No asylum or mental institution is a happy place by any stretch of the imagination. The fact of the matter is that when mental institutions, and the accepted approach to mental health, were in their infancy, many patients were mistreated and even died.
To say that these buildings have witnessed much suffering would be a huge understatement. If suffering and death can lead to a place becoming haunted, you’d think that mental institutions would be prime candidates. Here are 10 asylums and mental institutions where exactly that sort of activity is said to have occurred.
10 Waverly Hills Sanatorium
Widely regarded as one of the most haunted places on Earth, Waverley Hills Sanatorium is said to be home to a mysterious woman in chains, who can be seen running from the now abandoned building, a boy called Timmy who is obsessed with playing ball, a girl with no eyes called Mary, and the notorious Room 502, where the door slams shut if you dare to step inside its four walls.
Built in 1910 in Jefferson County, Kentucky, Waverley Hills Sanatorium was in part a response to the TB pandemic that had swept through much of the United States since the start of the century. The asylum was instantly swamped with sick patients and had to be expanded almost immediately upon completion. The mortality rate was exceptionally high for TB, with the vast majority of those diagnosed dying from the illness. Those who succumbed to the disease would make their final journey out of the building through the “Death Tunnel,” a 150-meter (500 ft) chute that was used to lower bodies from the hospital to the bottom of the hill upon which it sat.
Due to the accepted thinking of the time, patients were often left alone on the roof of the building, as fresh air was supposedly the key to beating the disease. Incidentally, numerous people have reported hearing footsteps and voices on the roof. Lights have also been seen turned on in the building, despite the fact that the grounds have no electricity. Room 502 has been the site of at least two suicides: In 1928, a young woman was said to have hung herself in the room, and in 1932, a nurse jumped to her death from its window.
The site was recently bought by a private couple who say that they plan to open the complex as a four-star hotel resort for paranormal enthusiasts and ghost hunters. Maybe they and their visitors will get a little more than they bargained for, particularly if they stay in Room 502.
9 Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
Weston, West Virginia
Considered one of the most haunted places in the United States, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum has been associated with strange events and suspicious theories since its foundations were first laid. The fact that it is said to sit on 666 acres of grounds only added fuel to these theories, 666 being the alleged “Number of the Beast.”
Some point to the fact that the building’s dimensions are in fact the workings of secret and ancient Masonic formulas. Was it a coincidence that after the foundations and shell had been built by prisoners, special stone masons were brought from Europe, specifically to work on the finer elements of the stone work? Probably, but it still got certain cogs turning in people’s minds.
Construction began on the asylum in 1858 and took over 20 years to complete, with it being officially finished in 1881. Patients had already been admitted since 1861. Although the initial plan was to house 250 patients, the eventual capacity was well over 2,000. As with many mental institutions and asylums of their time, some of the treatments carried out are now regarded as cruel and primitive, including lobotomies and very basic electroshock and chemical treatments. The walls of the asylum witnessed much pain and fear over the years.
Modern-day hauntings are well-documented, with shadowy figures being seen, people being physically pushed against walls, banging heard on pipes in the framework, and the alleged physical apparition of a black “demon” dog all being experienced by paranormal investigators. In March 2013, the Ghost Research Society carried out their own investigation. Using specialized recording equipment, they managed to record what they claimed were several haunting screams as well as ghostly voices that responded to their questions. They also captured an image of an alleged shadow person on their video recording equipment.
8 Beechworth Lunatic Asylum
Over 3,000 patients are said to have died at the Beechworth Lunatic Asylum (also known as Mayday Hills Hospital) between 1867, when it was opened, and its closure in 1995. It is now part of La Trobe University.
During this transition, workman would report hearing children laughing and playing, although no children were ever seen, and none were on-site. During a ghost tour of the area, one parent stated that she noticed her son talking to himself. When she questioned him about, it the boy replied that he was speaking to a boy named James, who lived there. Reports of people having their clothing pulled on are regular, as are sightings at the windows and footsteps in the hallways.
