For us, the rainy, raw, late October days were meant for two things: getting cozy under a blanket and exploring the disturbing, the old, and sometimes downright unnerving.
If there was one month specifically dedicated to exploring the unnatural, then that has to be October, and our chosen spot that embodied the same characteristics was a psychiatric hospital in West Virginia.
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, nestled in the small town of Weston in West Virginia, is a former psychiatric hospital with an incredible tale about mental illness and its history in the US. S. Naturally, when we heard about this hospital with a story, we decided to trade our couch for coats because movie day could easily wait till the next weekend.
Interestingly, our visit correlated with the Halloween season – the ideal time to be around everything spooky.
The asylum was later renamed as Weston State Hospital, which offered tours throughout the year. Operating between 1864 and 1994, the hospital stands today as a landmark of how a single building tried to enhance the lives of people with mental illness.
Also, it might just be haunted.
The Tragic Story Of The Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum: The Truth!
Before planning a visit to the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, let’s talk about the tragic (and perhaps haunted) history of this place. Let’s dive right in!
A Bright Start At The Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum:
In 1864, the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum opened its doors for the first time, just before the US government gave statehood to West Virginia. This was also right before the Civil War ended.
The building’s construction went on for two whole years – the Tudor Revival and Gothic architecture looked foreboding and ominous, but the asylum’s initial days were pretty opposite.
Built as per the Kirkride Plan (building design plan by Thomas Kirkbride, a psychiatrist), the building incorporated nature, fresh air, and light into the plan. The doorways were positioned carefully – so that when they were opened, sunlight would enter and flood the rooms.
The property had multiple open spaces to gather and communicate with patients. There was plenty to eat, do, and talk about. In fact, even the hospital grounds were designed in a way that the people looking out of the windows would only see openness and rolling hills. There was nothing outside to suggest that the hospital was actually surrounded by anything restrictive to keep patients ‘locked’ inside.
Moreover, performances and art therapy were all part of the culture of the hospital, and some patients have gone on record to fondly talk about their experiences.
For a change, this wasn’t one of those toxic places where mental illness was treated as exactly that – an ‘illness.’
Instead, Kirkbride actually believed in the concept of physical activities as a kind of patient therapy while patients were given dignity, comfort, and privacy. Initially, the building was built to house around 250 people at one time. Moreover, the hospital had its own dairy and farm – nutritious, fresh food was there for everyone.
Our guide (name withheld on request) described how the hospital used to actually operate in the beginning. We couldn’t help but envision a nurturing, calm environment that supported the people endowed with its medical and physical care.
However, life in the asylum did not really stay like this for a very long time.
The Tragic Overcrowding At The Hospital:
While the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was first built for about 250 patients, it was not long before the numbers actually rose, with several beds being crammed into the different rooms. These rooms used to be so cozy in the beginning, but very quickly, they became crowded.
Once a huge number of people were starting to get admitted to the ‘asylum,’ the hospital staff overworked to house everyone. The population reached 2600 patients in 1950. This was the time when bed-sharing was introduced. Patients had beds to rest for eight hours effectively before the beds were given to others.
It’s safe to say that the hospital was overcrowded, and the staff was doing everything possible to house everyone who needed their care. But why did the overcrowding take place? Let’s find out!
Why Did Overcrowding Take Place At The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum?
In part, overcrowding happened because of the huge variety of people that came to seek care. While there were many people who suffered from serious mental illnesses, not everyone was undergoing the same.
Our guide actually listed a few surprising notes that were discovered in the records of patients. Some reasons were purely medical. For instance, tuberculosis, rabies, and asthma were certainly not medical problems.
And there were other strange reasons as well!
- Wives who ‘defied’ their husbands.
- Doubts about one’s ancestry.
- Religious and political excitement.
- Getting kicked by horses (yep, the strangest).
In fact, a man could actually come to the hospital and admit his partner without any reason or rather for any reason.
