This West Virginia facility served as a sanctuary for the mentally ill beginning in the mid-1800’s. This 160 year old asylum holds fascinating stories of Civil War raids, a gold robbery, the “curative” effects of architecture, and the efforts of determined individuals to help better the lives of the mentally ill. Tour this nationally recognized historic landmark and see how it left a lasting impression on local and national history.
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, Constructed Between 1858 and 1881, is the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in North America, and is purportedly the second largest in the world, next to the Kremlin. Its monumental main structure, the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in North America, divides 242,000 square feet over four floors, is a staggering 1,296 ft long, and is outfitted with 921 windows and 906 doors. A 200-foot tall clock tower stretches up from the center like a hand reaching to God. The walls are two-and-a-half feet thick, dense enough to muffle the screams of even the most tormented soul, alive or dead.
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 1950’s 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 keeping with the Kirkbride ideal of self-sufficiency, and to keep up with a growing population, more buildings began to sprout up within the property, including a greenhouse that supplied fresh produce, a geriatrics center for the elderly and those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s, a large kitchen facility and cafeteria, a building for the court-ordered criminally insane, and a state-of-the-art medical center complete with morgue and autopsy room.
TALA also had a separate tuberculosis building. Due to the contagious nature of the disease, it was necessary to keep these patients isolated from the general population. This building differed in design from the others with its open-aired wings and screened in sun porches. Today, this building remains relatively intact and hosts the local Halloween Haunted House attraction each fall.
The growing community of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum encompassed more than just the land on which it sat. TALA was the main employer for the city of Weston. It was a symbiotic relationship, with the hospital dependent on the city for its supplies and employees, and the town economically tethered to the hospital. Everyone benefited from this relationship except for patients, who, crammed into an overcrowded, understaffed, under-funded facility, cried out for help, and in some cases justice. Death was no stranger to TALA and several murders were committed inside its walls.
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.
Mutiple “Ghost Hunter” Teams such as TAPS have investigated this place. 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.
A still controversial treatment was used extensively at the hospital. The “ice-pick” (trans orbital) lobotomy was a crude procedure where a sharp one- or two-pronged device was driven through the orbital socket of the eye and into the brain with a sharp blow, causing permanent damage thought to relieve some of the patient’s more severe symptoms.
In 1952, one doctor performed 228 such lobotomies during a two-week period in West Virginia. The aptly named “Operation Ice Pick” became part of the grisly legacy of Dr. Walter Freeman, TALA’s most notorious doctor.
Yes it does seem to be featured on the new Fallout 76 game.