The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia is steeped in history and intrigue.
One of the largest hand-cut stone masonry buildings in the world it now stands as a crumbling monument to both the good intentions of those wishing to help the mentally ill and the inhumanity of others who treated them with boundless ignorance.
Like many other similar institutions in the USA, the hospital was closed at the end of the twentieth century when an enlightened society refused to tolerate the overcrowding and cruelty of such places anymore.
The economic effect on the nearby town was devastating as the asylum was a major employer.
Before long, though, the empty hospital began to generate an income of a different type when it began to draw those interested in the paranormal.
Like many similar buildings, the abandoned asylum had acted as a crucible to the anguish and misery endured by its inmates during its occupancy and today their suffering still binds their ghostly souls to the place where they spent their final days.
Although it no longer admits patients, the long rambling corridors of this enormous building are far from silent.
Today it is filled with ghost hunters and curious tourists, keen to explore the reason why its abandoned walls still echo with the anguished sobbing of the ghosts of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.
A Brief History of the Asylum
Work began on the building of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in 1858. Constructed along the lines of the Kirkbride Plan which advocated long, light corridors and fresh air, it was founded with the best of intentions by people who were keen to support the mentally ill in society.
Its construction was temporarily halted during the American Civil War when it was used as a base by both union and confederate soldiers at different times.
When the war ended construction resumed and by 1881 the hospital was complete and admitting some of the 240 patients it was built for.
Unfortunately, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and this certainly became the case with the Trans-Allegeheny Asylum.
Before long people were admitted for the most trivial reasons including; jealousy and religion, novel reading, desertion by husband, and women trouble.
In short the asylum, like many across the USA, became a dumping ground for the vulnerable, the disadvantaged and the powerless.
By the 1950’s the hospital was crammed with 2,500 patients, ten times its capacity.
Life for many was hellish with murders and sexual assaults going un-investigated. Ignorance about the causes of mental illness gave rise to inhumane and barbaric treatments.
Aversion therapy using poisons was used to treat homosexuality, other patients endured electro shock therapy and ice cold baths.
Perhaps the most horrifying procedure was the ice pick lobotomy performed upon thousands of patients. A sharp instrument was driven through the eye socket with a sharp blow so that it pierced the brain.
It is difficult to understand the advantages of such a procedure but it was performed on a daily basis.
One doctor at the asylum performed 228 lobotomies in one week.
By the end of the twentieth century the once firmly closed doors of America’s lunatic asylums had been thrown open and the public had no taste for what they discovered.
One by one the institutions closed down including Trans-Allegheny.
For the lucky, their hellish existence was over and a new life beckoned. For many though it was too late, they had already passed on and it is their troubled souls that now haunt the old wards and corridors of the place where they endured so much suffering.
Trans-Allegheny’s Favorite Ghost
The saddest and the most famous of the Trans-Allegheny ghosts is also one of the most active. Tragically it is the spirit of a little girl called Lily.
Lily is reputed to be the daughter of a previous inmate, Gladys Ravensfield. Gladys was admitted to the asylum after being attacked and raped by a group of soldiers during the American civil war.
In 1863 the young woman gave birth to a child who the staff named. Gladys was never well enough to take care of her baby and was eventually driven to madness by her brutal experience and the hardship of life in the asylum.
Possibly because she was the product of rape, Lily was not fostered or adopted out but remained an inmate of the asylum herself, until her untimely death in early childhood.
Today her ghost haunts the corridors of Trans-Allegheny looking for a playmate. Aged about three or four she has been witnessed many times by visitors and staff.
Her childish charm has made her a real favorite and today she even has her own room where people leave her toys.
The delightful little girl is known to tug on the clothes of people who she takes a liking to and sometimes slips her cold hand into the hand of female visitors.
The little girl clearly has a sweet tooth and is known to steal candy if it is left in her room.
Recorded on video rolling a ball across the floor when requested, it is clear that this little ghost is keen to please the adults around her.
Other Ghostly Residents of Trans–Allegheny
Sadly not all of the ghosts that haunt this abandoned asylum have the sweet benign nature of little Lily. A product of their brutal past or insanity they have been known to hurt and terrify visitors to Trans-Allegheny.
The ghost of Ruth is purported to hate men. One can only imagine what provoked such antipathy to the male sex during her lifetime and why she was admitted to the asylum.
Today the vengeful Ruth takes out her anger by poking and pushing male visitors to Trans-Allegheny. Clearly still very angry she has gone as far as shoving some unfortunate males up against a wall.
Ward 2 is haunted by one patient who was stabbed 17 times and left to die alone. The unidentified male patient can be heard screaming from the ward and his shadowy ghost is said to flit about, possibly trying to escape from his attacker.
The nurses’ station on the third floor is home to ex-member of staff, Elizabeth. Occasionally her ghostly apparition is seen going about her business.
More often doors open and close without any visible cause. Is Elizabeth a caring nurse who has stayed behind to care for her ghostly patients or does she linger for a more sinister reason?
The death of Dean, a former patient is truly horrific. Attacked by two patients who attempted to hang him, the unfortunate Dean refused to die.
Incensed, his attackers dragged him into a nearby bedroom. The pair lifted the bed and placed one of the legs on Dean’s head. They then jumped on the bed crushing Dean’s skull and ending his life.
Today Dean’s spirit remains in the room where he was murdered. Despite the terrible end to his life, Dean is not a malevolent spirit but a tragic young man who cannot find peace.
The second floor of the asylum is known as the Civil War Wing. The ghost of soldiers have been seen walking about this area.
It is not clear whether these are the spirits of soldiers based in the building during the civil war or whether they are one of the many shell-shocked soldiers admitted for treatment over the years.
Hundreds of paranormal episodes have been reported and recorded all over the Trans-Allegheny Asylum.
These include disembodied voices shouting at people to go away, sobbing and screaming, footsteps, doors slamming, shadow people flitting and crawling, lights and orbs, unexplained breezes, cold spots and full body apparitions of past patients.
Today, the old mental hospital in West Virginia attracts visitors from all over the world. Some are keen to learn about its role in the American Civil War but most are drawn by the ghosts of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.
Haunted by the tragic souls of people who endured unimaginable horror and barbarism in the name of medicine, these former patients lived hellish lives and now tortured deaths.
It seems incredible today that practices such as aversion therapy, electric shock treatment, and frontal lobotomies were a common practice just a few short decades ago.
Today these treatments won’t be tolerated in a civilized society.
For those lucky enough to visit the Trans-Allegheny it is well worth stopping awhile to consider before you enter, some of the trivial or sinister reasons people have been committed to this asylum, the same people who now haunt its endless corridors.
Perhaps it would be fitting then to utter a little prayer of thanks and reflect as you walk through the imposing doors that there but for the grace of god go I.