Littering the American landscape, empty hospitals and mental asylums sit abandoned; dark relics of a failed mental health care system. From ice pick lobotomises, neglect, torture and even murder, these rotting structures share a long and brutal history of cruelty and unimaginable suffering. So it’s hardly a surprise they are also the backdrop to some of the notorious paranormal hotspots in the country.
Here are the five most terrifying haunted insane asylums and hospitals where lost and forgotten souls of the past continue to roam the hallways to this day.
1. Pennhurst State School and Hospital
Location: Spring City, Pennsylvania
Built in 1908 and originally named the Pennhurst Home for the Feeble Minded and Epileptic, the facility was shortly renamed the Pennhurst State School and Hospital. Soon, the institution was pressured to accept orphans, immigrants, and criminals who could not be housed elsewhere. The extreme overcrowding and staff shortages ensured a long and brutal history of abuse, torture, and even murder. It was not uncommon for staff to drug patients, chain them to beds, or even leave them strapped to gurneys for days on end. In 1968 that Pennhurst came to the national attention when NBC released the feature “Suffer the Little Children,” showcasing the unimaginable suffering the patients endured. However, it wasn’t until 1986 that Pennhurst finally shut down for good. Medical equipment and personal items can still be found scattered in dust and rot in the abandoned ruins.
Today, Pennhurst is now open to tourists as a haunted attraction. Visitors often report sightings of shadow people in and around the grounds as well as the sounds of screams and cries of former patients. The most noteworthy paranormal activity is said to take place in the Quaker Building, where the shadows stalk you from the darkness, and the ghost of a little girl scratches visitors with unseen hands.
2. Athens Mental Hospital
Location: Athens, Ohio
In 1978, Margaret Schilling a patient at Athens Mental Hospital, now known as The Ridges, went missing. After a thorough search of the hospital and its grounds by hospital staff, her body was eventually discovered weeks later in the abandoned top floor of ward No. 20. She was naked with her clothes folded neatly beside her. After removing the body a stain marked the floor on which she had lain undisturbed for so long. Today, the stain can still be seen to this day, as can her ghost, which is said to roam the empty hospital. Margaret is just one of many spirits that are said to haunt the grounds, which is unsurprisingly considering the long and dark history of the institution.
Built in 1874, Athens Mental Hospital earned a brutal reputation for the mistreatment and abuse of its patients who were regularly restrained for days at a time, left in crowded in rooms and beaten by hospital staff. When the hospital closed its doors for a final time in 1993, the grounds that surround the hospital were lined with the graves of almost 2,000 former patients. On each headstone, only a number was in engraved in place of a name.
3. Danvers State Lunatic Asylum
Location: Danvers, Massachusetts
Danvers State Lunatic Asylum is often cited as “birthplace of the prefrontal lobotomy” for its use and refinement of the procedure, which first performed by physician Walter Freeman in 1936. The immense building which had originally been designed to house 600 patients had by 1939 a population of over 2,000. Combined with staff shortages patients were neglected, left sick and dirty and in near complete isolation. By the 1960s reports of unattended patients wandering aimlessly down winding hallways, sometimes dying alone in isolated areas of the hospital and left rotting for days on end before discovery began to have an effect. In 1969 parts of the hospital began to be closed down, and in 1992 the entire site shut down for good. For years, the building sat empty, save for the occasional local teenager in search of dark adventures in the rotting ruins. But in 2005, the hospital was purchased for $12 million with the plan to turn it into luxury apartments.
Much of the original building was demolished during the construction leaving only two wards and the center building. In 2008, construction finished and residents began to move in shortly after. It was then that reports of paranormal activity began. Residents and visitors claim to have seen full body apparitions, flickering lights, and hearing the sound of unexplained footsteps and doors opening and closing on their own. Some unlucky visitors have even experienced hair pulling, tugs on their clothes and scratches down their backs.
4. Rolling Hills Asylum
Location: East Bethany, New York
Formerly the Genesee County Poor House, the Rolling Hills Asylum was built in 1827 and was designed to house many of society’s outcasts including; paupers, drunkards, lunatics, the lame or otherwise handicapped, orphans, widows, vagrants, and even a murderer or two. Over its years in operation, as many as 1,700 patients died within the asylum walls, and it’s rumored that figure doesn’t count the hundreds more buried in unmarked graves that cover the site. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining the abundance of paranormal activity that has been reported at Rolling Hills. Disembodied voices, door slamming, unaccounted footsteps and full body apparitions are all regularly seen and experienced.
The most famous spirit to haunt its hallways is that of Roy Crouse, who in life was almost seven and a half feet tall. He died aged 52 in 1942 after living his entire life in the institution. Today, his gigantic shadow is often seen in his former room or roaming around the former asylum. The second-floor corridor on the east wing is another paranormal hotspot and is commonly referred to as Shadow Hallway, due to the high number of shadow figure sightings which walk through walls and crawl across the floor.
5. Waverly Hills Sanatorium
Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Waverly Hills Sanatorium was built in 1910 and expanded 14 years later when it opened its doors to tuberculosis patients as an isolation hospital. Soon, rumors were rife of patient mistreatment and human experimentation. Numerous reports of bloody surgeries that involved opening chest cavities to insert balloons into lungs, and the removal of ribs to allow the damaged lungs to expand was rife. It’s believed as many as 64,000 people who were admitted to Waverly Hills died there over the years leading to accusations of the staff’s overuse use of the “body chute”, or “the death tunnel”. The chute connected to an underground room where patient’s bodies were kept before being taken away for cremation. Most of the hospital, including the morgue and body chute, remains intact to this day.
Unsurprisingly Waverly Hills is the most notorious location for paranormal activity on this list. Known hauntings include the apparitions of a young boy named Timmy who likes to play with rubber balls. A nurse who hanged herself is said to still haunt room 502, as is another nurse who fell from the same room’s window, while scattered screams and mysterious footsteps can regularly be heard echoing down the now abandoned hallways.
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