30 am, and I was making my rounds, peeking into the rooms to make sure the patients were where they should be. I went into one room, and this 83-year-old woman was sitting straight up in her bed, staring at the wall. I slowly walked into the room and calmly asked her if she wanted to lie back down. She turned her head slowly, looked me right in the eye, and said “They’re coming for you, dear.” Then she started laughing – I’m talking full-on hysterical, insane cackling. I almost wet my pants right there. She finally calmed down, and I got her to lie back down. When she was just about to go back to sleep, she looked at me again and said “I’m going to miss you when they take you,” and went right back to sleep. I was terrified the rest of the night.

***It shouldn’t be surprising that some patients try to escape asylums, as this person tells: “The most interesting thing I can think of is one time we lit a mattress on fire so that the fire alarms would go off and all the doors would unlock. This took a few days to plan as one person’s job was to secure the matches from a visitor. Then someone acted as a distraction, they pulled a mattress into the hallway and shut all the bedroom doors (they didn’t shut all the way, though, but we figured if the fire did spread, it would at least help to keep the spread minimal). Then they lit it on fire, doors opened, and we ran. We even had a few kids that stayed back to pull the mattress out the doors when they opened – we had thought of (mostly) everything. We didn’t want to cause any damage – we just wanted out. There was a ten-foot fence that surrounded the courtyard, and that’s where I got stuck. Some of the boys made it over the fence, and one made it out for good, but the rest were caught in the woods by staff (who simply opened the gate and chased them).”

***Another hospital worker tells her tale: When I first started working in the hospital, I was sitting with this sweet little old woman. I had sat with her, talking about her family and such for six hours. Towards the end of my shift (9 pm) they decided she didn’t need to have a heart monitor, so they transferred her to a different unit.  Once we got to the new room, she started acting differently – just generally angry, I would say. Then all of a sudden, she tried to jump out of the bed (a big no-no at hospitals), so I immediately got up to stop her. She started screaming bloody murder about how her house was on fire, and her family was inside and she needed to get them out. I tried to calm her down, but to no avail. She started yelling at me about how I’m going to rot in the flames of Hell because God told her so, and how I was responsible for her family’s death. Staring deep into my eyes, she told me all about how I will burn in eternal flames, and that I am filled with evil. I thought, “Okay, at least she isn’t worried about her family or trying to get out of bed.” But then she started screaming at the top of her lungs in what I can only describe as Latin or maybe even gibberish. She then ripped out her dentures, threw them at me, and pulled all of the skin on her face back into this long, stretched-out, creepy smile. She let out a blood-curdling scream while her eyes rolled back into her head like some sort of possession scene in a movie. Just as she let up my relief came into the room. I wished her luck and booked it out of there. The second I got off the unit, I called my mom and cried for a good 15 minutes. I still think of her stretched-out face sometimes.

***Being in a psych ward would be scary enough – now imagine seeing a patient’s reaction to taking the wrong meds: “35 year old male here, back in 2001 I was arrested for disorderly conduct and the cops thought I was ‘suicidal,’ so they sent me to a pysch ward for a month. Let me tell you, these places are creepy, especially when you know you are fine. There was one time where one of the local patients called ‘Tom’ was acting out of rage, like he usually would. This time, though, he seemed a little abnormal. Apparently, they had mixed up his medication with someone else’s, and he was trying to tell them this. They weren’t having it and kept telling him to sit down. Well, about 20 minutes later, while ‘Tom’ was doing a crossword puzzle, he suddenly flips the entire table over and starts punching every staff member in sight with incredible force, all while reciting the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song. Two of the nurses had pretty bad welts on their face, one with a busted lip. Security came and took him away a few minutes later, and I never saw ‘Tom’ again for the last week I was there.”

