The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

One thing I love writing about on the blog are stories of haunted America. Why? Well, because usually at least 1 or 2 listeners have been to these infamous places and have a story or a picture to share, so if you ever have one share them below or send to! Now, on with the show.

Today, I wanted to talk about the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (I know Lunatic is NOT a PC word, but that is what it is called. Please do not think the name reflects AL's thoughts on the victims on this Asylum).

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Like many intriguing and infamous buildings,  the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is hidden in the mountains. In particular, Weston, West Virginia. The building itself is formidable - and that isn't an exaggeration. In fact, this Asylum is America's largest hand-cut masonry building. It operated as the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum for over 100 years, 1864-1994.

Not only would this building soon be home to less than savory practices to help those with mental illnesses, but it was built largely by prison labor, beginning in 1858. The Civil War interrupted construction, and the first patients were admitted in 1864, when the hospital was referred to as West Virginia Hospital for the Insane. However, construction continued through 1880. 

Oh, and for those who like an extra added spooky-factor...when completed, the land and buildings comprised of 666 acres.

Despite its massive size, it was really only designed to hold about 250 patients. However, this building did not become one of America's most infamous hauntings because it was a well run asylum. By 1880, right before construction was finished, it already housed about 715 patients. The number continued to grow and doubled in the 1930s. At its peak in the 1950s the facility housed roughly 2,400 patients which far exceeded the limit. The population size lead to mass mismanagement and mistreatment of the patients. Soon enough, gossip and reports began pouring out of the asylum of increasing violence.

The overcrowding, which at this point, had been a decades-long issue, naturally lead to a whole host issues leading to substandard care and conditions. In 1949, the problems became so notorious that the The Charleston Gazette did an entire series of articles exposing the gruesome conditions. These issues included the usual suspects like sanitation issues, broken/not enough furniture, heating issues, and even a lack of light.

However, this expose did not bring the institution down and it continued to operate until 1994. Although the population significant decreased by the mid 1980s, this did not improve conditions. In fact, they had stayed the same or in some cases even gotten worse. For example, patients who could not be controlled appropriately spent inordinate amounts of time literally locked in cages.

One of the most horrifying procedures regularly carried out were transorbital lobotomies, also known as ice-pick lobotomies. The procedure was when a sharp, pronged device was driven through the orbital socket. This caused permanent damage, however it was seemed to 'alleviate' many of the symptoms. These were so popular that one doctor allegedly performed over 225 lobotomies in one week. Dr. Walter Freeman, who helped pioneer this practice in the early '50s, was one of the most notorious doctors of the Asylum.

The final death throes of the building began in the 1990s. In 1992 the Charleston Gazette published another article describing in detail horrendous conditions inside of the asylum. In this year,  George Edward Bodie died after a fight with another patient named David Michael Mason. Furthermore, a patient named Brian Scott Bee, committed suicide and his badly decomposing body was not found for over a week.

Surprisingly enough, the building was named as a National Historic Landmark. The current owners of the building even offer historic daytime tours and paranormal tours six days a week, and even Ghost Tours and Ghost Hunts on weekend nights.

The terrors of the asylum didn't vanish when the hospital went out of official commission. Those who visit the building today regularly report seeing apparitions of nurses, doctors, and even patients roaming down the hallways. There is also an auditory element as well, with many reports of hearing anguished cries echoing through the hallways.

The most infamous haunting is the young ghost of Lily. Lily apparently spent most of her short life inside the walls of the asylum. She was believed to be the daughter of a previous patient, Gladys Ravensfield who was admitted to the asylum after being attacked and raped by soldiers during the civil war. Although some believe she was an orphan left at the steps of the main building. However, sticking to the Ravensfield theory, it was believed she gave birth in 1863 to the baby who was named Lily by the staff. Gladys never fully recovered and eventually descended deeper and deeper into madness due to the horrible expereince and the general unpleasantness of life in the asylum. 

She died in childhood, but the staff memorialized her with a room filled with toys that she was known to interact with, as well as candy. The most popular area on the first floor is Lily’s Room, located in the eastern corner of Ward Four, a “step” between Ward One and the older Civil War section. Lily is known to tug on the clothes of people who she takes a liking to and sometimes even slips her ghostly hand into the hand of female visitors.


This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID "highsm.31656".