Mental Hospitals and Asylums seem to draw ghost stories the way a light on a dark night draws bugs. Ghost stories cling to them like moss and collect over time until the dead patients wandering the halls outnumber the living. There is an irony to this. These hospitals were built to be places of healing where the broken and lost could find sanctuary and solace, but these plans often go awry and accidents and apathy turn healing to hurt. Tragedies linger in the shadows of these hospitals and collect like dust over time.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic AsylumThis is considered by many to be the most haunted hospital in the United States. This hospital was founded in Weston West Virginia in 1864 and was then called The Weston State Hospital. The hospital had 250 beds and houses some of the sickest patients in the region. Although the hospital was built to house only 250 patients, by 1950 overcrowding turned the hospital into something out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the building housed as many as 2500 sick souls. Even Charles Manson spent some time at this notorious hospital. The hospital witnessed all the worst of the early treatments for mental illness and frontal lobotomies and water shock treatment were the mainstays of early treatment here. However, the worst tragedies occurred when the patients hurt each other. There were several patient to patient killings here and one nurse vanished only to have her body discovered under the stairs two years later. Death became common place at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. In 1994, the hospital was considered unusable and it was close. Those that have visited this hospital say that they hear phantom noises throughout the hospital. They hear ghostly screams and wails. Full body apparitions have been seen wandering the hallways and strange noises come from the darkness.
Bryce Hospital for the InsaneAlabama Hospital for the Insane was designed to be a refuge for the mentally ill. Its architecture was designed based on the ideas of Dorothea Dix and Thomas Story Kirkbride. It was meant to be moral architecture that would contribute to the healing process within the hospital The hospital opened in 1861 and for a while it held to the ideals of Dix and Kirkbride. The first superintendent, Peter Bryce, was an idealist and he had studied mental health in Europe. He believed that patients should be treated with respect kindness. He even abandoned the use of restraints. The hospital was later named for Bryce and it went on to be the model for progressive mental health care.
Time quickly eroded Bryce' legacy, however. By 1967, there were more than 5200 patients residing in a facility that was never meant to hold that many. Observers described Bryce as a concentration camp and a model for human cruelty. In 1970, one patient named Wyatt started a class action law suit against the Alabama's other mental hospital, Searcy State Hospital. This lead to major change in the way the mentally ill were treated in Alabama. The number of beds was cut drastically and humane treatment of the mentally ill became an absolute necessity. The landmark Wyatt v. Strickney Case would change Bryce drastically. Old Bryce was the African American portion of Bryce Hospital and was notorious for being even crueler than its white counterpart. After Wyatt v. Strickey and desegregation, Old Bryce was shut down entirely and other buildings were used. The African American patients were integrated into the white population.
Old Bryce still sits quietly deserted, however, as a reminder to the old days when patients were held like prisoners with no rights. It is covered in graffiti and has been vandalized many times. It’s even been set on fire. Trespassing is forbidden here, but the curious have reported seeing all manner of horrors coming out of the dark around Old Bryce. Lights flicker on an off in the building that has no electricity. Phones ring in rooms with no phones. Phantom lights drift from room to room. Furniture moves on its own and footsteps echo through the abandoned hallways. The living patients may be gone, but many believe Old Bryce is still filled with the ghosts of those who once suffered in its walls.
Norwich State Hospital For The Mentally Insane
Norwich Hospital for The Mentally Insane was built in 1904 in Preston, Connecticut and is known for the dark ghosts that live inside of it. The Norwich Hospital was designed to house the worst of the criminally insane patients in the state and, until 1971, it did just that. It was home to murders, rapists, and other violent offenders. The hospital is situated on 900 acres of woodland and is utterly isolated and crumbling. This façade has added to the horror stories that have built up around the violent people that lived within the hospital and has created a collection of ghost stories so large they could fill a book. Suicides and murders fill the history of Norwich Hospital and those who have died there never seem to leave. Witnesses describe hearing screams in the darkness Faces appear out of nowhere and strange mists and lights are seen in the halls.
Searcy State Hospital
Searcy State Hospital is located in the most Southern part of rural 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 and was originally 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. The infamous Aaron Burr was also held at this secluded prison at some point.
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 its history is all around it. The hospital is still 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.
Searcy served as the inspiration for my new novel, Circe. Its tragic history and haunted atmosphere serve as a backdrop to the chilling tale of a young intern slow decent into madness. If you would like to read more about Searcy, you can find my book at: