Friday, October 12, 2012

Central State Hosptial (Indiana Insane Asylum) & Cemetery

It’s October - a time for hauntings, Halloween - and all things spooky.  This month, A Grave Interest will take a look at several haunted cemeteries.  Get ready as we explore some ‘lively’ places, and the people who make them so…….

Scalping in the Hospital
It was called the Indiana Hospital for the Insane, better known to Indianapolis residents as the Insane Asylum.  The hospital opened in November 1848 to house five patients. It consisted of one hospital building, situated on 100 wooded acres of land.  For the first 50 years, the hospital simply warehoused people.  There was little, if any, attempt to treat them for their problems.

Central State Hospital
By 1900, conditions for patients began to slowly improve.  In the 1920’s, the hospital was renamed Central State Hospital. Over the years, more buildings were needed to house and care for patients. Buildings were added onto and more were built until the hospital complex on the city’s west side housed over 3,000 people by the close of the 1920’s.

Seven Steeples Women's Dorm
Aerial Map of Grounds

The Central State Hospital grounds included dormitories, treatment buildings, a carpentry shop, power plants, and a fire station.   The complex also included a motel, carwash and conference center. The largest building on the campus was the Seven Steeples Women’s Dormitory. 

Old Laundry Building
Pathology (Morgue) Building
There are around 20 buildings left on the property.  The oldest  is the Old Laundry Building built in 1884.  Others include the Pathology Laboratory, also known as the Morgue, built in 1895. It is now the Indiana Medical History Museum.  The Administration Building was constructed in 1938, and the Kitchen and Dining Hall, which was built in 1959. All are considered to be historic buildings by the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archeology.

Over five miles of concrete service tunnels, known as the catacombs, existed under the grounds.  They were used to link the buildings together.  Rumor has it that cells had been carved off the tunnels where the most violent patients were kept in chains and manacles.  It was also said that the tunnels were used so that patients could be moved without ‘fuss’ to the local jail, or a small airport located nearby, if the need arose.

Many basements under the buildings were considered dungeons in the 1800’s, places to hold patients who screamed incessantly or were criminally insane.  These “wards” lacked proper ventilation, light or heat and many died here.

Patient in Straight Jacket
Sadly, many of the people housed here did not suffer from mental insanity.  Instead, they were sent here because family members could not afford to care for them, or could not find the time necessary to take care of them. Emotional issues including stress, depression, and what we know today as bi-polar disorder, could land you here with the criminally insane.

Roof Caving In
Inside Hallway
By the 1970’s, the hospital was overcrowded and run down.  Many buildings were declared unsafe and torn down, including Seven Gables, the women’s dorm. Allegations of abuse and lack of funding helped in closing down the facility.

City's Proposed Plans
Door in Hospital
The Central State Hospital was closed in 1994. Remaining patients were sent to other hospitals around the state, to family and friends, or left to wander the streets.  The city of Indianapolis purchased the 146-acre of grounds from the State in 2003 with plans to turn it into a housing development with a cultural park.  The bust of the housing bubble seems to have put those plans on an indefinite hold.

Cemetery Grounds
Cemetery Fence
It is said that the hospital and grounds are haunted, including the Central State Hospital Cemetery, located across the street, adjacent to the Mt. Jackson Cemetery.   There are no signs to mark this place, not even a gate, just a chain-link fence surrounding it.  

Tree Stone Marks a Grave
Typical Grave Marker
A few graves are marked with stones, but the majority consist of red plastic numbers on concrete slabs.  Most of those are covered over with grass and dirt.

Cemetery Directory
A large directory is located near the north side of the cemetery, encased in brick and plastic.  It lists the last name and first initial of those known to be buried here, along with a grave number. There are said to be almost 600 interred in this 3-acre plot of land. Records were not well kept on this cemetery and the exact number interred is not known.  Many were buried without any marker.  Burials began around 1855 and ended in the mid-1940’s.  No names are known for those buried in the oldest section.

Cemetery Grounds
Trees and Grass Need Tending
The cemetery has fallen into disrepair.  A cleanup effort was held in 2010, but maintenance has not been kept up by the city and the cemetery is again being ignored.

Feelings of Being Watched

Shadowed Grounds
Mysterious people have been seen in the cemetery, dressed in hospital gowns from different time periods.  Shadows move from grave to grave. Screams have been heard coming from the hospital buildings and the grounds.  Moans and crying have also been heard.  When I was there, I had the feeling of being watched, and of definitely not being wanted in the cemetery.

Pathology Lecture
Indiana Medical History Museum
If you would like to find out more, the hospital grounds are open during the day.  The only building that is open is the Indiana Medical History Museum. At one time this building was the hospital morgue where hundreds of autopsies were performed in order to learn more about mental illness.  It is also reported to be haunted.  The museum is open to the public and tours are available.  Visit for more information.

Next week, we'll visit a haunted Ohio cemetery.

~ Joy


  1. There are not many things creepier than old mental hospitals. Those poor patients! I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to go exploring there.

    1. Jenny, you are sooo right! And you'll notice I went on a bright, sunny day... ; )

  2. This is the kind of thing I really enjoy learning about -- so thank you for this post and all the information!!! I think a trip to this place will be on my list, for sure.

    I don't know if you've seen this book, but it's great -- Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals by Oliver W. Sacks. It's chock-full of photographs, and it's absolutely fascinating. :)

    1. Thank you!! I have not seen the book, but now have it ordered!! ; D

    2. My mother worked there she can tell you everything

  3. Yours is one of the more complete accounts of Central State Hospital that I have been able to find. Do you know if any special permission is needed to go the the CSH cemetery? I realize it has been a few years since you were there, but I am a college teacher who would like to take students there as a way of showing who tends not to be "memorialized" in our country.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I would start by contacting the Indiana Medical History Museum, They also have a FAQ on this page that might answer some questions. Good luck! Sounds like a cool trip!

  4. That’s a cool place to me since I used to walk through there when I was about 6 yrs or 7 yrs old being a short cut to my best friends house in Rockville Rd.! Actually saw rats as big as small dogs hanging around the dumpsters! Those people didn’t have a chance in those days! Should be a lesson about that age old stigma attached to the mentally ill!!!! May they Rest In Peace! Amen

    1. Indeed! Although the place has not been a hospital for years, it still has an easy vibe about it.