Autobiography

The Asylum, 2010-11

Tala-01-July2010

If you’ve read my biography, you’ll know I have a passion for the paranormal. While I haven’t had much time to investigate these days, I do often think back to my adventures in West Virginia. The Coast Guard stationed my wife and I there after I completed graduate school in 2007. It wasn’t that we intentionally volunteered to go there; it was that we had to make a choice: Martinsburg or Washington, DC. Martinsburg seemed like the lesser of two evils.

Happy-go-lucky before the sun sets (July 2010)

Happy-go-lucky before the sun sets (July 2010)

I think my wife and I can agree that Martinsburg wasn’t exactly the center of the universe. Nevertheless, it had its advantages. The Antietam battlefield was close and Martinsburg is, for all intents and purposes, the gateway to the Shenandoah Valley region. If you were heading to Luray Caverns in Virginia, for example, you’d probably stop in Martinsburg for gasoline. Martinsburg is also four hours from one of the most haunted sites on the East Coast: The Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum located in Weston, West Virginia.

Formerly known as the Weston State Hospital, the Asylum was constructed between 1858 and 1881. Architect Richard Andrews who followed the Kirkbride Plan designed it. Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride was a founding member of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane – forerunner of the American Psychiatric Association. He promoted a standardized method of asylum construction and mental health treatment that served as “ideal sanctuaries” for the mentally ill. His buildings were considered part of their recovery. Trans Allegheny was designed with long, rambling wings arranged in a staggered formation. This ensured an abundance of sunlight and fresh air. The building itself is purportedly the second largest hand-cut stone masonry building next to the Kremlin in Moscow.

The fact that the Trans Allegheny is haunted should be of no surprise to believers. It was built to house 250 people in relative comfort but by the 1950’s had reached a staggering 2,400 patients. Sadly, many were lobotomized, ignored, or simply treated poorly. The hospital was closed in 1994 due to changes in treatment for the mentally ill and deteriorating conditions. Joe Jordan, an asbestos demolition contractor, bought it in 2007 and opened it to the public for ghost tours.

I took advantage of Mr. Jordan’s venture on three separate occasions.

The Blogger at the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia (2010)

The Blogger at the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia (2010)

Trans Allegheny offers two basic tour types. The first is the day light tour where visitors have the opportunity to interact with the tour guide and learn more about the building’s history. It lasts for about an hour and is perfect for those passing through the area or those too afraid to walk the halls at night. The second is the nighttime tour. This tour is very different and requires a significant time investment. It starts at dusk and ends at dawn.

Night tours draw a maximum of 40 people. While that may seem like a lot, it’s not. Weston State Hospital contains over 242,000 square feet of spookiness spread across four floors. This means only 10 people investigate any particular floor at any one time. After listening to the tour guide for about 10 minutes, folks are left to their own accord. If you’re like me, you immediately split from the pack and go it alone.

Walking around a notoriously haunted building in alone in inky blackness is surreal. If it weren’t for the light of my Mini-DV camera, I’d probably end up bumping right into the walls. Sounds can be distorted because the rooms are virtually empty. Nevertheless, after an hour or so, you learn how to distinguish the sound of other people from the sound of something other than people.

I equipped myself well during all three visits. In addition to my Sony Mini-DV camera with infrared (no longer made by Sony, by the way), I had a still camera, digital recorder, ultraviolet flashlight, and KII meter. The KII picks up fluctuations in the surrounding electromagnetic spectrum. I should mention that there was electricity in the Asylum but it was only used to light the emergency exit signs and illuminate the break room on the first floor. This is important to know because the KII will pick up currents running through the old wiring. However, this only happened when the little device was nearer than a foot or so from the source.

A room full of orbs. Dust or spirits? You decide! (July 2010)

A room full of orbs. Dust or spirits? You decide! (July 2010)

In total I spent nearly 24-hours wandering the near-vacant building at night. Based on everything I experienced or captured on my electronic devices, the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is definitely haunted.

During one of my visits I felt something touch my neck. I was alone on the second or third floor and had my video camera set up on a tripod. As I called out to the spirits, something brushed behind me. I have my reaction caught on tape but could see nothing physically touching me. I suppose it could have been a spider’s web but I had not seen any insects that night.

On three separate occasions during one visit, I clearly captured someone humming a tune on my video camera. I did not hear this during the investigation. In one case, you can hear other people walking up a stairwell. I strongly believe the humming did not come from them because I captured it two other times when I was alone.

When I was with my two stepdaughters during my final visit to Weston, we stopped at the beginning of one of the hallways to listen to a group of others attempt to make contact. There were no other people on that floor yet we heard a tiny scream in the distance. I have this on my audio recorder.

My stepdaughter Desiree investigates with me (April 2011)

My stepdaughter Desiree investigates with me (April 2011)

At one point a group of us met near the Civil War wing of the hospital – thus named because it was constructed during the 1860s and one of the oldest parts of the hospital. As we talked and asked questions, my video record distinctly picked up voices that were not ours.

Throughout the various video recordings, I caught more than one “orb” crossing my infrared lights. Again, they could have been insects but the temperatures were mighty cold for flying bugs.

I visited one area known for hosting the ghost of Lily, a little girl who lived and died at the hospital. Two interesting things happened. First, I set my flashlight on the ground pointing into the air. It was one of those twistable lights. By twisting the on-off to the point where any little touch would make it illuminate, I asked questions. Lily responded on demand. When I asked her to turn it on, she did. When I asked her to turn it off, she did. Second, after reviewing my video of a ball in the center of the room, I noticed slight disturbances in its motion. When I speeded up the video, you can distinctly see it moving. There was no wind that night.

The toys Lily played with during my visits to the Lunatic Asylum (July 2010)

The toys Lily played with during my visits to the Lunatic Asylum (July 2010)

I also captured a number of other anomalies that are difficult to explain.

I believe that the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is haunted. While I didn’t get any “in-your-face” apparitions, scratches, or manifestations, I did experience what could only be called paranormal. I enjoyed every second of it!

Trailcams, for hunting deer, are useful ghost hunting tools because they can see into the dark.

Trailcams, for hunting deer, are useful ghost hunting tools because they can see into the dark.

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