Sunday, October 16, 2016

7 Terrifying Stories from Notorious American Asylums by Harry Parsons

Danvers State Hospital – Period Photograph Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, dignified and effective treatment for the mentally ill hasn’t always been the American standard. In fact, many insane asylums were notorious for subjecting patients to procedures that would today be considered sketchy and unethical, at best. All things considered, it’s understandable that old asylums in general often come attached to rumors that they’re haunted or otherwise unsettling.

However, some asylums have earned a higher degree of notoriety than others, and with good reason. The following are just a few of the many that make a hypothetical stay at American Horror Story: Asylum’s Briarcliff Manor sound like a walk in the park.

1.      Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum – Weston, West Virginia

The situation that eventually developed within the walls of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum started out as a result of drastic overcrowding. It was originally built to house a hard maximum of 250 patients. However, by the year 1949, there were well over 2000 patients living there, instead.

An eventual investigation conducted by The Charleston Gazette uncovered absolutely abominable conditions. Among the horrors discovered were extreme neglect in regards to hundreds of the patients, patients locked in cages, and procedures like lobotomies being performed with such inappropriate tools as ice picks. Unsurprisingly, the Trans-Allegheny saw tens of thousands of deaths before it finally closed in the 1990s. However, thrill seekers can still visit and even stay overnight if they are so inclined.

2.      Topeka State Hospital – Topeka, Kansas

Topeka State Hospital is just one of the many hospitals that saw patients being subjected to unspeakable cruelty with the intent to “cure” them of their ailments. However, there was a lot of abuse that went on there, as well. Many patients were raped and otherwise physically abused. Some were left permanently restrained with leather straps to the point where their skin began to grow over the restraints themselves.

The staff at this hospital was especially notorious for castrating a high number of the patients under care there. It started just after state law greenlit castration as an acceptable treatment for the hopelessly or criminally insane in 1931 – to the tune of 54 castrations. This is especially troubling when you consider the fact that quite of few of the hospital’s patients came attached to unknown identities and conditions.

3.      Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital – Morris Plains, New Jersey

Greystone started out with the intention to provide the mentally ill with a proper sanctuary and truly therapeutic treatment. However, it wasn’t long before overcrowding became a massive issue, as it was for many asylums. Greystone was built to house up to 1600 people, but at one point housed closer to 2500, instead.

What’s more, Greystone is another asylum that chose to implement sketchy, controversial treatment options in the past to treat multiple illnesses. Examples include but are not limited to electroshock therapy for the treatment of PTSD, insulin shock therapy, and more. The hospital is also connected to many stories of rape, mysterious death, suicide, and even the escape of a rapist.

Greystone is still in operation today, although the notorious practices are no longer in use there. Also, the state of New Jersey is currently planning to replace it with a smaller facility.

4.      Bloomingdale Insane Asylum – Morningside Heights, New York City

Today, the building that was once home to Bloomingdale Insane Asylum is Columbia University’s Buell Hall. However, it was once used to house (and rehabilitate) mentally ill patients of all types.

As you might guess, there were some unsavory practices at work, many of which were officially exposed by a journalist named Julius Chambers in the late 19th century. (He had himself committed to Bloomingdale for ten days.) Among other things, Chambers talked of patients being choked, kicked, hit, and otherwise abused until they bled freely. He also spoke of patients being driven to suicide (or close to it) by the sheer cruelty on the part of the staff.

Thankfully, his work yielded positive results. Not only were twelve of Bloomingdale’s patients released (as they were not insane), but the book he wrote about his experiences – A Mad World and Its People – paved the way for badly needed reforms as far as how the mentally ill are treated in America.

5.      Byberry Mental Hospital – Byberry, Pennsylvania

In operation from 1907 all the way to 1987, Byberry was described as containing wards reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps by one Charlie Lord, a former staff member at the hospital. Lord eventually took it upon himself to expose the conditions there with 36 grayscale photographs – images that would eventually be published by Life in 1946.

