Friday, October 10, 2014

October's Haunted Asylums - Anoka State Hospital, Anoka, Minnesota

It is that time of year again; time for our annual Haunted Series where we've explored things that go bump in the cemetery, the restaurant, the town … and this year the asylum! Join me each Friday in October as we cast an eye upon those buildings that were feared by the residents and avoid by everyone else ... those places that are now Haunted Asylums!

Anoka, Minnesota has an interesting claim to fame – It is believed to be the first city in the U.S. to hold a Halloween celebration in order to prevent locals from playing pranks or causing trouble around town. Since 1920, it has been known as the “Halloween Capital of the World.”

It is also home to one of the most haunted asylums in the country.

First State Asylum for the Insane
It began as the First State Asylum for the Insane. Built in 1898 in the cottage style, the hospital opened in March 1900 to admit patients from other state asylums that had become too crowded. The first 100 patients were males from St. Peter State Hospital and were considered to be “chronic incurables”- Men who had lost their minds due to heredity causes or environment.

A Numbered Grave
Residents were not to receive any type of treatment; this was the final stop for them until they died. And die they did. A total of 86 of the original patients were buried in numbered graves in the asylum cemetery.

Anoka State Asylum
In 1906, 115 women were also transferred to the asylum from St. Peter State Hospital. Then in 1909, state policy changed and the hospital was only allowed to admit female transfer patients. (The male patients were then sent to another asylum in the state.) But by 1925, another wing had been added to the building and the hospital became co-ed, admitting both women and men.

The name was changed to the Anokea State Asylum in 1919

Another name change occurred in 1937 when the institution was renamed Anoka State Hospital in an attempt to soften the image of the asylum. Although the name was kinder and gentler, treatment at the facility was not. Patients were subjected to medical experiments and suffered both mental and physical abuse.

Although the hospital provided care to the insane, cruelty and neglect were often reported during the 1930s through the 1950’s. Those deemed a threat to themselves or others were restrained with manacles and straitjackets. Others that were seen as less dangerous were left to wander the grounds and buildings.


From 1948 to 1967, the hospital also treated mentally ill patients with tuberculosis. Actual treatment of the mentally ill began in the 1940s but many times that treatment “progressed” to lobotomies, hydrotherapy, and electroshock therapy.

Gov Luther Youngdahl
Conditions became so bad in the Minnesota asylums that in 1948, Governor Luther Youngdahl took a reporter and photographer with him on Halloween to witness his stand against the cruelty being inflicted at the state’s seven asylums including Anoka. With a torch, Youngdahl burned piles of leather wrist straps and straitjackets in front of a nighttime crowd of over 1,000. The governor also began to allot more funding for the state’s hospitals and the care of the mentally ill.

Building on Complex
With the advancement of psychoactive drugs in the 1960s, the winding down of these asylums began. Anoka’s population went from 1,085 in 1960 to just under 500 by 1970. It was during the 1970s that the facility also began treatment of emotionally disturbed children and adolescents.

In 1985, the hospital underwent its final name change to the current Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center. The original hospital complex closed in 1999 and residents were transferred to a new facility located close by.

Aerial of the Complex
The buildings and property were then given to Anoka County to use for offices and to house the county workhouse. The remainder of the buildings were closed and boarded up.

With such a sordid past, it is no wonder that the Anoka State Hospital has been rumored to house phantom patients. Former employees have reported that while unusual occurrences happen throughout the buildings, the most paranormal activities are linked to the tunnels located below the buildings.These tunnels were used as a way of transferring patients from one building to another without risking escape.

Ironically, many patients believed these tunnels would lead them to freedom and so they tried to escape by going down into them. But after a few twists and turns, escapees realized that the tunnels were more of a maze than an escape route. Without an understanding of where each tunnel went and how they joined together, it was easy to get hopelessly lost in them. Several escapees became so disoriented and distraught that they took the only way out that they felt was left to them and hung themselves from heavy pipes suspended along the ceiling.

For years, employees would report hearing footsteps trudging through the tunnels, stopping, pausing; maybe a "former" inmate considering which way to go ... There were also reports of whispering and low voices in conversation, but the words were not understood. Could a past patient have been trying to warn those still using the tunnels of the dire consequences when you didn't know where the routes led? The sounds of voices, plaintive and pleading, seemed to follow those who made their ways from one building to another. At times a burst of laughter might be heard in the dark tunnels, along with odd, ominous noises. And many former employees reported cold spots that moved all too frequently throughout these dark catacombs.

The paranormal activities became so rampant that most employees refused to use the tunnels because they were just too eerie. Today, only maintenance and security are allowed in them.

While there may be other state hospitals that were far worse in the treatment of their patients, some of those who lived at Anoka have apparently not forgotten, or forgiven, their experiences under the guise of medical treatment.

Anoka County Board
Today, the county owns the buildings that made up the former insane asylum complex. Although the complex was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, it appears that time has past. The current buildings are in a state of extreme disrepair. It has cost the county $22,000 a year, per building, to preserve them. Now, the county spends about $5,000 for each structure, per year, with no money for unkeep allotted for 2015. 