One of the more well-known sightings is that of a woman who has been seen several times in the hospital grounds, under the window she was thrown out of by a fellow patient. She fell to her death. Other sightings include apparitions of the asylum’s staff, the most famous being known as Matron Sharpe. She was said to be very good-hearted nurse who apparently sat and tried to comfort patients who were scheduled to undergo electroshock treatment.
In March 2015, a photograph appeared online that seemed to show the ghost of a little girl who was kneeling on the floor of the former asylum. Perhaps what made the photograph all the more chilling was that it was taken in what is said to be the most haunted part of the building—the Grevilla Wing, where electroshock treatment was administered. The photo was taken by Allen Tiller, who has experienced lots of paranormal activity while investigating the building, including an alleged recording of a spirit who told him in no uncertain terms to “get out.”
7 St John’s Asylum
St John’s Asylum has had many names since it was built in 1852, with its final title coming in the early 1960s. Although it was anticipated that the asylum would hold no more than 250 patients, by the early 1900s it had developed into a community in itself. The 1.5 acres of grounds included a chapel and cemetery, and inmates would grow their own vegetables and generally maintain the land upon which the hospital sat.
In 2010, a photograph was printed in The Lincolnshire Echo, which purportedly showed a ghost at one of the windows of the asylum. Other people have also witnessed strange things on the old grounds. One of the more well-known legends of the site is that of a “grey lady,” who is seen throwing a baby from the clock tower before she, too, plummets to her death.
In October 2010, a month after the photograph appeared in The Lincolnshire Echo, Totally Haunted did their own investigation into the site. They reported little activity until they made their way to the old children’s ward. There, they were said to have heard strange whistling, laughter, and what they believed to be a little girl crying. They also reported feeling like they were being watched while they made their way around the buildings.
Following its closure in 1989, part of the site was converted into apartments and housing, with only the main asylum buildings still remaining. These buildings themselves can’t be demolished, as they are protected Grade II buildings. There are currently plans to convert these remaining buildings into flats.
6 Poveglia Island
In 1922, the buildings on Italy’s Poveglia Island, near Venice, were renovated and used as an insane asylum. They already had a long, dark past.
Legends state that in Roman times, the island was used to contain plague victims, who were essentially left to die there. Many wars have also been fought on the tiny patch of land, and by the late 18th century, it had become once again a quarantine area for the sick. Perhaps the dark history had an effect on the infamous asylum and its patients. Many were said to report seeing strange figures and hearing voices coming from nowhere.
One legend in particular stands out: A doctor at the asylum decided to perform lobotomies, as well as other macabre and sinister experiments, on the patients. According to the legend, the doctor began to hear the voices of the ghosts on the island, who, perhaps in retribution for his actions, had turned their attention to him. He eventually fell to his death from the bell tower. Further legends state that his body was “bricked up within the walls” of the asylum building.
The asylum itself was closed in the late 1960s, but the stories of strange happenings continued, particularly for those who attempted to purchase the land. One family wished to build a vacation home on the island. Although they wouldn’t go into detail why, they suddenly changed their minds and left the island, never to return. Local rumors state that the daughter of the family had suffered an injury to her face that required stitches to repair. The wound was allegedly caused by a spirit or ghost that violently attacked her.
5 Trenton Psychiatric Hospital
Originally known as the New Jersey Lunatic Asylum, the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital had always provided generally very good care to its patients since it opened in 1848. That was before Dr. Henry Cotton took over. He brought supposedly “new” ideas on mental illness, and much suffering ensued.
Dr. Cotton had come to the conclusion that mental illness was in fact caused by infections of the body. In order to test and prove his wild theory, he began to remove patients’ infected teeth and even amputate infected limbs. He was put on review in 1924 following reported concern about his methods, but the New Jersey state senate eventually approved his practices. He returned to work in 1925. Since antibiotics weren’t widely used at the time, almost half of Dr. Cotton’s patients died under his care. He retired in 1930, but the asylum continued to put his methods into practice well into the 1950s.
Many ghost researchers and investigators have claimed to have seen Dr. Cotton on the old grounds. Patients, some with missing limbs, have also been seen. However, no photographic evidence exists to back up these claims.
4 Whittingham Hospital
Built out of need due to other institutions being overcrowded to bursting, Whittingham Hospital opened its doors in 1873. Right up to its closing in 1995, it was synonymous with mistreatment of patients as well as both physical and sexual abuse.
