Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum – History

Through the weaving roads, rolling mountains and wild wilderness lays a small town of Weston, WV.  Looming over the entire town sits the centerpiece to pre Civil War era community, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum – originally named the Weston State Hospital. 

The Past

Construction of this behemoth hand cut stone castle began in 1858 on 269 acres of land by prison laborers.  However, in 1861 with the approach of the Civil War, construction came to an abrupt stop.  Virginia seceded form the Union in June.  In turn, West Virginia seceded from Virginia to stay with the Union.  That very same month, Union troops swept through the town of  Weston in hopes of capturing any Confederate supporters but also seized around $30,000 worth of gold from the bank exchange.  This money was actually stored at the exchange to cover the cost of construction on the asylum.  The gold was sent to Wheeling allowing for the state of West Virginia to be internally funded as an official state.

The Union was not done in town.  They created an encampment on the asylum’s property and even set up barracks in the partially constructed southern wing.  They also created stables in the main foundation.  Multiple Confederate raids on the land led to the loss of both food and clothing which were supplied on site for the first round of patients to the Weston State Hospital.

Finally, in 1864, the building was operational – but not fully completed.  It did begin to take in its’ first inmates under the name of West Virginia Hospital for the Insane.  The construction did continue until 1881 when the final acreage of the property numbered up to an ominous 666 acres.

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Like many asylums of the time, the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was built under the “Kirkbride Plan.”  This plan called for a main central building with elongated wings in a “V” design.  The rooms were then staggered throughout the wings which would allow for patients to receive plenty of sunlight and fresh air.  With these designs, the Kirkbride Plan allowed for patients to be equally cared for while giving them comforts and amenities in an environment which would allow them to be cured form their mental illnesses.

Along with the asylum itself, other buildings were constructed on the property allowing the property and inmates to be cared for self-sufficiently.  Among others, a geriatric center was built to help those with Alzheimer’s disease and forms of dementia, there was a large cafeteria constructed, a greenhouse which allotted for the majority of the produce used at the asylum, a medical center to help with treatable diseases and “normal” sicknesses, a morgue and autopsy room which allowed for patients to be buried on site after their deaths, and a separate building for the criminally insane which helped separate those who were dangerous to both others and themselves from the more dormant and tame patients.  In time, due to the tuberculosis crisis, a separate building was constructed to house anyone who contracted tuberculosis and keep them separate and quarantined from all others. 

The initial plan of the building was to house up to 250 patients at any given time.  At the time of completed construction in 1881, there were already 717 inmates crammed in the once private and comfortable rooms of the asylum.  At its’ peak in the 1950’s and under the name of Weston State Hospital, the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was home to over 2,600 patients. 

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Throughout this tenure of overcrowding, there were many reports released which showed that the asylum was not just used to hold insane or mentally disabled but also a strange compilation of odd conditions including things like laziness, belief of the superstitious and supernatural, chronic masturbation, random fits and tantrums, desertion of spouses, and even oddities like menstrual instability.  Alcoholics, drug addicts, and epileptics even found a home at the asylum.  At that point, the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum became more than a mentally ill hospital, it became a holding pen and long-term death sentence for the undesirables of the time.

Many patients, especially those that didn’t know better (and those who actually needed the care), were forced to live in unsanitary and barely livable conditions.  There was a deterioration of furniture, a lack of heat and air, and minimal light.  Some of these inmates were even tossed and locked in cages when they were misbehaving or if the staff just didn’t have time or the know how to deal with them.

Regular usage of lobotomies, electroshock therapy, and hydrotherapy kept the patients docile and under as much control as possible.   A local legend (based off a true story) tells the stories of a doctor who became infamous for his over usage of ice pick lobotomies.  It’s documented that he performed over 230 operations in a 2-week period in 1952.  Dr. Walter Freeman became known as the curator of the portentously named Operation Ice Pick during that time.  It’s no wonder the walls were built 2 ½ feet thick, just enough to mute the screams and cries from these terrible and painful treatments. 

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With the overcrowding issues, there were not nearly enough doctors and security for the inmates.  This led to an increase number of violent outbursts.  There are numerous accounts of patients killing themselves, patient on patient murder, and even staff being abused and attacked while working in the asylum.

There are numerous documented cases of murder, probably more undocumented with the size of the cemetery, but one of the more well-known murder cases described an occurrence where two patients murdered their fellow roommate.  They began by attempting to hang him with their bed sheets but when he did not suffocate, they decided to crush his head with the bed frame. 