***Here’s a story from a medic: I work in an ER, and due to my country and state’s poor mental health system, we see acute psychotic episodes daily. Over time, you get desensitized to it, but there is still one that turns my stomach. A guy was found in a burning abandoned building. He wasn’t hurt, but was acting so strange the paramedics brought him in. He was homeless, had no ID, did not know his name, and had zero drugs in his system. Looking into his eyes, you could tell he wasn’t seeing the same thing I was. So I’m trying to get his name or anything out of him, and he keeps telling me he was a pilot for the Air Force and flew experimental airplanes, because he could withstand the G-force and his blood was naturally thin. The blood tests that measure this actually were fairly higher than normal, but not elevated to the point he was on medication for it. So he was right on that account.  I was at the desk telling a coworker about the stuff this guy was saying, when a resident overheard me. He was former Air Force as well, and looked like he had seen a ghost. As soon as I mentioned the name of the base, this doctor freaked out. He said that that city/base has no roads in or out and a lot of top secret testing goes down there. He said that you don’t know about it unless you’ve been there. He told me not to talk about it or make a big deal. This gave me an even weirder vibe…

***Meeting a new roommate for the first time was NOT a pleasure for this patient: “My first night, the guy I shared a room with introduced himself to me and we made a bit of small talk. Eventually he asked me if I’d like to see something cool. Of course! So he takes a light bulb out of the ceiling, let’s it cool for a bit and breaks it on the table. Right now, I’m thinking this is gonna be awesome, he’s gonna MacGyver something right here with the wire on the inside of it. Lo and behold, he broke off a rather large shard of the glass instead. He proceeded to stab it into his arm, I couldn’t say how deep, and pulled it down (not out) slowly. Bad experience.”

***Sometimes the patients don’t like meeting new people at all, such as in this case: “I was in one once for about 2 weeks after threatening (not attempting) suicide. There was a girl, she was [in her] early 20s, and I was curious as to why she was on the children’s floor. Apparently, the girl was seriously messed up in the head and had been there since she was 10. Her parents were either rich or had great insurance because she was there 24/7 for over 10 years. She would flip out the night of any new arrivals (like, she was screaming up and down the halls the night I arrived and then was fine until a few days later when a new girl arrived). Anyway, this girl was huge… maybe 5’10 and at least 200 lbs. The floor was getting ready for visitation (the first one since I had been there) and all of a sudden, she came charging out of her room, down the hall to the common room and started flipping tables, tore the TV off the wall, punched 2 orderlies, and broke a few other things until one of the nurses (sweet tiny older woman) chased her down and got her in the ass with a triple dose of thorazine. She tried to fight it, and it was like a slow-motion tiger. Eventually they called up 3 burly security guards who basically dragged her to the ‘quiet room.’ About an hour later, we watched them drag her back to her room and strap her down to the bed. She slept for almost 2 days. EDIT: Thought I should clarify, this was not a long-term facility. The longest I heard of anyone staying aside from her was 60 days.”

***A mental health professional has this extremely disturbing story to tell: I was working in a mental health ward around Christmastime a year ago. Long story short, it was shower time for one of the patients. She was a young girl – maybe 13 or 14-years old – with a really intense history of physical abuse. My coworkers got her to the shower and undressed her. She coughed up a great deal of saliva and spat it on the ground, really slowly. Before we can do or say anything, she knelt on all fours, licked it all up, laughed, and said “I’m ready, Daddy.” I was shaken up for weeks after and I still try not to think about it. There is a happy ending to this story, though. Her scum father is in jail now, and the girl has been adopted.

***Here’s a two-sentence horror story from a former patient: “Scariest was when they locked down our rooms and taped papers to the windows so we couldn’t see into the hall one day. I never found out exactly what happened but I think a girl managed to kill herself because I heard a gurney wheeled in and out of the room next to mine and she never came back.”

***Here’s one from a psych ward night worker: My clients have dementia, and there’s one who creeps me out a lot. During the day, she’s the sweetest old lady, but at night she sleep-talks. And it’s not normal sleep-talking. Her eyes are open, and sometimes she’s sitting up. Sometimes it’s impossible to tell when she has gone from sleeping to being awake, until she turns to you and asks if you’ve seen the little girl that was just here, the one she was talking to. She talks about people being there all the time, including a little boy that has died, and she wonders what we should do with the body. She mentions a little girl that sleeps with her, a man that orders her around, and her dead husband who is always looking for her. I heard her talking once, and she was being very loud, but as I reached the open doorway, she said “Shhh. They’re all sleeping. Better not talk about it now.” And she promptly stopped talking and just lay there very still.

