Thursday, April 23, 2020

HGB Ep. 333 - Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

This episode sponsored by Kobo Audiobooks, check out and use code HISTORY40 for 40% off and also by the History or His Story Podcast at

Moment in Oddity - The Mystery of Skeleton Lake

In 1942, a British troop in Roopkund, India made an alarming discovery that came to be known as the Mystery of Skeleton Lake. And that is just what they found. A lake full of skeletons, only this lake was frozen. This lake was 16,000 feet above sea level and set at the bottom of a small valley. The troop waited for the summer thaw to investigate it properly and they were left with two big questions: what year were they from and what killed some 200 people? Since the war was on, many suspected that these were Japanese soldiers who were sneaking through the air and died of exposure. Archaloegists studied the bones and found they they were much older, so the skeletons could not belong to Japanese soldiers. The dry, cold air had preserved the bones and scientists found that they dated to around 850 AD. Now they needed to figure out what had killed these people. Was it some kind of exposure? Had there been an epidemic? Was there a natural disaster? Was this some kind of weird death ritual? Modern DNA tests helped scientists to figure out that these were two different ethnic groups and based on clothing and items found nearby, that this was probably a traveling group of people who were being lead by a hired group of local guides. Studying the skulls revealed little deep cracks and the only other wounds found were on the shoulders, leading experts to believe that the blows came from above. But it didn't seem that weapons had made the wounds. This was probably a weather event and based on stories we hear about baseball-sized hail stones, it's easy to believe that being out in an open valley during one of these storms, could lead to massive head trauma. That is what scientists concluded. And an old Himalayan folk song lends some credence to that theory because its lyrics describe a goddess raining death down on those who defile her mountain with hailstones that were as "hard as iron." Finding a large group of skeletons frozen in a lake some 1,800 years after a hailstorm killed them all, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Hank Aaron Beats Babe Ruth's Home Run Record

In the month of April, on the 8th, in 1974, Hank Aaron hits his 715th career home run. Aaron was born in 1934 in Mobile, Alabama to a poor family. He practiced by hitting bottle caps with a stick and made balls and bats out of anything he could find laying around. Aaron dreamed of being like his hero Jackie Robinson and just like Robinson, when he finally made it into the Negro American League in 1951, he experienced some overt racism. For three months, he played for the Indianapolis Clowns and then he got two offers from the MLB, one from the Boston Braves and the other from the New York Giants. He went with the Braves because they offered hom $50 more a month. His teammates called him "Pork Chops" because he ate them for almost every meal. 1955 was a banner year for him in which he hit with a .314 batting average with 27 home runs and 106 RBIs. Each year he did even better. In 1969, Aaron passed Mickey Mantle's total home runs and moved into third place on the career home run list, behind Willie Mays and Babe Ruth. When Aaron closed in on Babe Ruth's record, he started receiving death threats. He actually feared that he wouldn't live long enough to surpass that record. Aaron broke the record on that April day in 1974 in front of a record breaking Braves' crowd. Aaron ended his career with 755 home runs and he retired in 1976.

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (Suggested by listener Astrid)

Creepy. That's the one word we hear from everyone who has ever visited the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. This was a place of immense sadness that was for many years home to the mentally ill and other unfortunate souls. The name would change later to Weston State Hospital. The hospital closed in 1994, but the building reopened as a historic site offering tours. And as is the case with so many of these places, one can investigate the paranormal here and there are so many stories of unexplained experiences coming out of this place, that it is hard not to believe that this is one of the most haunted places in the world. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.

West Virginia is a gorgeous state and one full of mystique. We've shared before about the legends of this state that is completely engulfed in the Appalachian Mountains. This is a state of coal mines, rolling hills and trees. There are many well known haunted locations here as well with this being the home of the Mothman, Flatwoods Monster, Moundsville Penitentiary and Lake Shawnee and Harper's Ferry, both of which are on our suggestions list. The settlers who founded Weston, West Virginia seemed to have a tough time choosing a name for their town. The town was founded as Preston in 1818 and changed to Fleshersville right after that and then finally they chose Weston in 1819 and that was the one that would stick. Weston incorporated in 1846. The Museum of American Glass is here with over 20,000 pieces on display including historic glass and art pieces. This would also be the place chosen to build the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.

