Okay, just by reading the title of this Freaky Friday, you know that this is not going to be one of those light-hearted blogs. According to their website, The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (aka the Weston State Hospital) served as a sanctuary for the mentally ill beginning in the mid-1880s. It is the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in North America and is purportedly the second largest in the world, next to the Kremlin. It was designed by the renowned architect Richard Andrews following the Kirkbride plan, which called for long rambling wings arranged in a staggered formation, assuring that each of the connecting structures received an abundance of therapeutic sunlight and fresh air. The original hospital, designed to house 250 souls, was open to patients in 1864 and reached its peak in the 1950s with 2,400 patients in overcrowded and generally poor conditions. Changes in the treatment of mental illness and the physical deterioration of the facility forced its closure in 1994 inflicting a devastating effect on the local economy, from which it has yet to recover.
In an article on the Washingtonian website, author Marisa M. Kashino wrote about her experience of spending the night in the asylum. Here’s a portion of her experience, “We broke into smaller groups, spending two hours on each of the asylum’s four floors before rotating. Our guide told us about some of the hospital’s better-known spirits, including a little girl named Lilly who was born in the asylum, a man named Jesse who died of a heart attack in a bathtub, Civil War soldiers, and a patient who was brutally murdered by his roommates. On each floor, she gave us the lay of the land before turning us loose to explore. The hospital is so vast that it was easy to end up alone despite the dozens of other people wandering around. It was also easy to feel lost amid the maze of hallways and patient rooms covered in peeling paint.
Julia and I set up in a room allegedly haunted by a spirit named Jim James. We placed a Maglite on the floor and asked Jim to turn it on. The light was Julia’s, but I inspected it and it seemed totally ordinary. A few beats passed—then it came on. By itself. I offered Jim a cigarette to turn it back off. It went dark. (I don’t smoke, but our guide gave me a couple of cigarettes because she said some of the spirits liked them.)
We tried the flashlight trick again and again—in a room where Lilly supposedly plays, in a pitch-black corridor once reserved for violent women, in a lobotomy-recovery area—without luck. Even so, exploring the crumbling building and learning its history were plenty thrilling, ghosts or no ghosts.
By 4:30 am, I was ready to go. As I drove away, I thought about whether I actually believe. I’ve always been fascinated by ghosts, but am I convinced they exist? Honestly, no. Maybe Jim James did turn on that flashlight. Or maybe there’s some mechanical explanation.”
Maybe there is a mechanical explanation, but I seriously doubt it. But I can be open-minded, let’s find out a little more about the asylum before we decide.
TripAdvisor – one of my favorite places to look for haunted reviews – has over 4800 reviews of the asylum. Here are a few of my favorites:
Very haunted… Saw a shadow figure in the shower area and voice (seems to have asked what time it was there or here) …… great place for paranormal confirmation! Even in the daytime……… I would be terrified at night but want to do it in the future…
This place is awesome. We took the late-night paranormal tour the first night and then followed it up the following afternoon with the historical and criminally insane tours. The guides were interesting, friendly, and very respectful of the fascinating history and the people who lived and worked there. In regard to the paranormal, I wasn’t sure about a touch I felt on the back of my neck during the late-night tour but when my wife saw a ghost of a girl in our afternoon tour, yeah, this place is haunted.
I’ve been to tons of haunted/abandoned/historical sites, and this one was my favorite hands down. I’m open to the paranormal, but not really a believer in ghosts, and I’m always going to assume there’s a logical explanation for something. I went on the Paranormal 2-hour tour at night and it was fantastic. Never a dull moment. I wish I could explain the thing that happened that made this the best one I’ve done, but I can’t really do it justice. I have no concrete evidence, but if you could feel what I felt in that one room on the third floor you would understand. I’ve NEVER felt something like that before. I wasn’t scared for a second in this place until this: very comfortable in the dark, the least jumpy person, the hardest to persuade. But this one room, I walked in and it was like I hit a wall of electricity and heat and pressure, it went right to my chest and instinctively I ran out of the room. Because I’m crazy I went back into the room and walked around a bit and the feeling was the same. It was hard to even walk, like walking through river rapids. Afterwards, I was very dizzy and had a cold sweat. I’ve fainted before and thought that’s what was going to happen, but it didn’t. 15 minutes later, on the fourth floor, I was fine. Can’t explain it, but it was bizarre, and I was just very moved by the whole experience. Not saying it was a ghost, don’t know what that was about, but I need to get back to this asylum ASAP.
