Saturday, October 19, 2019

A Hospital Visit

I mentioned in my last post that I was in "foster home rehab." And I just realized that in keeping with that theme, my overnight trip on Thursday goes along with that. Our trip was to the small town of Weston, West Virginia, where there is an imposing, formidable building that, at nearly a quarter mile long is nearly impossible to miss. This building in its history, has gone by three names, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, and Weston State Hospital.  Whatever you call it, my brothers and my sister-in-law and I went pay the former hospital a little visit...  as a tourists of course.
~Thanks to Retired Navy Brother for this photo!
The hospital was in operation from 1864 - 1994. It's a Gothic and Tudor Revival style, hand-cut stone building that housed thousands of patients who suffered from mental illness and many who did not.

It was built in a beautiful rural area of West Virginia because social reformers were convinced of the healing powers of fresh air and picturesque landscapes.

Today, the former hospital is privately owned and offers various history and paranormal tours.  The building's name has also been changed back to its original name - Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.
Being superstitious especially at a place like a mental hospital, Irish workers added faces like these to ward off evil spirits. They believed evil could only enter through the back, so only the back entrances have these carvings.~ 
The hospital was originally designed to house 250 patients. But during the peak of its overcrowding in the 1950s and 60s, it housed upwards of 2,400 patients.

By the 1980s, wide sweeping changes had been made in mental health treatment and the hospital's population was in decline.  All of the operational and maintenance costs were no longer cost effective and the hospital was closed in 1994.

The building sat empty for 13 years and during that time fell into disrepair.  It was also subjected to looting and vandalism.  In 2007, the building and grounds were purchased at auction for $1.5 million and renovations on the building began. Today the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum offers various tours and other seasonal activities held on the property. All proceeds go towards the restoration of the historical building.
A photo of one of the upper floors that has been renovated.  This floor housed nurse and doctor apartments.

We took two tours. The first night, it was the paranormal tour. The guide, dressed in all black, with a flashlight led us throughout the main parts of the building recounting stories of some of the hospital’s better-known spirits, including a little girl named Lilly who was born in the asylum, a man named Jesse who died of a heart attack in a bathtub, Civil War soldiers, and a patient who was brutally murdered by his roommates. And several others I can't remember.
~Thanks again to Retired Navy Brother for this photo!~
The hospital is so vast that it is easy to feel lost amid the maze of hallways and patient rooms covered in peeling paint. Of course everyone on the tour is hoping for some kind of a paranormal experience. But we all agreed that walking through the building and learning its history in the dark was plenty thrilling, ghosts or no ghosts

Before we left town, we took another (daylight) 90-minute historic guided tour. We were again able to visit all four floors of the main building as well as the Civil War section and the Medical Center.  Our guide, a young woman dressed in an all-white nurses uniform, lead us throughout the grounds and shared so much history about the 160-year old facility that it was a little overwhelming.
~A solitary confinement room~

Two of the most disturbing things I learned during the tour were 1) some of the treatment methods that were used on patients in the hospital and 2) some of the utterly ridiculous things people, especially women, could be admitted for early in the hospital's history. --Notice the ingredients on the medication below....Chocolate covered??!!  

Some of the early treatments of mental illness were simply barbaric.  Patients were often shackled to the walls in isolation rooms, restrained in bathtubs for hours on end in cold baths (which was thought to cool the blood to the brain and calm the patient), subjected to electroshock therapy or insulin shock therapy (the latter put patients into  medically induced comas), or worst case scenario, given a lobotomy.
~The ingredients on the cough syrup would put anyone to sleep!~
In the early 1950s, the Weston State Hospital was home to what has been called the West Virginia Lobotomy Project.  Dr. Walter Freeman, the father of the lobotomy who was responsible for performing Rosemary Kennedy's lobotomy, visited the Weston State Hospital numerous times throughout the 1950s.  He developed a more "efficient" method of performing a lobotomy that didn't require drilling a hole into the person's skull. I'll spare you the gory details of this horrible and barbaric procedure and just say that this crude practice left many patients in a vegetative state or reduced them to child-like behavior.  It is reported that Freeman performed 228 lobotomies within a two-week period while visiting the Weston State Hospital. How awful.
Doorknobs used on the inside of patient rooms.  This style prevented the patient from being able to hang him/herself from it, and to allow to open it  from the outside, or to be used a weapon.
The other thing I learned that I found disturbing was that often people in the late 1880s were admitted for utterly ridiculous reasons.  Sadly, asylums were often viewed as repositories for more than just the insane and people were committed for ridiculous reasons.
~Many of those who worked at the asylum were also required to live there - This top floor is where they slept.
If I had lived in the time after the Civil War, there are many reasons why I could have been admitted.  For instance, I could've been admitted for a dog bite or novel reading. Yes, a dog bite or novel reading - And that my friends, as you can see in the list below, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Women were at a distinct disadvantage during this time because they were viewed as the property of their husbands.  If I had lived in the last nineteenth century, my husband could admit me to the insane asylum if I inherited money.  Yes, the man in my life could've locked me away until he decided to come back and get me or he could've just left me there until I died.  And of course, he would get the money.  Also if you were a woman and your husband decided to cast you aside, your children would be admitted to the hospital as well. An innocent child (or children) could have their childhood taken away from them merely at a father’s whim if he chose.
~One of the restored first floor spaces. This would have been for the more well-off and mildly ill patients~
What was further disturbing was learning that when a male child reached the age of 16, if he was deemed to be mentally fit, he would be allowed to leave the asylum but a female child, she would stay indefinitely since she was after all the “mother’s daughter.”  To think of the number of lives that were destroyed by having been sent to a place like this for no legitimate reason was just heart-breaking.
All I can say is THANK GOODNESS times have changed because it really was not easy being a woman late 1800s!  But I digress....
~Coffin style staircase~
I found the history of the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum absolutely fascinating!  There's just so much history you just can't fully comprehend it all. One of my brothers wants to return next year to do an overnight ghost hunt. He thinks it'll be great fun.  I so enjoy getting together with my brothers and their families because I don't see them often enough.  And I did offer to buy my brother's ticket if he decides to do the overnight tour.  So, we'll see.... We'll see ....

