Summer time means vacation time for most. Everybody hits a sandy beach or some such and yeah, sometimes, I do that too. Not always, though. Not even usually, tbh. Though I hate camping with the fire & passion of 1K smut writers, we occasionally pitch a tent because the rest of the family loves it and we’re actually pretty good at the whole camping thang. (To be fair, I do like the hiking bits and I never met a Discovery Channel level insect I didn’t want a picture of.) Or we’ll spend a week riding roller coasters at an amusement park. We also love history. Living near so many great Civil War battlefields, we usually visit one or few every year.
But then, there’s the weirdness.
For my family, tour stops in the Land of the Strange are kinda like special events? We look forward to them the way most people anticipate trips to Europe — with lots of preparation and zeal! Ghost towns. Haunted places. The sites of natural disasters/tragedies. Yanno. Just odd spots.
The Trans-Alleghey Lunatic Asylum is one of those places.
Please allow me a wee bit of background deets…I was raised not far from the asylum, the next county over actually, and the hospital was still in operation in those days as Weston State. This was not a place anybody wanted to go then. I vaguely recall the town drunk (yes, we had one) ending up in Weston State to dry out from time to time. (Same town drunk performed a wedding ceremony for my brother and his date in the parking lot of a gas station on prom night!) If you were arrested and a psychiatric eval was ordered, you’d won a 6-month stay at Weston State too. In fact, shortly after I moved from the county, my great uncle was murdered and his killer was eval’ed at this hospital. Not exactly a happy place or a site inspiring fun memories for me. I mostly remember it because of my uncle. And the town drunk, of course.
Still, it always looked creepy as hell and every time we visit family, we invariably drive by the hospital. The asylum was closed in the 90s. A local bought it several years ago (we all thought she was CRAZY) and it opened for tours, initially paranormal/haunted tours for the most part. Which cracked me up. Listen, I’m from the area and I was a weird kid. If ghost stories were floating around about the place, I would’ve known about it. The asylum looks spooky as all get out. The place should be haunted — but it’s not. We happened to be in town at the time so I had my redneck fun snooping around with the dh & my daughter while Ghost Hunters was filming the first (of many) “investigation”s of the asylum and laughed like a loon when it aired on TV. (To this day, I devoutly believe at least some of the ghostly murmurs they reported were faint echoes of my diabolical snickering outside.) Whatever, the place ain’t haunted. That’s the point, but driving by the asylum during every visit home, year after year, we’d collected TONS of exterior shots. Haunted or not, my family wanted to see inside the place. Desperately. (This is what happens when your nearest & dearest aren’t locals.) The whole haunting spiel is nothing but a joke to me, a bad one, but I’ve long admired the architecture and the history is dark & bizarre. I adore the dark and bizarre so…Frankly, they wore me down.
We finally toured the asylum a couple of weeks ago. Even though it isn’t haunted and even though I’m still local enough for the sad/tragic memories of the place to be firmly entrenched in my head. Even though the cost of those tickets will require you to hock a kidney on eBay. We went.
Worth the bucks, dudes. Totally worth it. And this is from a (former) local.
Anyhoo, I thought it’d be fun to share some of my pics from the tour so…here ya go.
LOL, okay, I heinously stole this picture, but I didn’t get a decent panoramic exterior shot this trip and I’m too lazy to look through my older pics so…this is the place. Notice the clock tower. In this shot, the tower hasn’t been restored yet, but if you scroll down to the shot of the rec yards in back, you can see what the clock tower looks like today. The main building here is one of the largest made of hand-cut stone in the world (bested by the Kremlin in Russia). Construction was interrupted by the Civil War so parts of the asylum are really fricking old.
Exterior 1 — The asylum, btw, isn’t simply one building. It’s a complex of many buildings. If you want to get technical about it, the asylum was entirely self-contained back in the day. The grounds included a farm, a coal mine, a cemetery…well, everything. Anyhoo, this is of the main building.
