The Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is said to be one of the scariest places in West Virginia. The facility opened in 1864 on a sprawling 666 acres of land. The Gothic and Tudor architecture makes the Asylum look ominous and foreboding, but the real horrors didn't begin immediately.
The goal of the facility was to be one of the first of its kind and a solution for those with mental illness. An autonomous institution became what many describe as a ¨hospital of horrors¨.
So what happened?
Construction on the institution began in 1858, around the ideas of Thomas Kirkbride, a physician and one of the leaders who pioneered fair and humane treatment of the mentally ill. The hospital was built according to the Kirkbride Plan, which incorporated fresh air, light, and nature into the building.
There were open spaces for patients to gather and socialize, and food was plentiful because of the onsite farm. Some of the patients have fond memories of the beginning days of the Asylum.
But I remember the Thanksgiving thing was great. We had great turkeys. And the Christmas thing was wonderful… it was like a fairy tale atmosphere. You know what I mean? It's like, I must be in heaven. I'm not in a nut house. I'm in heaven."
The Asylum was designed to treat up to 250 patients at a time and was an autonomous institution with an onsite farm, water and gas wells, and a cemetery.
It is a place for the patients to rest, recover, and receive care with compassion while they still maintain freedom and control over their lives. However, the good days were short-lived.
Overcrowding at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
In 1881, it began to become overrun, and by the late 1800s, the facility was 500 patients over capacity. This meant rooms designed for one now had as many beds as possible, creating a crowded, uncomfortable environment.
A place for refuge now became an institution bursting at its seams with patients. During the 1950s, the maximum number of patients housed at the Asylum was 2600; at this point, they were bed-sharing. This allowed each patient to get 8 hours of sleep, and then the bed was turned so the next patient could sleep.
The self-sustaining farm on the property could no longer feed all of the patients, which led to the malnourishment of many of the patients, which made things worse in the Asylum.
What mental illness was seen in Trans-Allegheny
As the influx of patients continued, the list of diagnoses for patients grew even longer. However, as many people did have mental illness, many of the reasons patients were admitted were not a mental illness. It was often a husband with a wife who was not submissive or had PMS.
Some records stated religious excitement or doubting one's ancestry could land them in a mental hospital. These days, women had no rights and were their husbands' property, so if he wanted to admit her for his infidelity, he could.
Some of the reasons patients were being admitted were diagnoses such as:
- Novel Reading
- Domestic Issues
- Falling from a horse
- Imaginary female trouble
- Desertion by a husband
- Insubordination by a wife
What medical treatments were offered
Kinkbrides' idea for the Asylum was that the patient should be treated holistically; unfortunately, that only lasted so long. Soon, controversial therapies, medications, and treatments were introduced to the Asylum, altering the patients' lives forever.
In the 1800s, ignorance was used to treat patients, and most patients became subjects of experimental treatments, including medications and surgical interventions.
At this time, medications such as Thorazine were initiated to treat psychotic disorders. However, it was overprescribed and was used to keep patients in a catatonic state.
As well as opiates such as laudanum, used to treat pain, often prescribed to patients. Other more aggressive therapies included insulin shock therapy, ice water baths, and electroconvulsive therapy, also known as shock therapy.
It did not end there; it was common practice to perform lobotomies as part of a routine procedure. Lobotomies interrupt the neural connections in the brain's prefrontal cortex, which affects the patients' personalities, leaving them without affect and sometimes catatonic.
Most could not do basic self-care activities such as dressing themselves, and many even died during the procedure.
Inhumane conditions and asylum deaths
As the Asylum continued its inhumane treatments, word got out, and a journalist from the Charleston Gazette conducted an investigation. What they found was chilling and beyond imaginable.
There were beds lining the hallways and freeing floors. The windows were broken and dirty, the wallpaper was peeling, and the patients were violent. They were even killing each other.
According to reports, an inmate was killed by two others; the inmate attempted to hang an inmate and failed. When the attempt failed, they placed his head under a bedframe and jumped on it until the bedframe hit the floor.
The patients also attacked staff. One nurse went missing and wasn't found for months, and when she was found in a disused stairwell, she was already decomposing.
The Asylum was understaffed, and the staff held the power to send patients to isolation if they were uncontrollable. Some patients were kept there for days or weeks.
The gazette continued to publish stories about the Asylum for years, and in 1992, the paper exposed Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum for unlivable conditions. These allegations and the number of deaths at the Asylum eventually led to the closure of the facility in 1994.
Over 2,000 patients are buried in the cemetery that is on the property.
The hauntings of Trans Allegheny
There have been reports of hauntings of the facility when the Asylum was open and after its closure. A doctor who worked at the Asylum reported that a spirit followed her home, and to this day, the spirit remains with the physician. Tourists have seen orbs, apparitions, and a ghost named Lily.
Lily lives on the 4th floor, waiting for visitors to play with her. A child believed to have spent her entire life at the facility and died of Pneumonia at nine years old. You can hear her laughter and reports of balls rolling on their own near her room.
The patient who was killed with the bedframe, Dean, is also said to be seen roaming the room where he died.
A spirit named Ruth is also said to haunt the first floor. Ruth, a former patient, did not like men, and when she was alive, she had a habit of throwing things at the men who treated her. In the afterlife, Ruth is said to target men and push them against all.
Ward 2 on the second floor is also said to be haunted. In this ward, a patient received 17 stab wounds inflicted by another patient, and two others hung themselves from curtain rods. Investigators on this floor often see apparitions and hear disembodied voices.
The third floor is also haunted by Big Jim and a nurse named Elizabeth. Noises and apparitions have been seen.
How to Visit
Since its closure in 1994, the hospital has opened its doors to paranormal tourism. Unfortunately, a place built to help people eventually turned into a place of death and destruction.
The Asylum is located in Historic Weston, West Virginia, and is open April 8th-November 12th for tours. The historic tour leaves every hour on the hour, and paranormal tours leave every 2 hours.