From desolate cottages choked with weeds, to towering Victorian Gothic edifices, to musty tunnels snaking under the lawn, the abandoned sanitariums, reformatories, and asylums of the past practically invite fantastic stories. When many of these old institutions were shut down or decommissioned in the 1980s, they were overtaken by former patients and inmates, amateur photographers, and teenagers looking for a thrill. These urban explorers brought back stories of strange sounds, moving shadows, and messages carved in the walls. Mysterious Heartland has found that many former asylums in the Heartland are believed to be infested with ghosts, but which are the most haunted of them all?
10. Lake Julia Sanitarium
Lake Julia Sanitarium opened in July 1916 as a tuberculosis hospital, and operated until 1953. It was built using concrete, and despite being abandoned for many decades, it is in surprisingly good shape. Urban explorers have taken over the building. They come to explore the former hospital and find relics from the past, but sometimes they get more than they bargained for. Visitors have witnessed balls of light floating up the elevator shaft, while others have heard moaning or have seen shadowy figures. The ghost of a young girl has also been seen peering out a second floor window.
9. San Haven Sanatorium
Dunseith, North Dakota
The San Haven Sanatorium was built in the Turtle Mountains, near Dunseith, not far from the Canadian border. It opened in 1912 and treated tuberculosis patients and the developmentally disabled until the 1980s, when it closed due to lack of financial support. At one time, the building housed up to 900 patients, and conditions were sketchy at best. In 1987, the last patients at San Haven were transferred to Grafton State School. It finally closed its doors in 1989. The property is currently owned by Chippewa Indians, who purchased it in the early 1990s, and has steadily deteriorated from neglect. As many as 1,000 people died at the hospital while it was in operation, but there have been more recent deaths as well. In October 2001, a 17-year-old fell to his death while exploring the abandoned building. There are rumours that San Haven is haunted, but they are vague. Apparitions have been reported in the windows and the sound of a baby crying has been heard. Never-the-less, it is a very creepy place.
8. Northern Michigan Asylum
Traverse City, Michigan
Built in 1885, this architecturally appealing building has withstood the test of time, despite being in danger of demolition since it closed in 1989. For over a century, the mentally ill were housed and treated here. According to author Linda Godfrey, electroshock therapy, lobotomies, and other experimental treatments were performed on the more than 50,000 patients who resided within those walls. Urban explorers have navigated the dark tunnels under the former asylum, and strange stories have circulated. One legend involves a tree known as the “Hippie Tree.” If you find it and walk around it in just the right way, a portal to Hell may open. The building is currently undergoing redevelopment, so it remains to be seen whether spectres of the past will linger.
7. Peoria State Hospital
The hospital began in 1885 as Bartonville State Hospital. No patients were ever housed or treated in that building, however, and it was torn down in 1897. The institution was rebuilt and reopened in 1902 with a new name and a new superintendent. Now called Peoria State Hospital, a progressive physician named Dr. George A. Zeller took over the facility and instituted new, more humane treatments for mental illness. During his tenure there, he recorded many stories of daily life, including some that were almost beyond belief.
The main story associated with the hospital concerns the unusual circumstances surrounding the death of one of the patients, A. Bookbinder. Dr. Zeller assigned Bookbinder to the hospital’s burial corps, and he performed his job admirably. Old Book, as he was sometimes called, mourned the passing of each and every person he helped inter in the cemetery. When Bookbinder died, Dr. Zeller wrote that four hundred staff and patients observed his ghost mourning at his own funeral just as he had for countless others while he was alive. They even opened the coffin to confirm that Old Book was really dead. His corpse was securely inside.
6. Independence State Hospital
Construction on Independence State Hospital began in 1873, but it did not open until 1883. The hospital has had many names over the years, including the Independence Lunatic Asylum. Like many asylums on its day, it was laid out on the Kirkbride Plan, which meant the building was laid out in a staggered-wing arrangement so that each wing received sunlight and fresh air. The most violent patients were housed furthest away from the central administrative offices. Independence State Hospital is still in use today, although some parts are abandoned. Visitors have reported feeling cold drafts, hearing whispers, and the feeling of being watched. Others have seen shadows and heard screams in the empty halls at night. Apparitions of former staff and patients are also seen in the buildings and on the grounds around the hospital.
