The history of “lunatic asylums” and their more modern replacements, psychiatric hospitals, is long, dark, and bloody. The institutions began as essentially prisons for people with mental disorders; the buildings were often just collections of empty cement cells to house those deemed abnormal.
In the 1800s, when the mentally unwell finally began to be classified as patients, conditions worsened in many ways. Many common “treatments” for people with mental health conditions were ignorant of both science and medicine and were often vicious and violent. This, coupled with routine abuse of patients by staff, made asylums hell on Earth until they were shut down or repurposed during the “deinstitutionalization” waves of the 1950s and 60s.
Since then, many former asylums have sat empty. Or seemingly empty, as paranormal encounters at these locations are common. It seems centuries of cruelty and torture left many spirits with unfinished business in the facilities. If ghosts are indeed real, then abandoned asylums are perhaps the best place to find them. Here are ten asylums reported to be haunted, and some have the evidence to back it up.
10 St. Augustine’s Asylum
Known also as Kent County Lunatic Asylum, St. Augustine’s Asylum is located in Chartham, Kent, England. It was open from 1876 to 1993, and in those 117 years, the building was home to an immense amount of human suffering. In the 1970s, a nurse at the asylum teamed up with a local university researcher to create a lengthy report on all the inhumane injustices they witnessed within St. Augustine’s walls. Most notably, they detailed excessive use of electroshock therapy on patients, whether the ‘treatment’ was warranted or not.
Visitors to Augustine’s remaining structures report feeling watched, hearing footsteps behind them, seeing glowing lights, seeing orbs, and sudden feelings of dread and depression. And even if there is nothing supernatural about the place, any video of the rotting, gloomy interior is sure to unsettle you on its own.
9 Ararat Lunatic Asylum
Ararat Lunatic Asylum, later renamed Aradale, was the single largest asylum in Australia when it opened in Ararat, Victoria, in 1867. Authorities didn’t fully shut the facility down until 1997. It had housed tens of thousands of patients over its lifetime, including thousands of violent criminals whose mental conditions prevented them from being held in traditional prisons.
Ararat was frequently cited as one of the most haunted places in Australia until being repurposed as a university. Owed in part to the over 13,000 patients who died within its walls, Ararat was said to be home to numerous specters, trapped in afterlives of suffering. This has made it one of the most popular ghost tour locations in the country.
8 Taunton State Hospital
Taunton State Hospital opened in 1854 in Taunton, Massachusetts, and over its lifetime, it housed thousands of people with mental health conditions. Most notable among them was Honora Kelley, nicknamed ‘Jolly Jane.’ Jane confessed to having committed 31 murders and said her goal was “to have killed more people-helpless people-than any other man or woman who has ever lived.” It’s said that her work isn’t finished, so she haunts what is left of the asylum to this day.
Other rumors about the location persist, including the belief that a Satanic cult ran it. Allegedly the cult would use patients as sacrifices in dark rituals in the hospital basement. Most ghost encounters have taken place in the basement as well, including a shadowy figure that crawls along the walls, watching, and an invisible force that prevents some visitors from getting past the bottom step of the basement stairs.
7 Beechworth Lunatic Asylum
Beechworth Asylum, also known as Mayday Lunatic Asylum, operated from 1867 to 1995 in Beechworth, Victoria, Australia. Over those 128 years, over 9,000 patients died within its walls, and some remain still.
One ghost is said to be a woman who was thrown from an upper-floor window just for being Jewish, and the Rabbi called to move her to medical treatment couldn’t arrive in time to save her from a slow death out on Beechworth’s lawn. Another is a little boy James who talks to visiting children. There are ghost doctors, nurses, patients, and a whole cast of ghosts beside them, each with their own sad or creepy backstory.
6 Athens Lunatic Asylum
In 1874, Athens Lunatic Asylum opened in Athens, Ohio, taking in both those with mental disorders and the criminally insane. The asylum quickly became overcrowded, underfunded, and notorious for patient abuse. Electroshock therapy and other cruel practices were common, but worst of all is the staff’s frequent use of ice-pick lobotomies.