***This person relays a story from her mother: My mother was a nurse that specialized in geriatrics, and she worked for several hospice hospitals for many years. She often described situations at her work with several of the patients. She would say that each person tends to have a very similar “checklist” that they follow right before death. This checklist often ended in a very similar way. They would get caught talking to someone that wasn’t there. When asked who they (otherwise lucid people) were talking to, they would describe an individual who was already dead. When asked what they were talking about, they would say that their relative wanted to know if they were ready to move on. A pretty common response would be, “Yeah, he/she said that she will take me tomorrow at 3:00.” Well, it would often happen that they would die at the exact time their relatives quoted.

***This person says sometimes the scariest conversations with patients are the ones who make sense: I had an hour-long conversion with a delusional guy who was confined to a mental health facility, and who was probably smarter than I am. Lots of these folks believe that somebody – often the CIA – is either beaming thoughts into their heads, or has implanted a microchip in their brains for this purpose. This guy was offering a very thoughtful argument as to why such claims should not be so quickly dismissed. “It’s precisely because such delusions are so common that mental patients make the best test subjects,” he said. There he was, confined and protected, constantly observed, his health and behavior documented, and there is zero chance that anyone would ever take his concerns seriously. How else would you test and improve such technology? Does the government not have a strong motivation and a plausible ability to create such a device? “You can see I’m not irrational,” the man said. “I’m just straight-up telling you that they are doing this to me. I know just how unbelievable it sounds, and yet, here I am.”

***Patients will often develop romantic feelings for physicians – and this person shows it can be extremely dangerous when working in a psych ward: I was an intern psychologist finishing up my training. A mid-twenties woman with Bipolar 1 was in a manic phase, and hypersexuality was one of her symptoms. She was desperate to have sex and was propositioning all the male staff. She finally removed her underwear, snuck up on one of the psychiatrists (a very formal man in his late sixties), wrapped her underwear around his face and her body around him in a bear hug, and started screaming that he should smell her scent and get ready for the ride of his life. The underwear was soaked in period blood, and after three of us managed to pull her off, his beard and hair were covered in blood. One of the scariest things I have ever seen.

***And the sexual harassment continues in this patient’s recollection: “As I was reading, I saw a nurse escorting a boy my age (we shall call him John). We made brief eye contact and I went back to reading. He later approached me and introduced himself. We got talking and things seemed normal until he said he saw me when I was admitted the previous night. He then proceeded to tell me that he thought I was very hot and had to (pleasure himself) to the thought of me right afterwards and would do the same later. I was a bit freaked out, brushed it off with a nervous laugh and changed subjects. We continue talking and suddenly he says, ‘You know, those hospital pajamas look really sexy on you. I can totally see myself tearing those off of you.’ Again, cue nervous laughter. I then went into my room and took a nap, suddenly this other male patient came in. I was terrified. This patient had been staring through my room window repeatedly, would say hi (and run away), and had plucked my hair out during breakfast. He shuffled in and hands me something, says bye, and runs out. I looked down and saw that he had given me my bra back all neatly folded. At this point, I had enough and told the nurses what happened. They laughed and said “Oh he likes the young ones!” During lunch, I got repeatedly harassed by the bra thief (to the point where he was not allowed near me) and John would sit across from me licking his utensils while staring at me. In the end, before John was sent to another hospital, he cornered me and told me that I was (turning him on). He proceeded to pull his pants down and show me his (erect equipment).”

***Here’s a story from a patient: Once, a fellow female patient told me she found writings under her bed. They were just old, small wooden bed frames with hard mattresses that would make all kinds of noises when you rolled over, but I still wondered what exactly she was doing lying under her bed to find these writings. When she first told me, I thought it was a joke. But sure enough, one day during group we managed to sneak away, and she showed me. Indeed, there were stories written under her bed. After that, we had everyone check under their own beds, and there was more writing under every single bed. They were stories of patients who had stayed here before, or ways they were planning on killing themselves, or who the good and bad nurses were. It creeped me out.

