As a paranormal investigator, the single most common question I’m asked is, “Where is the most haunted place you’ve ever been?” The second most common question is, “What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?” My response to the first question is always somewhat conflicted, because it’s so subjective. I might go to a place and think there is absolutely nothing there, while another person believes it’s teeming with ghosts. Personally, I believe anyplace can be haunted. Goodness knows there have been enough people dying in this world throughout time to populate it many times over should they so desire. And while “residual” haunts may be stuck in one place, replaying the same bit of history on a seemingly endless loop, “intelligent” haunts should theoretically be able to wander at will. Whether they choose to do so, or prefer to stay close to the places they knew in life, is entirely up to them. This is assuming that ghosts exist, and that ghosts are the remnants of once-living humans, which is definitely not something I’m prepared to swear to. At any rate, I usually dodge questions about the “most haunted” place I’ve investigated and skip right on to the scariest experience. And that, my friends, brings me to my favorite place ever to investigate: the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, WV.
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (TALA) was built in the mid-1800s to house the insane. It is reportedly the second largest hand-cut stone masonry building in the world, the first largest being the Kremlin. Construction was briefly halted during the Civil War, and the first patients moved into the facility in 1864. As with so many facilities of its type, the asylum was intended to house around 250 patients, but by the 1950s around 2600 souls were crammed into its bleak rooms and corridors. Plagued by overcrowding, poor living conditions, and violence, TALA finally closed its doors in 1994. It sat vacant for many years, despite several failed schemes for rehabilitation of its disintegrating hulk, until finally being purchased by the Jordan family in 2007. They opened it to the public, with proceeds from their historic and paranormal tours going toward the ongoing restoration.
The paranormal aspect of the asylum is by far the most popular with the public. Of course many patients died here, many were buried in the cemetery on the grounds, and there was a huge amount of anguish suffered within the walls. Lobotomies were performed en masse, people afflicted with nothing more than depression or alcoholism were housed alongside insane murderers and rapists, patients committed horrible crimes against themselves and others, and thus an indelible imprint was left on the environment. There have been countless reports of eerie things heard, seen, and felt at the asylum, and it has been featured on such TV shows as Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, and Paranormal Challenge. And, lucky for you and me, it’s open to the public for ghost hunts. You can either book it for a private hunt, or join a public hunt that goes from 9 PM to 5 AM. The building is massive, so it can handle quite a number of investigators, but I would strongly recommend the private hunt if you want to conduct a serious investigation. However, the public hunts (which will include up to 40 participants) are perfect for those who are not part of a paranormal group or just want the experience of wandering the peeling halls of TALA for several hours in the dark.
I participated in a public hunt at TALA last summer. Luckily, that night it was boiling hot and there were only about 20 of us willing to brave the stifling temperatures (the building does not have heat or air conditioning). This works out to 5 people per floor, which is not bad for a public hunt. Not ideal, because you have no control over what other people do, which contaminates any potential evidence, but I was there mostly to get a feel for the place with an eye toward a future private investigation.
It’s hard to describe how overwhelming TALA really is. The main building is huge, with wings extending for what seem like miles in either direction. The walls and ceilings are crumbling and decrepit, but still beautiful; it’s amazing that such graceful architecture was intended to house such evil and madness. Walking through the abandoned wards is truly like being on the set of a horror movie, complete with the occasional bat streaking by and the rusty groan of the old metal doors. The night my group was there, an electrical storm was in the distance, and the four of us began the evening by creeping through the Arts and Crafts section, down in the bowels of the building, in an area usually off-limits to visitors. Lightning flickered through the barred windows, thunder growled in the distance, and my heart pounded as we stood in the room where thousands of lobotomies were performed, trying to communicate with whoever or whatever might linger there. I nearly levitated when the town siren went off, signaling the curfew for local teens. It’s not so much what you see and hear at TALA that’s so scary, it’s the possibility of what you might see and hear. There is an overwhelming sense of presence in almost every corner of the building, more so than any other place I’ve been in the United States.
Eventually we made our way to what was once the children’s ward (yes, unfortunately, children were kept here too). And it was in this ward that I had my most convincing paranormal experience to date. Just as we got set up, we all distinctly heard a child screaming at the opposite end of the ward. We were the only ones on that wing, and no one at all was in the area where the scream came from. Despite the heat, I was covered in goosebumps as we searched the wing and peered outside, trying to find a natural cause for something that I believe is beyond rational explanation. After satisfying ourselves that there was no living person in the area who could have made that noise, we settled down and began an EVP session. Two of us were at the entrance to the ward, while the other two were at the opposite end. As we asked questions of the ether, my partner and I heard the sound of a metal door opening or closing. This happened several times. The only metal door in the vicinity was the one right next to us, and I could see clearly that it was NOT moving, yet it continued to make that sound. Possibly a residual noise left over from the days when the ward was a hive of youthful activity? Maybe. I certainly could find no natural reason for the sound.
Finally we moved on to the violent women’s ward. The pink paint peeling from the walls in this wing seems almost a joke or a parody of femininity. After all, these women were the worst of the worst, women who inflicted horrible brutality on their families and strangers and thought nothing of trying to kill a hospital employee or another inmate. Pink seems a bit…inappropriate for these women. Anyway, the other female in the group sat in one of the tiny rooms with me, hoping to catch a glimpse of the apparitions who supposedly stalk the hallways. We were just sitting on the floor, chatting and letting our recorders and cameras run, when she suddenly shot to her feet and bolted out the door, in pursuit of a crouching shadow figure that had just run past the doorway. There was no one in the hall or any of the rooms, but she clearly witnessed a dark mass, in the shape of a person, running past the door in a kind of hunched over position. To my everlasting chagrin, I had been looking at my friend during the penultimate moment and did not see the shadow figure. But her excitement was contagious, and I do believe she saw something inexplicable roaming the halls of the violent women’s ward.
So: if you ever have the urge to scare yourself silly or want to soak up some interesting history, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum should definitely be on your short list of places to visit. While I’ll never categorize anyplace as the most haunted place I’ve ever been, TALA certainly qualifies as one of the most enjoyable. I had a ridiculously good time there and hope to go again in the near future. And it’s not so far away…about a 3 hour drive from Harrisonburg, VA. But please, if you do head to the asylum, let me know what you find. Maybe you too will run across the screaming child or shadow person, or one of the other infamous ghosts reportedly still inhabiting the nightmare that is Trans-Allegheny.
(You can read much more about TALA and its ghosts at http://trans-alleghenylunaticasylum.com/.)