The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is said to be one of Americas most haunted buildings and it was easy to see how when we read over 50,000 deaths occurred during the running of the asylum from 1864 until 1994. We both wanted to find out what life was like in an asylum, how the patients were treated and the torturous treatments they endured. I also wanted to find out about the paranormal activity in the building, but they only offered history or paranormal tours, so either we had to pay for two tours (about $60 each!) or pick one. Luckily a jolly chap said he was offering a VIP tour today for $35 for two hours and could taylor it for us, take us to the areas of the asylum we wanted to visit and tell us the stories we wanted to hear. It sounded like a win win for us so we made it clear that we weren’t interested in the history of the building itself.
It was just us and a couple of middle aged ladies from Texas in our group. One who I’ll call Pat was clearly the ‘ring leader’ and the other one, Sal just agreed with everything Pat said… “Ain’t that right Sal” then she’d nudge Sal… “Oh yeah, sure is!”. The ladies were more interested in paranormal activity so really the only interest in our VIP group was ghosts and what life was like for the patients. Our jolly guide who I’ll call Bob clearly took on board what we all wanted to see and hear about by beginning the tour with a detailed description about the stones used to make the building. Oh for fuck sake. We went along with it and eventually he led us back into the building, teasing us every 5ft, pausing on the spot and telling us yet another riveting fact about the stone.
Bob finally took us through the left side of the building which was civil war era, another pointer Bob wanted to delve deeply into. The corridor was for patients in pretty good health and not considered dangerous. They really had a lack of understanding of mental health back in the 1800’s and patients were admitted for the most ridiculous reasons. Between 1864 and 1889 there were some very controversial reasons for people being admitted and men were known to drop their wives off until he decided to pick her up or she died, whatever came first. Here’s some genuine reasons they could use to admit someone: Menstrual deranged, novel reading, masturbation and syphilis, medicine to prevent conception, imaginary female trouble, jealousy or religion….I could stop there but this list is too fucked up to not continue…Fighting fire, fever and jealousy, asthma, bad whiskey (what does that even mean?), death of sons in war, women trouble, gun shot wound, feebleness of intellect, fell from horse in war. Ok I’ll stop there, but you get the gist, family members could just bring anyone along to the asylum and that’s probably the main reason for the place becoming overcrowded. The asylum was built for 250 people but at its peak housed 2400 people, probably a lot of unhappy women after their husbands found a mistress and sent their wives to a lunatic asylum for having ‘period pains’.
The civil war section we were walking through now was an area that had been renovated and we were surprised at how nice it was. The long wide hallway was painted margarine yellow with vintage rugs, rocking chairs and plants atop wooden tables. It was more like a hallway in a stately home than a mental hospital. Rooms were on either side of the hall and were brightly painted and very spacious. Bob said when he has to lock the doors at the end of the day his daughter sometimes comes along and takes photos. She’s captured a lot of creepy sights on her camera of anything from shadows to translucent ghosts. There was a big bath tub in one room which was used to induce patients into a coma by keeping them in a cold bath for hours or almost mummifying them in ice cold towels till I guess hypothermia set in. Back in the day doctors seemed to think if a mental patient went into a coma they would wake up normal.
The building was quite a maze and after the first pleasantly painted hallway they quickly deteriorated with crumbling walls. Bob said he’s walked along this hall on a hot summers day and seen wet footprints leading from the shower block up the hall to the communal area where we stood. There were adult and child sized prints and they were as wet at the end of the hall as they were by the shower block. Children lived in the asylum too, some with mental problems and others the children of patients. One room had kids toys scattered across the floor and I wondered how often the balls move around when no ones looking. A lady on one tour had chatted to a small girl and tried to encourage her to rejoin the tour group where her parents must be – but when she turned around the girl had vanished.
We exited the building round the back to see some gargoyle sculptures on the walls which were said to keep away evil spirits. We were then led through a small sort of kitchen area – to be honest half the time we had no idea where we were as I found Bob quite hard to understand. But there was a narrow room that looked like a kitchen, it had a long glass window across the wall where we stood and looked through. Bob said he stood with a large group behind him by the open door leading into this room (which we could see through the window) and the door slammed infront of him! He said this area was quite active with spirits, and showed us the grungy toilet block before leading us through another maze of rooms. One big open room had been photographed by one visitor and a shadowy man with hollowed out eyes was crouched in the corner atop a box.
Eventually we were led up the staircase to the second floor. Years ago a fire had broken out in the civil war area we’d just been in. The lady in charge of the prison knew if she sounded the fire alarm there would be a stampede down the steps. It would be chaos. So instead she sounded the dinner bell and everyone, oblivious to the fire, casually strolled to the other side of the building to a meal that didn’t exist and not one person was injured or killed in the fire – the power of food ay!
Bob had said he’d try and meet up with the Paranormal tour guide on the route so we could watch her use a device to make contact with the spirits. She said there was a particularly reliable place called the stabbing bathroom where she regularly gets replies from two chaps. While we wondered up a hall we checked out the empty room where two men hung themselves, some photos have captured the translucent figures hanging by the ropes. We heard a group chatting and I knew it sounded like another tour group nearby and Bob said exactly what I was thinking, but then Pat was all frantic “Did you say a group of ghosts are up there?!” we all laughed as she realised she’d misheard, and she looked quite disappointed. Bob led us through a door to another hall and called out to the Paranormal guide but no one replied so he shrugged his shoulders and we were about to continue on the tour when Pat had a hissy fit “SEE I KNEW THERE WASN’T ANOTHER TOUR GROUP!!” She was convinced it was ghosts. It was kind of laughable watching this lady so convinced that she’d heard differently to everyone else. When we later bumped into the paranormal group (who hadn’t had any luck talking to the spirits as maintenance workers outside were interfering with her device) Bob asked if she’d been up the hall where we were and she hadn’t. So Pat declared to the paranormal group that we’d heard a group of people singing and laughing and tried to shame Bob for not following the ‘mysterious’ voices…of another tour group!