5. Ridges Asylum
Opened in 1874, this four story, red-brick building was originally known as the Athens Asylum for the Insane. There were two wings, one for male patients and one for female. The most violent patients were housed near the outer tips of the wings. By the early 1900s, Ridges Asylum was alarmingly overcrowded. Rumours of inhumane treatments at the hands of overworked staff were common. By 1981, however, the hospital had fallen out of use. It closed in 1993. Although parts of the building are in use today, much of it remains abandoned. One macabre curiosity is the outline of the body of Margaret Schilling in a room on the top floor. She became lost in an unused area of the hospital in the winter of 1978/79 and was not found for over a month. When her lifeless body was removed, it had left a stain on the floor that could not be washed away. Her ghost has also been seen wandering that room at night. Other people claim the asylum’s cemetery, which holds around 2,000 bodies, is haunted.
4. Manteno State Hospital
Manteno State Hospital opened its doors in the early 1930s. Like Peoria State Hospital, Manteno was laid out in a “cottage plan,” which meant that the patients were housed in a series of separate buildings rather than in one single institution. When it first opened, Manteno accommodated 6,620 total residents. Underground service tunnels linked all the buildings. In 1939, in an incident that Time magazine referred to as the “Manteno Madness,” 384 patients and staff came down with typhoid fever and more than 50 ultimately died. Manteno State Hospital was later renamed the Manteno Mental Health Center and closed in 1985. The north side of campus became a veteran’s home. Other buildings were consolidated into the Illinois Diversatech Campus and rented to businesses. Since the hospital’s closure, many people have visited its remains and have come away with strange stories. They have seen apparitions of patients and nurses, and have heard voices over the long-defunct intercom.
3. Central State Hospital
Founded in 1848 as the Indiana Hospital for the Insane (later Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane), Central State Hospital began as a single building on 100 acres at the outskirts of Indianapolis and steadily grew. By 1928, around 3,000 patients were being treated there. The largest building, designed in Kirkbride style, was known as the Seven Steeples. Unfortunately, these historic buildings were torn down in the middle of the 20th Century and they were replaced by modern, nondescript brick structures. The institution closed in 1994. Today, the Pathology Department building houses the Indiana Medical History Museum. Strange things have been experienced in nearly every surviving edifice. In the old Power House basement, visitors have heard a woman’s scream, seen moving shadows, and one maintenance worker felt like he was being choked. The ghost of a patient named “Al” supposedly haunts the tunnels, and disembodied footsteps have been heard in the old administration building. Phantasmal patients, still dressed in gowns, have been spotted trying to run to freedom across the lawn—forced to tragically repeat their attempt again and again.
2. Elgin State Hospital
Now called the Elgin Mental Health Centre, the Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane (as it was originally known) received its first patient on April 3, 1872. A contributing factor to the hospital’s notoriety is the fact that it has long housed patients considered criminally insane. The hospital received its first criminal patient who was “not guilty by reason of insanity” in 1873. It became known as Elgin State Hospital on January 1, 1910. In 1929, the Illinois State Psychopathic Institute relocated to the grounds of Elgin State. According to the Illinois Department of Human Services, the hospital is primarily used to care for patients who have been found “not guilty by reason of insanity,” and those persons found “unfit to stand trial,” but who are required by Illinois law to remain confined in a mental hospital for a period of time. Despite the danger of arrest, urban explorers used to trespass in the older, unused buildings (most of which have been torn down) and came back with stories of strange sounds, moving shadows, screams, flashing lights, and blood stained walls. Former patients and staff report feelings of being watched and claim that the hospital is a terrifying place to be at night.
1. Ohio State (Mansfield) Reformatory
Built between 1896 and 1910, the Ohio State Reformatory served as a detention centre for young, petty criminals. The first inmates were admitted in 1896, and they helped construct the building. Several violent episodes occurred there, including the execution-style slaying of a superintendent and his family at the hands of two former inmates. One form of punishment at Mansfield Reformatory was to send prisoners to solitary confinement in “the hole”—a dark and claustrophobic room—for an indeterminate amount of time. The reformatory was closed in the late 1980s. The old superintendent’s office, where disembodied voices are heard, is widely believed to be haunted by the ghosts of Helen and Warden Glattke. In the basement, the ghost of a 14-year-old boy who was allegedly beaten to death has been reported. Visitors often experience strong feelings of dread, anger, and fear throughout the former reformatory.