Information released on September 30, 2014, indicated that the County Board hopes to use three of the buildings as locations to house homeless veterans. But with the condition of the buildings, it remains to be seen if the plan is feasible.  If not, the Anoka State Hospital would be slated for demolition in 2016.

And who’s to say whether the destruction of the facility will lay to rest those ghosts who remain there; only time will tell …

~ Joy

Friday, October 3, 2014

Haunted Asylums - Peoria State Hosptial in Bartonville, Illinois

It is that time of year again; time for our annual Haunted Series where we've explored things that go bump in the cemetery, the restaurant, the town … and this year the asylum! Join me each Friday in October as we cast an eye upon those buildings that were feared by the residents and avoided by the living: those Haunted Asylums.

Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane
Construction for the Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane began in 1895 in Bartonville, but it was seven years before the facility, built in the “cottage-style” with 7 buildings, would open its doors to the first 100 residents on February 10, 190.

Dr. George Zeller
Patients who were characterized as being “incurably insane” were transferred from other hospitals, almshouses, and institutions around the state to Illinois’ newest facility. The asylum was quickly placed under the direction of Dr. George Zeller by the autumn of 1902.
Dr. Zeller Researching

Dr. Zeller was a new breed of asylum doctors; he believed in a humane approach in dealing with the mentally ill. Zeller also thought that the public needed to understand the mentally ill, so he held meetings and invited local newspapers and community members to visit the hospital.

Wrist Restraint
Cemetery on Hospital Grounds
Color therapy and light therapy were both first introduced during the early years of the hospital. In 1905, Dr. Zeller ordered all bars and mechanical restraints removed from the buildings. He also arranged for burial grounds to be set aside on the property for those patients who had no relatives. The site eventually grew to include four cemeteries where over 4,100 patients were interred.

Thanks to Dr. Zeller, in 1907, the term “incurable” was dropped from the name and the institution became known as the Illinois General Hospital for the Insane. In 1909 the name was changed to the Peoria State Hospital, but locals also called the asylum the Bartonville State Hospital.

Dr. Zeller with Colleagues
Dr. Zeller remained with the facility until 1913 when he accepted a position as a state “alienist.” (psychiatrist) But by 1921, Zeller was back on board as Superintendent, He found such neglect and ill treatment that he checked himself in as a patient for three days, living on a different ward each day. At the end of his experiment, he ordered all staff to spend 8 hours being treated as an inmate.

Patients Lining Porches
In 1927, the hospital celebrated its 25th Anniversary. More than 13,500 patients had come through the asylum’s doors. The current population was listed at 2,650 residents.

Dr. Zeller
In 1935, Dr. Zeller stepped down as Superintendent but he continued to live on the grounds in the Bowen (administration) Building. He died there on June 29, 1938.

Electro Shock Therapy
Soon after his death, The Peoria Hospital took a turn for the worse. Insulin Shock Therapy was introduced, lobotomies were performed, and Electro Convulsive Therapy began to be used. The days of kindness and understanding were over.

Patients at Peoria State Hospital
The 1950’s were peak years at PSH with over 2,800 patients residing here, but several patients were killed or died of mysterious circumstances during this time. At one time over 40 buildings were located on the property.

By 1972 only 600 patients were living here and the imminent closure of the facility was announced. The Peoria State Hospital closed in 1973.

Abandoned Building
The buildings remained empty after the hospital’s closure. Plans were made but development ideas were never successful. Over time, many of the buildings were demolished, others renovated as the community tried to find uses the buildings. 

Peoria State Hospital
But even though the buildings appeared to be empty, many say that spirits still reside here. There are four cemeteries located on the property and all are said to be haunted.

The Bereft
An Old Elm
Dr. Zeller wrote a book in the 1920s called “The Bereft” about his experiences at the hospital. In it he also documented his paranormal experiences at the facility. One of the first unexplainable incidents that occurred at the hospital, which Zeller witnessed, along with hundreds of other patients and staff, involved a mute patient known as Manuel A. Bookbinder. “Old Book” worked with the burial crew at the facility. After each funeral service, as the body was being lowered into the grave, Old Book would remove his cap, lean against an elm tree and sob. No one knew why.

Plaque to Manuel Bookbinder
In 1910, Old Book died and Dr. Zeller along with hundreds of patients and staff attended his funeral at the cemetery. But as the service was being conducted, the sight of Old Book, leaning against the old elm tree, crying, caught everyone’s attention. The funeral was stopped and the casket opened to find the body of Old Book lying peacefully in his coffin. The apparition had vanished and no one could logically explain what had just happened.

Mist at Peoria State Hospital
Empty Hallway
Other apparitions have been seen wandering along hospital corridors, shadows flit about the abandoned rooms, sobs and whispers can be heard throughout the remaining buildings along with footsteps.

Abandoned Hospital
Although Peoria State Hospital might be considered “mild” in comparison to other haunted hospitals, it was voted “Scariest Insane Asylum” in 2012 by Ghostly World visitors, and has been featured on the television show, “Ghost Hunters.”

Today, a group known as “Save the Bowen” owns the asylum. The group is seeking assistance, including financial and volunteers, to save the historical administration building. Find out more at Peoria Asylum.

Next week, we’ll travel north to another insane asylum that has tunnels brimming with paranormal sightings and discover “what lies beneath” …

~ Joy