The former asylum is located at 71 Asylum Drive and is the largest hand cut stone building in America and the second largest in the world, falling just behind Moscow's haunted Kremlin. Stone masons came from Germany and Ireland to cut the stones. As was the case with many of the asylums we've covered, Trans-Allegheny was designed following the Kirkbride plan. Thomas Kirkbride thought of mental illness in a different way then many people of his time. He believed that the mentally ill could be treated and cured. This could be facilitated with moral care, which is just basically good food, lots of rest, exercise, light and getting out in nature. And he came up with a design that would work better for asylums and wrote about it in his book "On the Construction, Organization, and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane With Some Remarks on Insanity and Its Treatment." This design was in a flattened V shape, branching out like stair steps on each side. This would allow for ventilation and sunshine for every room. One side of the V was for men and the other for women and the outer reaches of the wings were reserved for the toughest cases.

Architect Richard Andrews designed Trans-Allegheny according to the Kirkbride plan. Construction was begun in 1858, using prison labor, and would not be completed until 1881. One reason for the delay was the Civil War. During the War in 1861, the Union 7th Ohio Infantry took over the asylum and called it Camp Tyler. This was an important military post. Despite not being completed, the first patients were welcomed in 1864. The asylum was meant for a total of 250 patients, but far more would end up being housed here. Studying the architecture of the asylum, it is easy to see the Gothic and Tudor Revival style influences. There are Tudor arches, drip moulds above the windows and the very distinctive Curvilinear gables, which is what is seen at the top front of The Alamo. There is a central clock tower that was completed in 1871 that looks a bit out of place and is painted white. Segregated rooms for people of color were added in 1873. When construction was finished, the asylum was like its own little community like all those that came before and after it. There was a vegetable garden, a dairy, a waterworks, a gasworks and three cemeteries. The apothecary in the old Civil War Wing offered an assortment of medicinal items from thorazine to heroin to bourbon!

Things started out good with positive intentions, but this would unravel over time. By 1880, there were nearly 500 more patients being cared for than the hospitals maximum of 250. These numbers just rose until there was a peak of 2,600 patients in the 1950s. Clearly, this caused overcrowding and poor sanitation. Obviously, not just the mentally ill were housed here. People could be sent here for a number of reasons including epilepsy and addiction and even very trivial matters like a husband who just didn't like his strong-willed wife talking back to him. Women could get committed by their husbands for reasons like "disappointed affection," "imaginary female trouble," "medicine to prevent conception" and "time of life." Unruly patients were often locked in cages. In 1913, Trans-Allegheny became Weston State Hospital, but the name change did nothing for conditions. In the 1980s, the population was lowered. The hospital was closed in 1994 when another hospital was built. For many years, the buildings on the campus were left abandoned and many areas were damaged by vandals and the elements. The Weston Hospital Revitalization Committee, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, was formed in 2000 to help preserve the buildings. Joe Jordan bought the property for $1.5 million in 2007 and they have put together a museum and offered historical and ghost tours ever since. His daughter Rebecca Gleason is now the operations manager.

Many forms of therapy were used on the patients and doctors liked to experiment. There were cold baths, electro-shock therapy, insulin-shock therapy, bloodletting and confinement cribs. One of the darkest stains on the history for Trans-Allegheny was its West Virginia Lobotomy Project headed up by Walter Freeman. This project started in the early 1950s and was authorized by the West Virginia Board of Control. There was a control group of 228 patients who were subjected to transorbital lobotomy. The procedure led to four fatalities, two of them due to hemorrhage and two to dehydration. After a year, eighty-five of the subjects were released from the hospital. The main goal of this project and for even doing the lobotomies was to help empty out the hospitals. Egas Moniz, a Portuguese neurologist, pioneered the method and Freeman adopted it in 1936. He was the one who named it "lobotomy" and he was the one that developed what we consider to be the barbaric transorbital version of the lobotomy. This was basically using an ice pick through the eye, beating it with a mallet to get into the skull and severing the frontal lobe from the rest of the brain by moving that ice pick around. Most patients did not consent to the procedure. The project ended in 1955 and there seemed to be no positive outcome. Violent patients were docile, but they also were basically catatonic. (STAT Podcast did a series featuring Freeman back in 2017 that was excellent.)