Among the circumstances documented by the photos were filthy living conditions that found many patients sleeping in their own bodily waste. Hundreds were allowed to roam the halls of the facility completely naked. Thankfully, this exposure led to not only the eventual closure of the facility, but also far-reaching reform as far as the conditions associated with mental health facilities.

6.      Danvers State Hospital – Danvers, Massachusetts

Danvers State Hospital is one of the many defunct mental institutions rumored to be heavily haunted by malicious spirits, and it’s not hard to understand why. To begin with, it was built on the very grounds that saw the notorious Salem Witch Trials centuries ago. It was also a place that saw unspeakable acts of human cruelty committed.

Patients were confined using straitjackets and uncomfortable leather restraints. They were also subjected to treatments considered today to be cruel and inhumane, including but not limited to lobotomies and electroshock therapy. The hospital was even used to shoot a horror film dealing with demonic infestation in asylums – Session 9.

7.      Overbrook Insane Asylum – Cedar Grove, New Jersey

At first glance, the building known as Overbrook Insane Asylum appears to be a beautiful, house-like building. However, like many notorious asylums, it saw untold horrors being committed within its walls.

To begin with, the patients were neglected to a horrifying extent. The year 1917 saw a total of 24 patients being allowed to freeze to death in their beds. The small facility also would become dangerously overcrowded after World War II and see nearly 150 patients go missing. Overbrook is another asylum said to be very haunted today. It was used as the set for the screen adaptation for Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ghostly Book Review: The Awakening by Sara Brooke

The Awakening by Sara Brooke is a paranormal romance that was given to me by my publisher.  It was the first romance I have read with a ghost as the romantic lead and that made it engaging.

Sara Redmane is a likeable woman.  She is a quiet, bookish girl who prefers to live in the worlds that exist in the pages of a novel to the real world.  Sara’s life is turned upside down when she goes to visit her friend Bobbie Trillo in Georgia.  Sara is immediately confronted by the visage of a strange man staring at her from a window that should be empty.  Sara tries to explain her vision away, but it becomes impossible to ignore the ghosts of Trillo House when they come to her that night.   Ms. Brooke’s novel unfolds from here delicately intertwining romance and mystery.  Ghosts and spirits thrive in Georgia and Sara is forced to confront both in her friend’s family house. 

The most engaging ghost in this story is the ghost of a mysterious and darkly handsome man who Sara feels herself drawn towards.  This ghost warns Sara that danger is lurking around every corner of the Trillo family house and that an evil is trying to destroy the Trillo family.   Sara is determined to save the family from this evil.

Ms. Brooke’s writing style is clear and steady as she guides  the reader deeper into the mystery at the heart of the haunted Trillo house.  Ms. Brooke’s novel is a little more romance driven than I usually read as I usually prefer ghosts and demons to true love, but the book is engaging and the romance is passionate.  I enjoyed this book immensely and would definitely suggest it for anyone who loves paranormal romance.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

REAL Ghosts: Caught on Film

Watching ghost videos on youtube is like sifting though a series of April Fools jokes searching for something that isn't a joke.  Most of them seem to be false or doctored in some way.  I enjoy watching them, but I am always very skeptical because it is so easy to alter photographs and video footage.  I would like to pay homage to one of my favorite youtube ghost compilations today, however,  This one is by Nuke Norway.  Enjoy!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Sharon's Ghost

A friend told me this story a long time ago.  The details have been obscured by my flawed memory but her emotions remain vivid.    She was terrified by the events she described to me.  I can't remember the specific roads she named or the city she lived in, but I remember the story and the look of horror that filled her face as she told her tale.

 My friend, Sharon, was a counselor where I worked.  She was older than most people that worked at the clinic with me.  Her hair was short and she wasn't a woman who was prone to dressing herself up or making herself any grander than she actually was.  Sharon was down to earth and there was an openness about her that was rare in any professional.  She told people the details of her personal life without much hesitation.  On first meeting her, she told me about her failed marriage and her troubled childhood.  She was an open book.