For you ghost hunting weirdos like us, this is Mecca. This was the single greatest night of our careers with some of the most active and personal experiences ever! I must condition this review by stating that it was thundering with a tremendous amount of consistent lightning throughout the night which may have enhanced the spirit activity. For the serious hunters, here’s the brief recap: Shadows everywhere, intelligent EVPS, Intelligent Ovulis responses, Disembodied voices, KII & REMPOD hits galore, SLS Camera Images, Thermal hits everywhere, AUDIBLE laughter, poltergeist activity, Batteries touching & scratched! For the History buffs and tour groups: The nicest docents EVER! Very helpful ladies who were quite frankly better ghost hunters than all of us. They were amazing with the history, sensitive to my investment and understanding the importance of investigating the active areas within the timeline. The ladies rocked and no need for security as a pack of drunk people tried to enter the property and Brandi dealt with them personally and quickly, She bad! The three ladies really made the experience for us and the building is amazing. If you are into the paranormal…THIS IS THE PLACE! Thank you TALA!
We arrived on Saturday around 1:30 and decided to go on the paranormal tour. Neither of us had ever been to a haunted location, let alone this tremendous asylum. Our tour guide Jess was outstanding. She knew so much about the building itself, the patients who once lived here, and all the paranormal activity. Also, I’m just going to say this here, I truly admired Jess’s connection with the souls stuck there. She’s so kind and leaves little trinkets for them, you can see why there is so much activity on her tours! The respect the staff has towards the ghosts is touching, and makes the whole situation feel less gimmicky or how there’s not an expectation for the spirits to react; a “dance monkey dance” situation, if that makes sense lol As I had said earlier, it was 2 in the afternoon. There are no lights in the wards, but ample sunlight was coming in from the huge windows and occasional skylight. Even mid-day, the activity was just so, so crazy! We heard very loud banging, moaning, and the ghost even replied to a knocking game that Jess initiated after the initial bangs. Later on, in our tour, we spoke to two spirits named Larry and Frank. Jess told us she often goes in to play cards and leave cigarettes for Larry (Frank doesn’t smoke) lol. She set up two flashlights, one in front of each of their closets. She then asked questions in which to say yes, they need to turn the light on. Frank, ever the ladies’ man, responded yes to “would you like the men to leave?” And once they left, he responded yes to “is that better now, Frank?” Lol too cool! We will most definitely be back. To see the genuine love the staff has for this place and its former patients are enough for a 5-star review. The fact we got so much activity was such a bonus!
Okay, my mind is certainly leaning towards haunted. But there’s more to learn!
The website, Americas Most Haunted offers us more information about the hauntings at the asylum.
“Those who spent time in the building regularly reported seeing apparitions of nurses, doctors, and patients roaming the staggered corridors; and hearing anguished cries echoing through the hallways.
Taking a cue from shuttered institutional facilities like the Ohio State Reformatory and Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Jordan began offering historic tours and overnight ghost hunts, folding revenue back into the facility for repairs and restoration. As its reputation quickly spread, TALA attracted the attention of the media. The TAPS team from Ghost Hunters filmed and investigated TALA in 2008, and Ghost Adventures followed in 2009 with a live televised seven-hour investigation on Halloween Eve.
Both teams believed the building to be haunted, and there have been countless subsequent reports of ghostly activity at TALA by visitors and staff. Thousands of suffering souls entered the hospital, seeking refuge or salvation; others were dumped there, thrown away like unwanted trash. With such a thick mixture of energy and emotion, it’s no wonder TALA offers a rich potpourri of paranormal phenomena.