Plenty of occasions the staff would be attacked, beaten, and even raped while on duty.  An instance of a documented murder was of a nurse who went missing for over two months.  Her body was found at the base of a stairwell.

As time passed and the hospital began to accept less inmates, the building fell into disrepair and eventually was condemned due to the mistreatment and obsolete practices.  The asylum was officially and formally shut down in 1994.  The building was abandoned and let to rot for years until it was placed on auction and was purchased for $1.5 million in 2007.  Any and all attempts to restore the building to former glory were disillusioned due to random fires and code issues. 

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The asylum is currently open to the public and has been partially restored throughout some of the main areas to show visitors what it looked like back in its’ heyday. 

Paranormal Experiences

 Visitors and employees alike report not only hearing and feeling oddities throughout the complex, but they have also regularly seen apparitions.  Between the staff and the patients, there have been thousands of people who have roamed the halls of the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.   

Dating back to the original occupants of the property, the Civil War section of the building hosts its’ own set of torturous experiences.  Screams and moans can be heard through these halls, more than likely the remnants of injured and dying soldiers during their occupancy.  Heavy boot footsteps can be heard echoing throughout but more disturbing there have been reports of shadows and even light blue mists which form and disappear just as quickly in these areas. 

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In the upstairs floors there have been stories of murders roaming the halls causing mischief and never allowing anyone to sleep through the night or spend too much time in their rooms.  It’s been said that they will begin to make the air thick and difficult to breath if visitors stay too long in their midst.

A psychopath housed in the asylum named simply Slewfoot had committed numerous murders in the upstairs bathrooms and is now said to haunt these very areas.  Pipes can be heard clanging, doors and windows slam shut, and Slewfoot himself is even said to let out loud bursts of laughter regularly.

Inside the isolation chambers there are reports of a haunt that lashes out at anyone who locks themselves in with them.  Bruises, scratches, and even bites have been photographed and documented on some visitors who dare spend time in those cells.  Some of these incidents are reported by the shadow figure which crawls through the halls and has been documented numerous times on film.  No one is sure who or more importantly what this shadow figure is but it is considered to not be from this world.

The most common paranormal experiences come in the form of screams, dragging footfalls, chairs and beds being pushed, cries, and even shadows roaming the hallways of the wings.  There were plenty of suicides and tortured patients who never got a fair shot at living their lives, most are said to wonder these halls aimlessly not having had a chance to move on and some others who may not even know that they passed away.

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However, the most popular and well-known entity is that of a young girl, said to be 9 years old. Her name was Lily and she was actually born in the asylum.  Her mother, name unknown but documented only as the letter “E,” was said to have been brought to the asylum already pregnant with Lily.  Her parents were reported killed in an accident and she needed to remain at the hospital for care.  Another, more gruesome and graphic story, tells that Lily’s mother was abandoned by her husband and raped numerous times by Union soldiers during the late years of the Civil War.  She was brought to the asylum to be helped back to health but instead slipped further into madness.

No matter the origin story, Lily is documented to have lived at the hospital and basically raised by the staff.  She had lived a short life and passed at the age of 9 with a severe and fatal case of pneumonia. 

It seems that Lily decided, or was forced, to stay behind at the only home she ever knew – the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.  Lily just seems to want to play with visitors.  Her room is located on the first floor and sits between the first ward and the Civil War wing.  It’s painted yellow and has been supplied with toys and dolls as a tribute to Lily and her playful spirit.  There is a music box which has been known to wind up and play on its’ own (or with Lily’s help) as well as a slew of toy balls which roll and bounce by themselves. 

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Laughter and giggles can also be heard echoing out of Lily’s room.  She is also known to tug on guests’ shirts and pants to try to get their attention.  No matter the reaction, Lily’s spirit seems to just simply want to play and get attention.  Whether she is lonely or mischievous, we’ll never know, but the fact of the matter remains that Lily has made herself known in more ways to more people after her death than even knew that she existed during her short 9 years living in the asylum during her lifetime.

Whether these spirits exist or not is all up for debate, but anyone who visits the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum will agree that there is a certain heaviness to the air, a specific sadness within the walls, and an explicit dark feeling of dread as you walk down those halls and share the same quarters as those who once inhabited those crammed and overcrowded cells.

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Our investigation will follow…

 

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