Photo: Bob Jagendorf / Flickr
Crumbling corridors, broken windows, the anonymous graves of former patients. Few places are as haunting as an abandoned asylum. While many of these institutions from the 19th and early 20th centuries are now gone, some still stand. A few facilities even offer tours.
Visitors to the haunted asylums below report disembodied voices, meandering apparitions, and eerie noises echoing through the halls. Care to step inside?
1. Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum – Weston, West Virginia
Built in the mid-1800s, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was originally intended to house as many as 250 patients. However, during the height of its use in the 1950s, nearly 2,400 souls were packed into the building, creating extremely poor living conditions. The facility was not known to treat its patients well—those who could not be “controlled” were locked in cages. Ultimately, the operation was shut down and the building completely vacated by the mid 1990s. In 2007, the hospital was sold by the state to private buyers, who now operate ghost tours in the allegedly haunted asylum. Visitors can take guided trips through the building or, if they feel especially daring, spend the night inside. Prior guests report spectral sightings, strange noises, and disembodied voices. Unsurprising, given the gruesome history of those who lived and died within the old hospital’s walls. Note: tours are on hold until March 26 while the building undergoes restoration.
2. Rolling Hills Asylum – East Bethany, New York
Photo: Jennifer Kirkland / Flickr
Rolling Hills Asylum, originally called Genesee County Poor Farm, was created as a “poorhouse.” The term was used throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries to describe state-run compounds that housed orphans, the poor, petty criminals, the mentally ill, and anyone else deemed unfit for mainstream society. While such asylums were ostensibly created to protect the vulnerable, they often ended up marginalizing them further—residents were called “inmates,” regardless of the reason why they lived at the poorhouse. Able-bodied inmates were required to work the land, caring for animals and sustaining the community. Many spent the remainder of their lives inside; there are up to 1,700 documented deaths at Rolling Hills, and likely many more that went unmentioned. Those who died were buried in unmarked graves on the property. Today, visitors can spend hours at the site, participating in various tours and exploring the once-populated farm. Many claim experiencing various creepy paranormal activity, ranging from disembodied voices and doors forced shut, to screams in the night and flickering shadow people. Explore if you dare!
3. Century Manor Insane Asylum – Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Photo: Dean McCoy / Flickr
Opened in 1876, Ontario’s Century Manor Insane Asylum was a beautiful facility for the region’s psychiatric patients. The building itself, built on a hill with a stunning view of Hamilton, was thought to calm the most troubled of minds. If the scenery didn’t do the trick (which it often did not), doctors frequently turned to shock therapy and lobotomies for treatment. Other procedures included salt rubs, morphine injections, and being locked in a coffin-like crib. Making a ghastly situation even worse was the tradition of Hamilton residents treating the asylum as entertainment. Locals often brought picnic baskets to the grounds and had a laugh at the behaviors of patients. Locals also knew to listen for the steam whistle alarm, which signaled the escape of a seriously ill individual, and served as a warning to usher playing children inside. The facility became a museum in the 1980s, and is now part of the Hamilton Ghost Tour circuit.
4. Waverly Hills Sanatorium – Louisville, Kentucky
The commonly held belief that Waverly Hills served as an insane asylum is inaccurate. It was actually a tuberculosis ward and, later, a home for the elderly with declining mental conditions. That said, the facility’s troubled history and its catalog of paranormal encounters make it a perfect fit for this list. Waverly Hills began in 1883 as a small, one-room schoolhouse built by Major Thomas H. Hays for the education of his daughters, as the family lived too far from existing schools. In 1908, Kentucky’s Board of Tuberculosis Hospitals purchased the property to establish a sanatorium and combat the state’s tuberculosis epidemic. Originally a two-story building, Waverly Hills Sanatorium soon expanded into a sprawling campus to support the ever-increasing number of patients. In fact, Waverly Hills was a self-contained city—complete with its own postal code. Patients, doctors, nurses, and staff were permanent residents of the complex.
Perhaps the creepiest feature of Waverly Hills is the tunnel that leads from the first floor of the sanatorium to the bottom of the hill. This subterranean passageway—later dubbed “the body chute”—was used to dispose of the dead out of eyesight of living patients. With this kind of eerie history, as well as the sheer numbers of patients who died slow and painful deaths on the premises (some reports suggest 8,000!), it’s easy to understand why urban explorers with a taste for the supernatural are attracted to Waverly Hills. Visitors can book organized tours and ghost hunting expeditions through its winding corridors and 400+ rooms.
5. Pennhurst Asylum – Spring City, Pennsylvania
Pennhurst State School and Hospital is another example of a self-sustaining city/asylum with a dark and troubled history. Founded in 1903, the immense campus housed society’s “feeble-minded” individuals. Upon admission, patients were “classed” as either being insane or an imbecile, epileptic or healthy, and having a dental ranking of good, poor, or treated. For years the facility provided what was, at best, subhuman treatment of its patients and residents. In 1983, nine employees were charged with abuse. Yet it wasn’t until a 1987 abuse case that the entire operation was shut down. Reports of paranormal activity and eerie sightings soon surfaced. Now, Pennhurst is reopened as Pennhurst Asylum Haunted House and can be toured by those curious to explore it.
6. Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane – Ovid, New York
Opening in 1869, Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane was once the largest asylum in the United States, and was in operation until 1995. Part of the campus continues to operate as a New York State rehabilitation facility. Consequently, the unused portion of Willard was originally off-limits to the public. However, public interest in the site’s history, not to mention the desire to see what spirits still linger within, led officials to open the building once a year for tours. Similar to the other abandoned intuitions on this list, the fate of many of Willard’s patients are unknown—though in 1995, some 400 patient suitcases were uncovered in the attic. Fair warning: The announcements of these yearly tours are often hard to track down for anyone living outside the Finger Lakes region.