THANK YOU FRIENDS for stopping by, and reading this very long post!  I hope you enjoyed it and like me, maybe learned a thing or two as well!! Enjoy your weekend!
~From a rest stop on the way home~


  1. It's good to see that huge place finally being used for something positive. Those places sure were scary especially since you could be committed for the most ridiculous reasons. I know I wouldn't want to do an overnight in that place.

  2. Thanks for the tour. We have a closed mental health hospital called Northern State that was beautifully designed and closed in the 1979s. They have very recently opened part of it to the public and I will visit as soon as I am able. Many lobotomies were performed there as well. The cemetery is the saddest with no identifying markers.

  3. It's a better place than the asylum I inhabit.

  4. Hello, thanks for the tour and sharing the history of this place. The reasons for being committed are just ridiculous! The place is fitting for a ghost tour, sounds like some scary things happened there. Enjoy your day, wishing you a happy new week ahead.

  5. Reading down the list of reasons for admission, I feel that the people who compiled it should have been first in the queue to be admitted!
    Mental Institutions this side of the pond used very similar reasons too.
    The tranquillity of the scenery on the rest stop must have proved a welcome relief.

  6. This is absolutely fascinating Kim! I've been to Weston several times for motorcycle rallies and always loved this little town. I had no idea this place existed but after reading your post, I would love to take a tour! Thanks so much for sharing your visit with us!

  7. Sad to be a woman then . . .
    Think of the fear generated with submission .
    Awful, dreadful . . .
    Interesting to say the least . . .
    Thankful asylums are of the past . . .
    interesting tour,

  8. What a fun trip this was. Still cannot get over the stories of the amount and type of lobotomy's that were performed in this place. I'm sure there were more horrific medical practices that performed in this place than what was told during our tours. Will be bringing EMF meter and digital recorder for the all-niter.

  9. In Rochester NY, there is a big old ornate building that houses Monroe Community Hospital. Ghostwriter worked there for many years. She says care of the elderly and the insane has changed a lot since she started her nursing career in 1981. She can hardly imagine what things were like a hundred years before that!

  10. an incredible post! thank you for it and for sharing your trip there. the building is truly beautiful to be a part of such a horrendous past. the list of reasons for committing people is unbelievable. many politicians of today would have been patients. :)

  11. Yikes, that is some scary stuff! I think I'd be too chicken to do any night or ghost tours at that place! :)
    It was quite interesting reading about it though, I find history fascinating.

  12. Fascinating step back into history. Amazing the treatment of women.....husbands could just get rid of a wife easily, or a daughter who wasn't submissive. I rather think today, they may have to open a few more wings to accommodate 'political excitement' patients.

  13. I did indeed love this long post. What a fascinating place and interesting history. I know a few patients in the "Bad habits and political excitement" category. Can I make referrals?

  14. Very interesting post. I'm not sure I could spend a night or make a night visit but I'd like to hear from the person who did. LOL.

  15. Kim, this was fascinating. I shared it with Rob and we agreed we'd both have been locked away for numerous reasons.

  16. Your title made it seem like an ordinary trip to a hospital, which it definitely was not!!! Made me laugh but then, Wow! I've had to just sit and be still for several minutes after reading about all that you learned. Overwhelming the terrible things that happened there. Guess it's important to learn history so we don't repeat certain histories.


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