The lonely spirit of a young girl named Lily wanders the halls, looking for a playmate. She makes herself known to visitors in several ways, including interacting with a menagerie of toys set out in the room dedicated to her memory. But Lily isn’t the only child at TALA – ghosts of many of the hospital’s younger residents haunt the upper floors, sometimes following visitors throughout the building, even following them home.
The Civil War left more than scars behind in Weston. Tortured moans of the wounded, heavy-booted footfalls, misty forms, and ominous shadows permeate the Civil War section of the building.
Nor are the upper floors as vacant as they seem. The spirits of at least two vicious murderers remain, trapped in an earthly purgatory for their crimes. Slewfoot, a cunning psychotic, murderously lashed out in a lavatory; the phantom of an even-more depraved, unnamed multi-murderer haunts the dungeon-like seclusion cells.
Some of the most despondent asylum patients thought suicide a way out, but they too remain stuck indefinitely between this world and the next. Their desperation seeps from the walls like water from broken pipes.
Guides and visitors feel that some spirits come and go, perhaps using the facility as a doorway; some stop by for a short while before passing on to other destinations, while others cannot or will not move on, embedded in the very foundation of the asylum.”
While the asylum seems filled with spirits, the one who pulls on the heartstrings of most of the tour guides is Lily.
This is also from Americas Most Haunted.
““I’m not sure where it all started, but… Lily talks,” explained Zach McCormick, former TALA tour guide and paranormal enthusiast.
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. The staff has turned this room into a sort of shrine to their resident spirit, honoring her life and memory.
Legend has it that Lily was a little girl who spent all or most of her short, sad life inside the walls of Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. Some believe she was dropped off at the hospital, like an unwanted stray, by parents who couldn’t or wouldn’t care for her. Another story has it that she was born at the hospital shortly after her mother was committed, taken in and cared for by hospital staff until she died tragically of pneumonia at the age of nine. After her death, her spirit remained inside TALA, the only home she had ever known.
The most active of all the ghosts in the hospital, Lily likes to play games with visitors and has become especially close to some of the current guides. Her room is a cheery yellow, one of the brightest in the building, although the peeling walls and broken window glass remind you that no living soul occupies this space; and the iron bars on the windows are a stark reminder of the bygone realities of asylum life.
The room is stocked with a variety of toys, including a pink-and-white music box with a miniature ballerina turning point to a tinkling lullaby when the box is opened. The music box sometimes decides to play on its own.
Other items, such as baby dolls and plastic bouncy balls, are scattered about the room. These toys, set out as an invitation to play, have been known to move by themselves or in response to commands. Lily will, on occasion, roll the ball back and forth with visitors in an eerie game of catch. Lily seems to delight in these ghostly play dates and visitors often hear her giggles — equal parts sweet and spine-tingling — echoing down the halls.
TALA guides have developed a special protective bond with the girl’s spirit, demanding that she be treated with kindness and respect. Lily remembers and favors frequent visitors, interacting with them in specific ways. Paranormal investigator Aaron Sulser has investigated the asylum a dozen times. He claims one of Lily’s favorite games involves the music box and flashlights.
During a recent session, Aaron asked Lily if she remembered him and if so, to please make herself known. He placed flashlights in different areas of the room, set up so that a slight twist on the top would turn them on or off. Aaron wound the music box and began asking questions. A flashlight turned on, indicating Lily was there. As the music slowed the flashlight dimmed, only to return to full brightness when the music box was wound again. This occurred several times throughout the session. When Aaron asked if Lily was making it happen, he got a positive response. The correlation between the music box and the flashlight was so consistent, Aaron had no doubt Lily was manipulating it.”
TALA and other asylums across our country are a sad acknowledgment to what our country’s mental health institutions deteriorated into. Those who were the most defenseless and needed our care and protection were often neglected, treated cruelly, and finally abandoned. It’s highly ironic to me that Lily, the little girl ghost is probably treated with more care and compassion in death than she was in life.
Is TALA haunted? Yes. But whether it is by the spirits who used to live there or the horrendous shadows and specters of a mental health system that failed so many, I’ll let you decide.