***Here’s a story for horror writer Stephen King: Once, I was volunteering at a hospital, sitting with patients who might harm themselves while waiting for doctors or nurses to show up. I was sitting with one man (maybe mid-thirties) who thought he was in a Stephen King novel. At first he thought I was his psychologist, because I was holding a clipboard while talking to him, so he was telling me all about his thoughts, and would ask my opinion. Trying not to upset him and make him snap, I went along with it, nodding, and when he asked my opinion, I would turn the question around and ask him what he thought about it. This worked until the last hour of my shift. Then he looked at me and said, “You, you can be the next messiah. Come here and let me teach you.” He patted the bed beside him. I politely declined to sit near him. He then went silent for a moment and said, “I see.” With that, he started taking off his oxygen, his heart monitor, and his IV. I asked him why he was doing these things, and he looked at me and said, “I can go now. My task is complete. You will not accept my training, and now I can die in peace knowing I tried.” Once the nurse showed up, I made my escape.

***Here’s another story from a patient: Since the psych ward was out of rooms, I had to spend my last couple of days sleeping in the corridor. First, one of the patients from the so called “screened” part of the ward barged in to the corridor, grabbed one of the other corridor-patients, and began jabbering on about her parrot. She was then taken back to her room, after the nurses finished their coffee. Then the screaming started. In the room next to me, an elderly psychotic lady started, at first, talking to her dead daughter. Sometimes comforting her, telling her how much she loved her, and so on. After a while, though, she got angry and started blaming her dead daughter for everything, from burning the porridge to killing her. A lot of it was incoherent crying or babbling. After a while, I asked the orderlies to have my bed moved.

***And one more story from a patient: I once knew a woman who had spent part of her residency at a psychiatric hospital for people with severe mental conditions. Apparently, the grounds had a lovely, enclosed greenhouse. One day, one of their schizophrenic patients was sitting on a bench, smoking a cigarette, as a heron frantically flew around. It had found its way in and, not being able to escape, it was smashing into the large panes of glass. The man just sat there watching. Finally, my counselor asked him if the bird was bothering him and he kind of sighed and said, “Thank god, I thought I was the only one seeing that.”

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In a way, even more horrifying than haunted asylums, or the terrifying and creepy stories we heard from patients and workers, is how asylums were seen in the 19th century – as entertainment for the public, like going to a zoo or theme park. That story is up next.

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STORY: SEEING THE SIGHTS AT THE PSYCH WARD=====

Mental asylums served a much different purpose in the Victorian Era – specifically as entertainment for the public. Tourists visited them for amusement, entertained by patients who were incarcerated for mental illness. The practice was one of the many strange pastimes and rituals from the Victorian era, a time when unwrapping mummies at parties was considered a fun thing to do.

However, as the times changed and increasing awareness and sensitivity around mental health grew, asylum tourism became more about viewing medicine in action and observing the treatment and care of patients. This later tourism helped the public view patients as people, removed some of the stigma of mental illness at the time, and ushered a change in the treatment of patients.

Despite some of the positive changes that occurred over time, asylums in this period were still extremely harsh and cruel by modern standards, but the changing attitudes and the associated tourism did affect how people thought about mental illness at the time.

Before the 1770s, mental institutions welcomed visitors to observe the patients as a form of voyeuristic entertainment.

Bethlem Royal Hospital of London – or Bedlam, as it came to be known – charged a shilling to see the ravings of “the beasts,” and the patients were put on display like a human zoo.

Cultural historian Mike Jay has described it thus: “Particularly on Sundays and ­holidays, the scene in the galleries could be boisterous and rowdy. Like a ghost train or a freak show, or indeed the surgery and autopsy, demonstrations that were also on offer to the London public – it offered an extreme but safely contained experience, and a stage on which high-spirited visitors could perform acts of daring or display their wit.”

Eventually, patients were displayed as a tactic to secure donations. Governors encouraged high-class sightseers to help fund the asylum by paying to see “the beasts.” The asylum entertained visitors with spectacle – a common tactic in charity of the time. This voyeuristic tactic came from the hope that the wealthy onlookers would donate money to the asylum. According to Mary Chapman: “The oldest psychiatric asylum in Britain, Bethlem, began opening its doors from the early modern period as a way of courting donations from an entertained public, and access to the asylum and its patients continued- in one form or another- until the Victorian era. The story of these prying eyes, and what exactly it was that they looked for, tells us much about changing popular attitudes to mental illness. These visits also reveal the intensity of citizen interest in medicine during the nineteenth century, and the ways in which this interest was encouraged or curtailed by physicians…”

Early asylums began in England as a form of imprisonment. They were for those who were “raving and furious and capable of cure, or if not yet are likely to do mischief to themselves or others.” Until 1619, they were not even run by medical professionals.