 Some of the things listed as reasons for being committed:

    Bad whiskey
    Doubt about his mother’s ancestors
    Loss of arm
    Change of life
    Menstrual derangement
    Disappointed love
    Death of sons in war
    Overstudy of Religion
    Domestic trouble
    Snuff Eating for 2 Years
    Reading too many novels
    Desertion of husband

Thirteen buildings still stand on the property. The total acreage of the property is an ominous 666 acres. There are countless ghost stories connected to the place. They all seemed to start after the hospital was abandoned, but that doesn't mean that there were not experiences while the asylum still had patients. Many ghost programs have featured this location from Ghost Hunters to Ghost Adventures to Portals to Hell to Paranormal Lockdown. Several areas that can be toured and investigated include the operating room, apartments and morgue. Trans-Allegheny could be straight out of a horror movie with dim and dingy hallways full of peeling paint, crumbling floors and broken windows. And even though it has been undergoing extensive renovations for years, it still looks as though it were abandoned. The experiences that people have run the gamut of everything we have heard about from every other reputedly haunted location: cold spots, strange sounds, disembodied voices, apparitions of doctors and nurses and patients.

Jim James was a former patient who liked cigarettes. Investigators are usually able to coax him into communicating by offering him one. Marisa Kashino visited the asylum in 2018 and wrote an article for the Washingtonian sharing her experiences during an investigation. Jim was one of the spirits she believed she interacted with and she wrote, "We placed a Maglite on the floor and asked Jim to turn it on. The light was Julia’s, but I inspected it and it seemed totally ordinary. A few beats passed—then it came on. By itself. I offered Jim a cigarette to turn it back off. It went dark."

The Apothecary in the Civil War Wing reputedly hosts black or dark figures or masses. This is said to be a very haunted area of the main building. Guides claim to hear disembodied voices and doors slamming. One night, a guide witnessed a door slamming against the wall over and over and there was no one near the door. Another guide had the most traumatic event he had ever experienced in the pharmacy one night. His name is Mike Heath and he was assaulted by a spirit. He came through the door and felt four fingers press against his back and push him forward in a violent way. It was the first time that anything in the building had touched him.

Eddie is a former patient who liked to play poker. He seems to like to communicate with flashlights and was documented doing so during a visit that the New York Times paid to the location in 2013. The author of the article was John Searles and he found himself wondering if his guide had some way of controlling the flashlight. Diane had often wondered the same thing until our own investigations with our own flashlight started going on and off without us being anywhere near it. Searles writes, "As soon as we set up our cots, a strange noise — like something heavy being dragged across a floor — started coming from a distant part of the asylum. Thomas sat up and asked if I had heard it. At first, I told him that it was coming from that ghost-free waiting area, which was not far away. But then we heard the sound again, this time unmistakably coming from the space near that rusted cage door that led to the lobotomy area. When we heard the sound a third time, louder than before, Thomas bolted. He returned with Copperhead. The three of us walked quietly with our flashlights through a series of rooms, some with old hospital equipment still in them and bars on the windows, until we entered a room that had what looked to be roofing material on the floor. Copperhead stepped on it with his boot, and we heard that distinctive dragging sound. We were in the off-limits part of the asylum, where no one else was supposed to be, so that meant the noise we had heard had to be otherworldly. I couldn’t help but feel as if we were in a 'Scooby-Doo' episode, and at any moment we would figure out who had been trying to scare us away."