The only thing she was reluctant to talk about was this ghost story.  It terrified her and took her nine months to open up and trust me enough to tell me the details of the ghost that haunted her for two years.  After her marriage dissolved, Sharon found herself struggling financially and she had to move into an old house that had been in her family for generations.  It wasn't large or fancy.  The plumbing didn't work right and there was water damage, but she had a roof over her head and that was enough.  She would have been happy if she hadn't known the house's history.  She remembered stories of her great aunt who had lived and died in the house.  Her great aunt hadn't been a pleasant woman.  She had been the kind of country, southern woman who most people steered clear of.  She had some Native American blood and people in the small town she was from thought that she would curse them if they crossed her. 

Sharon was not happy about moving into her house.  Her great aunt had been creepy to say the least.   At first, Sharon ignored the noises that crept through her aunt's old  house.  She tried to ignore the noises and attributed them to old plumbing and leaky pipes.  When Sharon first heard a child crying at night, she thought it was her daughter.  She checked on her daughter all the time. She thought that she was crying and going back to sleep.  There was no reason to worry.  However, when her daughter began complaining about the crying in the night Sharon began to get worried.  She grew even more worried when her boyfriend complained about the crying when no one was home. 

Things got worse from here.  Shadows crept up on her when she was sleeping.  The crying grew worse and worse.  There was a cold spot in the middle of the house.  Something pulled her hair while she was sleeping.  Terror consumed her every moment.  She began asking more questions about her aunt and what had happened in the house.  Legends swirled around her aunt like smoke. Her aunt was a bad woman.  People said she had a disagreement with a little girl and the little girl had gone missing. 

Sharon began looking for a new place to live.   Just before they moved, Sharon went under the house to check the ever leaking plumbing and what she found sent her from the house without even packing her thing.  Buried in the mud beneath her house, was the skeleton of a little girl.     Sharon left the house and never went back.

Sharon hasn't told many people this story.  It is hard for even to repeat it.  She still fears her great aunt, even in death, even now that she has moved and the ghosts are gone.  

Friday, February 12, 2016

How Valentine's Day Started with Naked Ladies and Dead Animals

It is time for my annual Valentine's Day Post.  This is my favorite post of the year because Valentine's Days origins are so interesting.  I hope you all have a happy Valentine's Day!

My favorite thing about holidays are their bizarre origins.  Most of our modern celebrations have roots in old pagan traditions.  Valantine's Day is no different.  Its pagan roots are just more bizarre than most. They are so strange I like to write about them every year.  I know it is slightly off topic, but naked people being flogged with animal hides is worth discussing in any forum. Apparently the ancient roots of Valentine's Day begins with the Romans. The Romans celebrated Lupercalia from Feb. 13 to 15. In Roman mythology Lupercus was the equivalent of the Greek god Pan who was known to be a sexy sort of fellow who promoted fertility. His holiday was a somewhat romantic kind of celebration. During Lupercalia the men would sacrifice a goat and a dog and then whip women with the hides of the dead animals. The women would line up naked in order to be whipped. They did this because they believed this ritual would make them more fertile. Afterwards, there would be lottery in which men and women would be paired up for a night of naked fun.

I know, you are now wishing we still celebrated Valentine's day this way. Enough with the cheesy cards. Where are the dead animals, whippings, and naked people? It was the Catholic Church that ruined the fun. Emperor Claudius II killed two Valentine's in different years of February 14th. Both men were martyred and the day derives its name from these two martyred saints. In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I got confused and merged the two martyrs into one person and named February 14th after them. He also absorbed the romantic traditions of Lupercalia into the day in order to soften the pagan debauchery and retake the day for Christianity. Christianity has a long history of doing this type of thing. Christmas was taken from Roman Saturnalia traditions and Norse Yule traditions. By absorbing pagan holidays rather than forbidding them, ancient Christians were able to gain new followers rather than lose them.

Chaucer and Shakespeare can be credited with further romanticizing St. Valentine's day and turning it into the romantic, kissy holiday it is today, but I will always think back to better days when women ran naked through the streets being beaten with dead animals.