Due to the overcrowding there were rifts between patients and we were told about a 12 year old patient convincing an impaired older patient to help him hang a man. They tied bed sheets together and hoisted him up but it wasn’t working so they cut the sheet and instead put the metal bed post on the man’s head and jumped on the bed until the leg touched the ground. One nurse was missing for two months before staff found her rotten body hidden under a stairwell.
A few of the halls had communal areas, where a tv would play in the background. The thick pipes rising from the floor to ceiling were covered in dents from where patients had banged their heads on them. Bob said he had a big tour group with retired people one day and they were all downstairs going back to their bus when he saw an old man on the second floor. He politely called out to the man to let him know his bus was leaving and the man just kept walking up the hall. By the time Bob waddled up the hall to him the man had just vanished. He’d also had a horrible experience recently where a restless soul made a huge bang from above them and as a 12 year old was in the group he had to quickly pretend it was workers knowing full well it wasn’t. He’s also had people in his group that have received three scratch marks down their arms. I can’t vouch for any of these stories but I do believe in the afterlife. Craig however thinks it’s all myth and legend.
The middle section of the asylum was where the head doctor and his family would live. It was all renovated and looked very swish with stylish furniture, up until the renovation they used to regularly smell strong cigar smoke. Bob thought he needed to touch base with some more building facts and described how the plastered seal around the ceiling was made. Just fascinating! He then led us through the right side of the asylum where the dangerous female and male wards were. It was at this point that we realised we’d paid $35 to walk around an old abandoned building. The rooms were all empty, there wasn’t any apparatus, beds or anything to give us an idea of what it was like being in these rooms. It was actually very disappointing. Just hallway after hallway up more steps and more empty rooms. We did get to one hall and Bob used some tips the paranormal guide had told him to do. We were on the top floor of the asylum, generally a place where staff lived and an active area for spirits. Bob got us all to stand in a line at the end of the hall and in a loud voice called through the hallway “Frank, Larry, I’m Bob, a guide here and I wondered if you could make some noise to let us know your there” there was a slight shuffle noise at the end of the hall but nothing much. He persevered “can you make a noise for us? Maybe tap a couple times” there were a few little noises but I certainly didn’t feel like it was a ghost tap dancing for us, I just put it down to it being an old building and a windy day. Then we heard a distinctive voice from the maintenance men outside and a few men laughing and Pat let out a huge gasp! “Ma god did you hear that?….you heard that Sal didn’t ya?!” luckily Bob let her know it was the builders outside but she clearly wasn’t convinced. We were silent again and Bob re-asked the chaps to make a noise, still nothing so he said “maybe you could…slam a door or something…?” and he let out a childish giggle that made me smile – like he couldn’t believe the audacity of the question he just asked. Alas nothing happened so we headed up the hall and then Pat said “DID YA’LL SEE THE SHADOW WALK PAST” everyone was silent. She was positive she’d seen a dark shadow walk across the hall….I might have believed her if she hadn’t made so many previous claims today.
And that was it…tour over. It cost nearly three times the price of the penitentiary tour but was half as interesting, we could really envision what prison life was like but we didn’t get that here and we weren’t told about the treatment of patients at all. The rooms by the entrance were turned into a museum and at last we found a section on the practices used on the patients. I really think a few rooms in the wards should of had these displays as appose to in the museum. It showed a dummy spread eagled across the room, chained up by their feet and hands to the floor and wall. Another room had someone having hydrotherapy in a bath, and there was also a demonstration of someone in a big wooden chair, this would be spun around extremely fast thinking that this motion would reduce brain congestion and cure mental illness.
The cruelest treatment in my opinion was the Lobotomy. It was discovered when a badly behaved, faeces throwing chimp cut the front of his forehead badly, maybe hitting his brain, and all of a sudden he stopped throwing shit and began behaving. So that was apparently enough evidence to try this on humans. The operation only took a few minutes; a small ice pick would be inserted under the top eyelid and up into the brain where it was jiggled about. This didn’t just make the mentally insane or crazy patients calm, it turned them into zombies and wiped their personalities. Somehow this practice really took off and hundreds of Lobotomies were being performed. They were even performed on children that had tantrums.
Another shocking display item was a wooden cage/crib only a foot tall and used to either transport difficult patients or to ‘control’ patients who were having epileptic fits. They literally had no idea what they were doing back then. There wasn’t a pill to take, so a physician just came up with extreme, even torturing techniques which they genuinely believed would help. We were shocked to find out that the Bedlam asylum in London used to actually allow wealthy Londoners to come by and watch the patients as a form of entertainment! Can you believe that?! It’s outrageous.
When I checked my photos at the end of the day I noticed a distinct shadow in a door way – did you notice it in the photo I added from the kitchen area on the tour?? At first I thought it might be Craigs shadow, but he, who doesn’t believe in any paranormal activity couldn’t explain it. I’m reflected in the glass in front of me, so if Craig was to my side he would also have a coloured but translucent reflection like mine in the glass. But instead it’s a shadow, but mines not? And it’s also got the brick print through it like its a see-through shadow. When I zoomed in I noticed three distinctively pointed fingers. If that was Craigs hand they wouldn’t be pointed but either rounded or just a blob where his hand was. If I really use my imagination I can see what looks like a girls face with hollowed out eyes. Can you explain the photo?