Across the facility’s grounds are thousands of graves containing unidentified patients. The gravesites lack names but are marked with numbers, though whatever number system they represent has since been lost. Ghosts are almost impossible to miss when visiting the gravesites. Inside, there is supposedly an outline left from the dead body of a patient, unable to be removed by repeated cleaning.
5 Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
Paranormal activity or not, Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia is an impressive structure. It is the second-largest asylum globally and the second-largest hand-cut stone masonry building (after the Kremlin). It is as intimidating as it is massive. Despite its size, it was only meant to house 240 patients. By the 1950s, it housed ten times that number. Including, for a brief while, Charles Manson.
In addition to overcrowding, abuse and neglect were par for the course at the location. Visitors report feeling an overwhelming sense of suffering in the place, as well as seeing apparitions. One ghostly resident is named Ruth; she is known for attacking visitors. Screams are often heard from the electroshock chambers. One building manager reporting seeing 40 doors to patient quarters slam shut simultaneously. The current owners have embraced the estate’s reputation and host regular ghost tours and other paranormal-themed events.
4 Danvers Lunatic Asylum
Danvers Lunatic Asylum is a special one. It was built in Danvers, Massachusetts, or as it was originally named: Salem Village. Yes, that Salem Village, site of the famous witch trials of 1692. The building was designed in a dark, gothic style and became the inspiration for H. P. Lovecraft’s Arkham Sanitarium, which later inspired Arkham Asylum of Batman fame.
Patient care in Danvers was so bad that the experience has been called a modern concentration camp. Severe overcrowding meant that patients were routinely forgotten, often leading to accidental days in isolation or multiple days without food. The place has come to have the nickname “the birthplace of the prefrontal lobotomy,” which says quite a lot. Unsurprisingly, before its almost total demolition, the abandoned asylum was famous for its apparitions, ghostly lights, and unexplained sounds.
3 Pennhurst Asylum
Pennhurst Asylum began as a school for the mentally and physically disabled in 1908 and quickly became something else. For example, a former patient filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the asylum. Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital showed that Pennhurst had violated its patients’ Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and led to the landmark ruling that the disabled in state care have “a constitutional right to appropriate care and education.”
Some of Pennhurst’s alleged abuses include chaining patients to its walls, strapping adult patients into children’s cribs for days on end, and even blatant murder of problematic patients. Many high-profile paranormal investigations have taken place at Pennhurst, and almost everyone has left with at least one chilling experience.
2 Rolling Hills Asylum
The tiny town of East Bethany, New York, is known almost entirely for being home to Rolling Hills Asylum. Alongside the mentally disabled, the facility also housed the physically disabled, criminals, the homeless, orphans, and even widowed women; all of them, regardless of why they were there, were known as inmates. Approximately 2,000 patients officially died in the asylum, and many more are thought to have been quietly buried in unmarked graves throughout the property.
The site is known for its unusually high amount of paranormal activity. One example is the famous Shadow Hallway, a hallway with allegedly the most shadowy apparitions of any location in the world. Another of Rolling Hills’s famous ghosts is Roy Crouse, a 7’5” giant who lived and died on the property. He still haunts the building, although at least he is a benevolent specter.
1 Waverly Hills Sanatorium
Waverly Hills Sanatorium began as a school, which was then converted into a tuberculosis ward designed to house 40 patients. After a brutal tuberculosis epidemic, the facility ballooned to over 400 patients. The overcrowding was coupled with patient mistreatment and even rumors of illegal medical experimentation. It is commonly alleged that an astounding 20,000 to 63,000+ patients died within its walls.
Perhaps the most famous feature of Waverly is the so-called “body chute” or “death tunnel,” an underground tunnel designed to remove dead bodies away from the eyes of patients. The tunnel is a typical hotspot for paranormal activity, but in truth, the entire complex is. Waverly has been called “the most spiritually active place in the world,” and for good reason.