Guest Post by Medical Historian and Licensed Nurse Practitioner, Sherry Michaels Perry, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments or story requests.
Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
In the sleepy little town of Weston, WV stands a huge Gothic Revival Building. It was built between 1858 and 1881 and at one time consisted of 666 acres. Yes, that’s right, 666 acres. Rather appropriate for the building that hundreds of patients would consider their personal hell. The facility was meant to be self-sufficient so there was a dairy, waterworks and a cemetery there. The construction began in 1858 by “seven convict negros”. Eventually skilled stonemasons from Germany and Ireland arrived. Construction was halted by the Civil War. At this time the government of Virginia demanded the construction funds back to fund its army but before this could happen the 7th Ohio Volunteer infantry intercepted the funds and turned them over to Wheeling. The funds were used to start the Reorganized Government of Virginia which authorized starting construction again in 1862.
The building, which is the largest stone cut masonry building in North America was built following the Kirkbride design. Dr Kirkbride was the superintendent of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane and his plan called for the building to be built in long rambling wings placed in a staggered formation that would allow for maximum fresh air and sunshine to each floor. This sounds very good in theory because we all know that fresh air and sunshine can help lift you out of the blues. But this building, that was originally designed to hold 250 patients, had a whopping 2400 in 1950. Conditions were very poor, it was dirty, and food was poor quality and the staff not the most professional. A report dated 1938 stated that the facility housed epileptics, alcoholics, drug addicts and noneducable mental defectives among others. The unruly patients were kept in cages. Some people literally spent their entire lives there, if a baby was born to patient and the family would or could not take it; and was often raised there by their mother.
In the 1980’s a plan was put in force to deinstitutionalize mental hospitals and hundreds of patients were moved out into the community into group homes. This program started out with the best of intentions but funding fizzled and many patients ended up on the streets after spending most of the life in a hospital. There simply were not enough mental health facilities to serve the patients and many of them fell through the cracks and ended up homeless.
As I have discussed before, many people were put in mental hospitals that did not deserve to be there. A woman especially could be put there just for having a different opinion from her husband or saying no to sex. Their treatments there were cruel, lobotomies, water torture, spinning chairs and simply being caged or chained to the wall. If you weren’t insane when you were sent there you soon would be.
Since the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum closed there have been many reports of hauntings. There are paranormal tours and many people report seeing spirits or recording disembodied voices. It is not hard for me to imagine that it would be filled with tortured souls that suffered so much there when they were alive. The building itself is spooky and has a menacing feel as it looms over you as you stand in front. While I enjoy a good paranormal tour and a big scary building I can’t help but feel sorry for those that may be spending eternity wandering its halls.
(Swick, Gerald D. (2006) )”Weston State Hospital”. In Ken Sullivan (ed) The West Virginia Encyclopedia. Charleston, WV