Sunday, September 18, 2011

Searcy State Mental Hospital and The Horror Novel That Has Been Lost in Its Shadows

A year and a half ago, I decided to write a blog. I had just signed a contract with Lachesis Press to publish my first novel, Circe, and that was my inspiration for Ghost Stories and Haunted Places.   Circe was inspired by the hospital I did my internship at, Searcy State Hospital in Mt. Vernon, Alabama.   I didn't believe much in ghosts when I worked there, but I knew the place had to be haunted.  The very walls oozed with some unseen presence and whispered of ghosts.   My book, Circe, has had a long and complicated road.  It was the first book I wrote and I've had three books published between the writing of Circe and its publication, but it looks like it might actually be published this October.  I'm thrilled and terrified, because Circe is my darkest work.   I always have to love it, no matter how the book does, because it inspired this blog.  Yet ,Circe is a book that haunts me.  It has been  struggle to publish and took me years to write.  It has been my most difficult book, but here it is, hopefully, ready to be published in October.    So as I get ready to see this lugubrious horror novel in print,  I thought it would be appropriate to re post my blog post about the location that kept me up so many dark nights writing and dreaming of the monsters that might lurk in the shadows of Searcy State Hospital.  

Searcy is one of my favorite haunted places. I did my internship here a very long time ago and I fell in love with it's history and it's white chipped walls. Everything about this old hospital spoke to me. It was even more remarkable because most of those who worked there and lived there every day were oblivious to it's history.  Searcy State Hospital is located in Mt. Vernon, Alabama. Prior to being a state hospital the old hospital has a long and dark history that is very difficult to find, but easy to see upon casual observation. The hospital is encased in long, chipped, white walls that seem as old as anything in the United States. From outside these walls, you can see a battered watchtower that gives testament to the fact that the hospital is in the same location as a 300 year old fort. The fort bears witness to American history. It was originally a French fort and then a Spanish Fort. It switched hands during the Louisiana Purchase and became a US fort. After the US took possession of the fort it was converted to a military arsenal and became known as the Mount Vernon Arsenal.

The Arsenal switched hands again several times and was taken by the Confederates during the civil war only to be passed back over the United States again in 1862. From 1887 to 1894, The Arsenal became a Barracks and was used as a prison for the captured Apache people. The most famous of the Apache people to be held in these barracks was Geronimo. There is a door in the lobby of the old hospital that is labeled as the door to Geronimo's cell.   It is beautiful and intricate.  Sadly, history notes that Geronimo was not kept in a cell during his stay at Mt. Vernon.   He was allowed freedom to wander the barrack, so the door is just a lovely bit of folklore.  The infamous Aaron Burr was also held at this secluded prison at some point after his notorious gun fight.

In 1900 the Barracks were transformed once again and the prison became a mental hospital. Searcy hospital was built as the African American mental hospital in Alabama. Conditions in the hospital were beyond questionable and at one time there were over 2000 patients in the crowded hospital and all were seen by one psychiatrist. All patients were expected to work in the fields.

The hospital was desegregated in 1969, but it’s history is all around it. The hospital is still in used today, and although the residents live in new buildings, many tell stories of ghosts and devils that linger in the white walls and abandoned buildings that surround the new facilities. These stories are usually ignored, because the patients are crazy, but I’m not the only sane person who saw a few ghosts while they were working there.

Hopefully, the book really will be released this fall.  I've had several contracts on Circe and watched them dissolve.  It has been ten years since I started writing this book and thirteen years since I saw the haunting walls of this fog encased institution.  Thirteen is a good number for a horror novel.


Pam Morris said...

sounds like it will be a fascinating read--good luck on the publication!

Adsila said...

This sounds like it is going to be a great story to read. I got your novel and can't wait to sit down and read it. Thanks!

Jeffery said...

Sounds Brilliant mate!
I remember reading about the Apache side of things years ago,apparently Geronimo s skull is in the hands of the infamous Skull and Bone Club at Yale University..Bastards!..I'm Looking forward to reading your Masterpiece one day,it all sounds fascinating simply because I love the history behind things.

Andrea Allison said...

Sounds like a good read. You always remember the first one you write. Everything's a learning experience. I hope it finally gets published.

Jessica Penot said...

Thanks All! I'm keeping my fingers crossed. The publisher says the end of next month so I'm hoping that is correct. I'll have more posts up when I have cover art etc.

Justine's Halloween said...

That land has quite a history! It sounds like there's certainly some potential for spiritual activity there. I have some paranormal investigator friends who would love to stay overnight there. They're always looking for hospitals and old jails to stay in!

Congratulations on getting your book published. :) I wish you lots of luck!

Ghost Stories said...

its so interesting.. i like it

magikalseasons said...

Oh I do hope it gets published! 13 is a perfect number for a dark novel & Fall is the best time to curl up for a great Haunting read! Keep us posted I am up for a good scare!

Travis Thronsberry said...

I used to be a patient at searcy and my family was attacked by these ghosts and i was attacked by these ghosts in the hostpital hearing esp and did not like my stay and in the hostpital on the third floor of the poundstone unit in a bathroom mirrors would have Indian faces in them. When i came from the hostpital my family started hearing them i hear the same insane brothers girlfreind one day took a picture of my room and sure enough it was the picture of the same little girl brother took a picture of his room of what looked like the aperation of a gjinn since that objects would move and pictures would fly off the wall and break i hear the same screams screetchs.i was even scratched up as well as my dad and brother.