The Women's Auxiliary Building is the second oldest building on the property and no one is allowed access in this building. The building is in real sad shape, so it is not surprising. The show Paranormal Lockdown did get to go inside on episode 1 of their first season. Nick and Katrina caught a very clear EVP answering "Yes" when they asked if they had seen a figure standing in a room here. They then got a "No" when they asked if the spirit knew it was dead. They also felt an electrical charge and the owner, Rebecca, who was giving them the tour, had goosebumps on her arms. It was hard to tell the gender of the voice on the EVP. Nick and Katrina returned to this building the next night with their Geobox, which is an upgraded spirit box or something, and they picked up two voices. The first said, "Hello" in a female voice and the second was male and said, "Don't say a word."

Up on the fourth floor, Paranormal Lockdown caught the creepiest thing I've seen if it was the real deal. This is a floor that Nick was afraid of because he had seen a shadow figure up here during a previous visit. He spent the first night up there in the complete dark with a camera on him that had night vision and there was a sound that he didn't make and is hard to describe, kind of like a banging. When the crew was up there earlier, the camera man and Nick both heard something say, "Shhh." On the final night of their 72 hours, the camera man is taping Nick and Katrina and then he hears something and sees something behind them slithering in the dark along the floor. They played it over and over, Kelly and I watched it, and it is strange. If it wasn't some extra person on the property crawling slowly across the ground, then I don't know what the hell it was. Both Nick and Katrina seemed shocked to see it when the camera man replayed it for them, so I lean towards legit and it gives you chills.

A little girl named Lilly is said to have been born at the asylum and now haunts the hallways and plays with toys left for her. She lived to be nine-years-old and then died. Another version of the story claims that she was dropped off by her parents and abandoned. Her spirit is seen as a full-bodied apparition wearing a white dress. Her disembodied giggling is sweet, but also very unnerving. Lily's Room, which is full of scattered toys, is located on the first floor of Ward Four in the eastern corner. A music box in this room plays on its own and Lily interacts with guides. Usually this manifests with balls rolling across the floor by themselves. She also will turn off and on flashlights when asked.

One story claims a patient named Jane Harvey killed herself in the asylum and is said to haunt it now. On the first floor is the spirit of a patient named Ruth who apparently hated men. It is said that she still hates men and tends to throw things at them during investigations. A Civil War ghost named Jacob hangs out on the 4th floor of the main building. A murderer named Slewfoot was murdered himself and is now apparently haunting the place, particularly in the shower area where he was killed.

Ward F housed the most aggressive male patients and Ward C housed the most dangerous female patients. A patient named Joe was one of those who was violent and he decided to take his fury out on a lobotomized patient named Charlie. A former employee claimed that Joe had been a serial killer before coming to the asylum. The Portals of Hell show referred to the victim as Dean, so we're not sure what his name really was, but what happened to him was horrible. A nurse recalled that Joe got some other patients to help him string Charlie up to an overhead pipe in an attempt to hang him. They lowered Charlie to the floor picked up a metal-framed bed and put the leg against his forehead and then jumped up and down on the bed, driving the bedpost into Charlie's skull. Charlie's spirit is believed to have remained here because of this tragic event. Another employee claimed that two men had been murdered in the same way, but we have only heard that this one time, so not sure about the accuracy of that claim.

knight 1431 on TripAdvisor in March 2020: "I got touched down my face while walking on the first floor heading to the Civil War area of the wing, stopped me dead in my tracks. filmed activity in Lilly's room and got activity on my Mel-Meter while talking to"The Sarge" in the Civil War section of the Asylum. I also picked up anomalies on the fourth floor in the Addiction section of the Wing with my SLS CAmera."

There are so many tales of experiences at the asylum. It would seem most everyone who enters either feels something, sees something or experiences something. Is the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum haunted? That is for you to decide!

1 comment:

  1. i am very intrested in jane harvey as i am related to the harvey family and having so far had a cerebal palsy son and tracing my family history back have found a gene in 2 lines of my family as my son was tested and it was found to be genetic on my father side on my mother side is schezophrenia in one side so i would like to know anything on why jane was comitted please