This wouldn’t have been existing while the asylum was still in operation, but once the place closed, they had to lock it up super tight because some local rabble rousers (ahem) might break in and get hurt since the place is/was falling apart. Funnily enough, a team of local police got permission to do drills there before the new owners bought the place. They were only supposed to use the hospital and grounds to practice stuff like entries, tactical war gaming, & whatnot, but those boys brought paintguns and tore the place up. Wouldn’t have mattered, I guess, if someone hadn’t gotten stirred up about preserving the asylum as an historic place, but…Those cops were soooooooo busted, LOL.
The bathrooms of each unit were done in gorgeous marble. At the time the hospital was built (Civil War Era), the idea was to surround psychiatric patients with beautiful architecture in order to encourage peacefulness and tranquility. A soothing environment might aid treatment. Doesn’t mean they aren’t still going to write on bathroom walls, marble or otherwise. Demonstrably.
This changed in later years, of course, but all staff originally lived at the hospital. The nurses’ working conditions were especially horrifying. They lived 16 to one suite (we saw 2 suites) comprised of 2 bedrooms each. The nurses worked 12 hour shifts so swapped beds by whoever was on/off shift and only got 1 day off work each month. That isn’t this room, though. This room would’ve been used by staff who maintained the grounds and stuff like that. They had a ward on the top floor.
And this is the ward the doctors stayed in. Yes, they lived at the asylum too. This ward was in use until the facility closed back in the 90s. Doctors weren’t required to live on-site anymore, no, but they had rooms in case it was easier or more convenient for them to sleep over. Some of the doors still had names taped to them from the days the hospital was still in use, one for a doctor and another for a paramedic.
The TB building. There’s a baseball field in front of it. The asylum had its own ball teams. No lie. This is the building, btw, where they take people for paranormal/ghost tours, including the grand daddy overnight tour. Yeah. Because I want to spend eight hours and a hundred bucks to sleep somewhere swimming in contagions. Fabulous!
Did I mention I lurvs the architectural flourishes? LOL. Seriously, if you go along the back of the building, the builders included flourishes that are faces, each of them distinct/unique, for good luck. I can’t remember how many faces there were. 8? But you could lose an hour, easily, trying to find them all which is saying something considering the back of the building is a great deal more plain and serviceable than the front. They kept the rear simple(r) because, hey, who pays attention to the back end of a building? Still had those neato faces scattered about, though. Cool.
Another spooky window. This one was on the way to the medical center, where residents had surgeries (including lobotomies) and whatnot. Also had a beauty shop with barber chair. Just in case you wanted a quick trim before you got your brains stirred for you, I guess. The asylum was true one-stop shopping — the morgue was there too, so funeral homes could pick up bodies without strolling them through the front entrance. If the families of patients didn’t retrieve their relatives, patients were buried on the asylum’s grounds, where there are 3 cemeteries and over 2,000 former residents are interred. You can see trunks and personal items of former patients that were never claimed in the museum rooms in the lobby. Sad.
This is the building where the criminally insane were housed. It was shut down after a riot in the 90s, I believe. I took this shot from still another building, the geriatrics building. To the left of the building above a building that operated as the asylum’s halfway house stood, where outgoing patients could learn skills to help reintegrate with society before they were chucked out the door. A resident, however, decided she didn’t want to leave and burned the place to the ground (with her in it), so nothing remains of it today.
The back of the building. The women’s rec yard was through the wooden double doors and the men’s rec yard was through a second (unpictured) set of double doors to the far right, with the kitchens sandwiched between. There was also a pool for physical therapy that has since been filled in. This side of the building is where you would search for the faces architectural flourishes. (Note the restored clock tower.)
So those are the pics of the asylum that didn’t have my kids in them — but there are loads of other stuff to see! Seclusion rooms, the museum rooms & art gallery just off the lobby, inside the medical center, the fountain out front, the soldiers/veterans ward, a ward that’s been fully restored…All kinds of fascinating bits of history and general creepiness. If you find your way near Weston, WV, a stop at the lunatic asylum is definitely worth a few hours of your time.
Next weirdo trip of awesome…Centralia, PA!
By the by, for anyone who’s wondering, the pornocats (officially An Unauthorized Field Guide of the Hunt) is scheduled to release at Loose Id in mid-August — WOOT! I’ll get on the ball at some point and post the blurb under the Coming Soon tab, I promise.
Hoping you’re having a blast this summer ~