For instance, if he has an affair outside and decides to get rid of his wife, he could do that easily by admitting his wife to the hospital. Sometimes, children would come to the hospital with their mothers. Then, there were times when children would appear at the asylum, and that too, as orphans.
A massive part of the asylum’s rich history was actually written by the ones who shouldn’t have been there at all.
Medical Treatments At The Asylum:
Kirkbride believed that anyone who was a patient with mental illness needed holistic care. But this idea didn’t really govern the asylum after the initial years.
Controversial medications, treatments, and therapies transformed the different lives of patients. But not in any productive manner in most cases.
Thorazine or Chlorpromazine was introduced for treating psychotic disorder. However, it was prescribed widely and used for keeping victims in a blank state. Similarly, an opiate called laudanum was regularly used for treating pain.
We checked out the asylum’s apothecary, and it sent shivers down our spines. The hospital’s staff also used electroconvulsive or shock therapy. Additionally insulin shock therapy to put patients in a state of coma.
While several medical treatments were used at the asylum, lobotomies seemed to be the most intriguing one. Since lobotomies were known to interrupt the brain’s neural connections at the prefrontal cortex, the treatment was eventually used to steal the personality of the patient, leaving them without any impact.
Patients even underwent brutal transorbital lobotomies or icepick lobotomies. In this procedure, icepick-like instruments were inserted into the eye socket, connecting the same with the patient’s brain tissue.
To make matters worse, Dr. Walter Freeman actually made the process popular – he would conduct lobotomies for $25/patient, encouraging crowds to actually watch the procedure take place like it was some sort of a theatrical show.
Nearly all the patients who experienced the process were altered completely. In which mostly not able to provide even a basic kind of self-care. There were many patients who passed away during the process. These lobotomies were brutal and horrific and frequently changed or ended the lives of patients.
Deaths At The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum:
While there were many patients who left the hospital eventually on their own accord, many people actually died at the hospital. The staff used to notify the families of patients of their deaths. But in a majority of cases, families didn’t actually return to take the bodies for burial or even identify the same for that matter.
The hospital used to assign a number to the bodies of patients who weren’t claimed by anyone. These patients were buried in the hospital cemetery and were simply issued a standard gravestone reflecting the identification number. Sadly, over time, several gravestones were actually removed and eventually repurposed.
Currently, there is probably no way to actually identify the buried bodies at the hospital. Also, patients at the hospital were always buried but never cremated.
So, Is The Asylum Haunted?
Inside a building filled with tales of desperation, neglect, and torture, it is no wonder that ghostly stories run amok as a part of the property’s rich tapestry. The hospital also offers paranormal overnight tours, which is perhaps the best opportunity for visitors to encounter ghosts.
Allegedly, the staff knows certain ghosts, including the playful Lily, a child who had spent most of her life in the hospital. Lily loves to play games, and reportedly, balls rolling around on their own close to her room. That actually suggests how she plays a very active part in the hospital community. She is also known for her childish laughter.
Then, there’s Dean, who had met an unfortunate end at the bedframe’s wrong end. Reportedly, Dean currently spends plenty of time in this room.
And It’s A Wrap!
In case you love going on ghost-hunting adventures, then the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is a great place to meet spirits who have not really moved on to date. Of course, we visited during the daytime, and as a result, we weren’t able to connect with the supernatural.
But standing on our own in the isolating hallways, looking at rooms adorned with rusted furniture and peeling paint, was enough to set the scene for paranormal encounters.
Visitors and guides mention that ghosts have often revealed themselves. And that too in several ways, including screaming, appearing as orbs or lights, slamming doors, and the like.
So, try to be aware of anything strange – unexplained noises and sights or anything that is weird. Don’t be shocked if any of these aspects make an appearance on your trip. So, tell us what are your thoughts on visiting this haunted mental hospital.
Feel free to share your thoughts, opinions, and, most importantly, experiences related to this asylum or similar places in the comments below.