Considered to be a holy grail for ghost hunting in paranormal circles, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is as haunted as it is historic. We visited this epic beast on the last day of our 2019 East Coast road trip. Although we were driving 12 hours straight from Washington D.C. to Indiana, this was something I’ve been wanting to do for YEARS, and I knew I may very likely never have a chance to visit West Virginia again. I was NOT missing this opportunity, so we stopped and took a tour. It’s not an over exaggeration to say that this old hospital is a mecca for paranormal enthusiasts, as it routinely makes the list of “most haunted locations” in the United States, and sometimes even the world.
Located right off I-79 (approximately a 5-minute drive) in the small town of Weston, West Virginia (population: 3,775), at 71 Asylum Drive, it’s open Tues – Fri from 12pm – 6pm, Saturday from 10am – 6pm, and Sunday from 12pm – 6pm. It’s only closed on Mondays. Construction began sometime in the 1850’s, when it was originally called the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, however, work was halted due to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. There was a brief fight over the money issued to finish building the hospital, and eventually building resumed in 1862. After West Virginia became a state in 1863, the hospital was renamed the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, and the first patients arrived the following year in 1864. It was, once again, later renamed as the Weston Hospital in 1913. It was originally built to house only 250 patients, but by 1949, there were around 1,800 patients calling it home. Additions were built, however, they were still insufficient in handling the overpopulation issues.
TALA, as I will refer to it, was the brainchild of Thomas Story Kirkbirde, a man who’d later go on to found what would become the American Psychiatric Association. He built the hospital on the premise that most mental illness was “a shadowy, irreversible condition best treated in darkness with force and physical restraint”. However, oddly enough, he also emphasized that patients needed freedom, stating that they would “behave better” if allowed to believe that they had some control over their lives. 🤨
Then the lobotomies started. TALA became, more or less, the experimental training ground for this new “amazing” procedure. The man who spearheaded this inhumane procedure was Walter Freeman, a famous surgeon and super fan of lobotomies. According to some sources, Freeman performed no less than 4,000 lobotomies, sometimes leaving completely sane and “normal” patients total vegetables, completely incapable of taking care of themselves anymore. He used the barbaric “ice pick method”, which consisted of taking a tool shaped like an ice pick and ramming it through a patients eye socket, up into their brain, and then hammering away to sever the connective tissue in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. Those who were lucky enough to not become vegetables were still left with lifelong brain damage and reduced cognitive abilities.
Making it worse were the type of “conditions” patients were put into TALA for, and possibly given lobotomies for. The reasons were truly ignorant and included things like drug addiction, alcoholism, epilepsy, a woman disagreeing with her husband or “causing domestic trouble”, chronic mania, being “deluded”, religious excitement or a woman disagreeing with her husbands religion, overworking, masturbation or over-sexuality, exposure to the Army or simply “the War”, greediness, superstitions, kicked in the head by a horse, laziness, bad whiskey, “bad company”, asthma, loss of a lawsuit, “snuff eating for 2 years”, gunshot wounds, fell from a horse during war, politics, fighting fire (not sure what that even means) and much more.
The hospital became defunct and abandoned in 1994, particularly after a large portion was destroyed due to vandalism by county and city police officers playing paintball in it (yes, really). A couple ended up buying it in 2000 and restored it enough to the point where they could give tours and add three small museums to the first floor. They also renamed it to its original name. It’s been a successful tourist attraction and ghost hunting hotspot ever since.
There are daytime and nighttime tours (we took a daytime tour), which focus heavily on the ghosts and little on the history. The daytime tours are offered daily (except on Monday) at 12pm, 2pm, and 4pm, with a 10am tour option offered only on Saturdays. They run for 90-minutes and costs $35 per person. All daytime tours are first come, first serve. The nighttime paranormal tours require a reservation, as they are not daily and run on specific dates and times. They are about 2-hours and cost $40 per person. All tours are guided and you are required to stay with your guide. There are also 30-minute flashlight tours that focus half on the paranormal and half on the history, mainly the Kirkbride building and the Medical Center. These tours are also first come, first serve and cost $10 per person. The website does not give days or hours for the flashlight tours, and simply says to “call for details”.