In the 1700s, conditions improved little. The mentally ill were considered “beings that, without their reason, had descended to the level of animals.” Even when King George III developed a mental illness, he was retrained, sedated, and treated with many harsh procedures of the time, including bleeding, blistering, and purging.

At the time, mental asylums served as a site where the poor and disenfranchised could be locked away when they developed any perceived mental issues. Those with money were usually cared for at home or in private asylums established for the better care of their wealthy patients.

Not everyone with a mental illness was sent to the asylum. Even among the poor, some people were still cared for at home, and others were left on the streets as beggars – nicknamed Tom O’Bedlams.

In the Georgian era, asylum tourism began to drop off, as cultural attitudes and understandings of mental illness changed. The public began to be aware of the abuses of the system and to shy away from such spectacles.

Starting in the 1760s, asylum tourism began to decline. At the same time, mental institutions were adapting, becoming more financially independent. They no longer required desperate bids for donations.

As the Georgian Era turned to the Victorian, asylum tourism still existed, albeit sparingly, because it had become a pastime of the upper classes. Rather than currying donations, asylums set a ticket price, and only those who could afford it were admitted.

In 1825, the Bedlam Governors declared that guests could only visit the asylum with written permission from a governor. This meant potential visitors had high enough standing to ask for such a favor from high-ranking men.

As viewing the patients for entertainment began to be looked down upon, the asylum tours were advertised as a chance to view the architecture and gardens connected to the building. Asylums often took up large, beautiful buildings that could be marketed toward tourists, and their grounds could be advertised in traveling guidebooks as sites to see. This allowed tourism to continue without sounding exploitive to the patients.

Some asylum tourists in the Victorian era were fascinated with medicine and focused on philanthropy. These visitors came to act as inspectors, concerned with the care and comfort of the patients. Guests commented on how few patients were under restraint and how gentle the treatment was. In the process, Bedlam began being regarded as a benevolent institution.

However, patients who were considered dangerous were kept out of sight of visitors,  keeping some of the less gentle treatment away from prying eyes.

At the same time the public was softening in their attitudes toward asylum patients, medical professionals began to reform the treatment of mental illness. They adopted the idea that “moral treatment” of patients would be more beneficial for mental health. “Moral treatment” focused on kindness and comfort in treatment. This version was still a far cry from modern ideas of treatment, but it was certainly an improvement on the past.

With moral treatment, useful employment, and rest, they believed insanity could be cured. In the 1850s, Bedlam administrators claimed the institution had a recovery rate of 57%.

There were many problems with asylum tourism, but it did have a fewbenefits. The openness to the public helped increase confidence in psychiatric treatment and remove the stigma surrounding mental illness.

The tours demonstrated how medical methods worked, which allayedmany of the public fears about mental health treatments. The tours also helped visitors see patients as real people. One young woman wrote to a periodical, seemingly disappointed at the lack of spectacle, “For all we could see, the patients look and act like other people.”

Medical professionals objected to the practice of treating the patients as a form of entertainment. Asylum superintendents often found the tourists a distraction and annoyance to their staff and patients.

By the end of the 19th century, asylum tourism had virtually disappeared. The physicians and administrators realized privacy aided treatment. This ended a practice that, while beneficial, still exploited the patients by exposing them to the curious public during their medical treatment.

Even though the treatment of mental health and mental illness became more progressive and less stigmatized during the era of mental asylum tourism, it still had a long way to go. In the early 20th century, many powerful politicial figures and influencers still believed in the sterilization of the mentally ill. Thousands of people were forcibly sterilized in a push to weed “undesirable” traits out of the population as eugenics became increasingly popular.

United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote an opinion in a court case explaining: “Experience has shown that heredity plays an important part in the transmission of insanity, imbecility, etc… It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.”

The road to real moral treatment of mental health was a long one.

SHOW CLOSE=====

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Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “For [the Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” — Colossians 1:13

And a final thought… “Where there is no imagination, there is no horror.” — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.

 

 

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