Staff reported strange events happening while the hospital was still open, and several apparent ghosts have been caught on camera since it closed its doors. One in particular was taken during a ghost tour of the building. It appeared to show a figure holding a newborn baby. What’s interesting is that back in the late 19th century, becoming pregnant out of wedlock or as a teenager was enough to get a woman placed in an asylum, and this happened more than people might realize.
The site is regarded as a paranormal hot spot, although there are tentative plans to renovate the site into a housing project. The site still hosts ghost hunts, both official and unofficial, and sightings continue to be reported.
3 Pennhurst State School and Hospital
Labeled “The Shame of Pennsylvania” by the media in the 1960s, Pennhurst State School and Hospital, and the investigations into the practices that went on behind its doors, was at the center of the human rights movements that would ultimately modernize and transform how society treated its mentally ill.
When it opened in 1908, Pennhurst not only housed the mentally ill, but also the physically handicapped, immigrants, orphans who had nowhere else to go, and convicted criminals. Essentially, anyone who was deemed “unfit for citizenship” was sent there. The facility was almost completely self-reliant, growing its own produce and featuring its own on-site power plant.
It operated for about 60 years, effectively under its own laws. Mistreatment of patients was commonplace. A 1968 documentary entitled Suffer the Little Children finally shined a spotlight on the inhuman conditions at Pennhurst. After two decades of legal battles and accusations, the facility was finally shut down for good in 1987.
Since then, Pennhurst has been a site of interest to ghost hunters and paranormal investigators. It has appeared on several television shows, with strange voices being heard and sinister shadows being seen on several occasions. One series even claimed to show the host being struck by an unknown and unseen entity.
Apparently the most haunted part of the complex is the Quaker Building, where investigators have suffered scratch marks as well as bruising from being pushed in the back. Multiple electronic voice phenomena have been recorded in this part of the asylum. Sharon Pugh, a psychic medium, stated that she could sense an energy there that was akin to a demonic force.
2 Clovis Avenue Sanitarium
In 1922, Anthony Andriott built himself an extravagant mansion. He went bankrupt before long, and the mansion served as a home for the terminally ill after that. In 1942, it was dubbed the Clovis Avenue Sanitarium, a place of residence and treatment for the mentally ill.
The hospital was constantly understaffed and overcrowded, and the mortality rate was exceptionally high. At times, with no morgue on-site, dead bodies were stored in the basement until they could be picked up and taken to the city morgue. Allegations of mistreatment also surfaced over the years. The facility was shut down in 1992.
Entrepreneur Tom Wolfe, purchased the building in 1997. After renaming it Wolfe Manor, he transformed it into a haunted house attraction. He even hired staff, who would wear scary costumes and frighten people as they toured the property.
However, soon after opening, both staff and visitors began to report spooky events. Cold spots were experienced in many of the rooms, strange voices could often be heard, and people even complained of being dragged into rooms by unseen entities. Perhaps most unnerving was the amount of 911 calls that came from the property to the local police department. The police would arrive to find that not only was there no disturbance, but the building didn’t even have a phone line connected to it.
In November 2014, the asylum was declared a public nuisance and demolished by the state. The building wasn’t up to standard building regulations.
1 Hudson River State Hospital
Poughkeepsie, New York
The Hudson State River State Hospital for the Insane opened in 1871, but it would be a further 25 years until construction was fully complete. At its start, only 40 patients called the hospital home. At its height, 6,000 residents were being treated there. It was finally shut in 2003, and it has remained abandoned ever since, despite plans to turn it into a hotel complex.
Numerous paranormal happenings have been reported by ghost investigators and thrill-seekers alike. In addition to hearing distressed voices and even seeing apparitions of former staff and patients, people also report being overcome with feelings of doom, sadness, and sudden depression. If that wasn’t enough, objects have been reported to move unaided and for seemingly no reason, while doors and windows have a habit of closing of their own accord. People have also seen shadow figures patrolling the hospital grounds.
Adding to the chilling feel of the abandoned asylum, the body of a murdered woman was found there in March 2015.