Traverse City, MI

The haunted history of Traverse City State Hospital

Author Ed Anderson
Traverse City State Hospital has a complicated historyPhoto byTraverse City Historical Society

In 1881, Michigan had a need for a third psychiatric hospital. The asylums in Kalamazoo and Pontiac were getting close to capacity, but the patients kept coming. Officials weren't sure where they would be able to build another hospital to help the most people possible.

Parry Hannah, a lumber baron and known as the father of Traverse City, used his influence to get state officials to build the new hospital there. It seemed to be a great solution and the location could not have been better for the state, the patients, and the city.

It took four years to build the hospital, WDIV reports. Gordon W. Lloyd was the architect of the new asylum. He chose a Victorian-Italiante style for the building. Much of it has been preserved and is still standing today.

The hospital opened in 1885, then known as Northern Michigan Asylum. At the grand opening, 43 patients were already in the care of the hospital's staff.

Dr. James Decker Munson was the first superintendent of the hospital. He was known as one of the more radical doctors working, but he was effective at helping people.

According to MLive, over the course of his tenure, he made sure that the hospital was able to meet then needs of male and female patients. During the 1930s, he had three more buildings built to be able to better help the patients.

The hospital was soon at full capacity, but nobody was complaining because patients were happy, healthy, and seemed to be on the verge of major breakthroughs.
Some people claim that the grounds where the hospital were are haunted and one area might be a portal....Photo byNathan WrightonUnsplash

Changes And Hauntings

Dr. Munson believed that people could be cured of their mental health illnesses by beauty. He made sure the grounds were always kept up. The flowerbeds and the greenhouses were filled with gorgeous plants.

He also made sure that the staff and patients were kind to one another, Awesome Mitten says. If someone, stepped out of line, they would be brought to his office and given a talking to, something everyone tended to want to avoid.

Straitjackets and other restraints were forbidden, they went against the ethos of the asylum.

But by the 1950s, things were changing. New methods in psychiatric care were emerging and believed to be more effective than Dr. Muson's beliefs. And outbreaks of Polio and other diseases made it necessary for sicker patients to be brought in.

Drug addicts were treated in the hospital for a while as well.

With the changing methods and new patients, deaths skyrocketed at the Traverse City State Hospital, as it came to be known. People began to claim that they saw spirits and could hear noises.

According to TraverseCity.Com, staff at the hospital brushed off the claims as delusions. But as more and more people started saying that they saw something, investigations were started. Usually, those looking into the claims would do a cursory look, see nothing and write it down.

But as fewer people came to the hospital, more staff began to experience the phenomena of seeing or hearing ghosts around the grounds. Often times, it was chalked up to the building being old.

By 1989, the hospital was shut down and a few of the buildings were demolished. Nonetheless, the legend of the hauntings went on.
Some people claim that the Hippie Tree on the grounds of the Traverse City State Hospital is a portal to the Hell.Photo byWikimedia

Hippie Portal

One of the most enduring urban legends about the hospital revolves around a tree on the property. Dr. Munson's beauty as treatment philosophy saw countless plants and trees planted. One of the trees became known as the "Hippie Tree."

That particular tree is said to be extremely haunted. One man told a story to WRKR about how he and his friend were scared. In his tale, the man and his buddy were at the tree when they saw a shadow that was about four feet tall, there was a hiss and then the shadow disappeared into the woods. The man and his friend ran back to their car, where another buddy claimed to hear shouting. Neither man screamed.

Or they claimed they didn't scream.

Most people have chalked their story up to them seeing a bear. While not common in Traverse City, it's not out of the question that a black bear could be roaming the woods. But does that mean that nothing supernatural happens in the area?

One expert says it does.

Joseph Campbell, noted paranormal author and explorer, claims that if a person circles around the tree, they will be transported to Hell, WFMK reports. His story is that he tried this and was met at the gates by the tortured souls who used to inhabit the asylum.

However, evidence of his claims remains elusive. Other stories have come out about the tree transporting people to the underworld, however, most of the storytellers admitted to being under the influence of a mind-altering substance.

There is a true scary story surrounding the tree. Two boys were going through the tunnels and happened upon an escaped inmate. One of the youngsters was able to escape, but his friend was not so lucky.

The one who didn't escape was buried near the tree.

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Ed Anderson is a true crime and gossip writer from Detroit, Michigan. Ed is the author of several true crime books, most recently Financing Doubt.

Rochester, MI

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