We didn’t see or hear any ghosts; however, some weird things did happen. One of the guests on the tour brought along his ESA (emotional support animal), a cute little bull terrier, who was NOT down with the ghosts of TALA. His owner said he was acting strange from the start, not even wanting to enter the hospital, and had to be basically dragged inside. Once on the tour, he was extremely alert and on edge the entire time, and would bark without warning at what appeared to be nothing – something his owner said was “unusual behavior”. For example, his reaction while doing an EVP (electronic voice phenomena) session. We were in one of the day rooms/smoking rooms where the patients would regularly hang out – and where they have caught numerous EVPs, as well as pictures – when we started doing an EVP session ourselves.
The guide asked a young boy, maybe aged 12 or 13, to ask the ghosts questions and we were going to listen for answers through the EVP box. He asked basic questions like “what is your name” and “is anyone here with us” and we weren’t getting any answers. Then, without warning, the dog stood straight up with ears alert, locked eyes directly on the boy and the guide holding the EVP device, and began barking. It freaked everyone out, including the guide, who quickly put away the EVP device and decided to move along out of the room. This behavior from the dog continued throughout the entire tour.
The guide took us to various floors and rooms, including solitary confinement, the room where they did the actual lobotomies, the lobotomy recovery unit, the floors housing the most violent patients, the floors where teens were held, and the floors where both females and males would have been held. They were all essentially the same – extremely small with a single barred window. The rooms that hit me most were the solitary confinement rooms, because they would chain the patients to the walls.
That’s right, they would chain the patients to the walls, with one arm attached to one side of the room and the other chained to the other side. This would cause the patient’s arms to spread out like a T, forcing them to stand the entire time. There was just a hole in the ground, directly beneath them, to use for the bathroom. The guide said it was common practice that whoever put the patient in the room was the only one allowed to take the patient out, so if some sadistic nurse or doctor put someone in on a Thursday and left for a long weekend, that poor patient would remain strung up until Monday morning when that nurse or doctor returned to work. They have removed the holes in the ground and the chains, but there are remnants of where the chains used to be attached to the walls.
There were numerous murders here, mainly patient on patient. However, while most of the violence committed by the patients was directed at each other, they also targeted nurses and doctors. Female staff were routinely sexually assaulted and one nurse went missing, only for her rotting body to be found at the bottom of a staircase two months later. There is a bathroom on the 4th floor where a male patient was shanked, who then drug himself to the nurses station, only to never make it. Another room is said to be extremely haunted by a ghost who had his head bashed in with a bedpost. The staff routinely leave out cigarettes for these various ghosts, as they have found increased activity when leaving such presents.
As for our “experiences” …
Mine: I felt extremely lightheaded for much of the tour, but particularly on the 4th floor. Once we were up there, my legs shook slightly and became weak, and I had to lean against the wall for support. It didn’t feel like I was going to pass out, but it was as if there was some kind of energy sucking out my energy to use for its own. I would also have extreme cold flashes from time to time. I would go from being hot and almost sweating in the mid-July West Virginia humidity to shivering and covered in goosebumps.
My friend: In the area where the guide told us about a young boy who was jumped, stabbed, and attempted to crawl to the nurses station, she felt as if someone was pulling on her ankle (as someone would if he or she were crawling and needing help), plus a weird sensation like her foot was becoming too big for her shoe. She also felt lightheadedness and got cold chills.
Overall, I could write 10 more paragraphs on the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. This place was amazing to visit and anyone who is a fan of the paranormal will be in ghostly heaven. I fear I may never be able to revisit TALA due to it’s rural, West Virginian location, so definitely don’t pass it up if you’re ever in the area!