Trans-Allegheny Lunatic AsylumMonday, August 24, 2015
I spent my twenty fifth birthday in a mental hospital - one that was abandoned, purchased at auction, partially restored, and now offers tours! I'm talking about the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. It's a little over two hours away from Oglebay, where we stayed the night, so it was kind of must. We woke up fairly early, ate the best hotel breakfast I've ever had, and made our way there. Although I'm not a huge fan of guided tours (okay, I kind of hate them) and that's all they offer - we had to see this place!
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was in operation from 1864 until 1994. It was originally built to house only 250 patients but in the 1950's peaked at 2,600 patients. Like the majority mental hospitals that were open at the time, there are many stories of wrong doing. An investigation in 1949 found unruly patients locked in cages, lobotomies being performed with ice picks, and conditions so poor they were surely the cause of death in many patients.
This building has suffered it's fair share of abuse as well. In 1935 a patient started a fire in his closet that destroyed six male wards and caused one of the cupolas to fall through the roof. It sat abandoned from the time it closed, in 1994, until 2007 when it was bought at auction for 1.5 million dollars. Of course, much like any abandoned building, many explorers found their way in to photograph this gorgeous building, and in 1999 vandals did quite a number on the interior...but it's probably not what you're thinking. All four floors of the building were damaged by police officers playing paintball!
The building's condition had deteriorated to the point where it's survival was threatened. A dedicated team of staff and volunteers are now committed to restoring it to it's former grandeur. Our guide pointed out a few things in the main lobby that they had restored and it's apparent how much time and love they're putting into this place. One of the other people on our tour asked "Are you ever going to fully restore it? Or just leave it looking abandoned?" I don't recall exactly what she said but I caught something about how they would probably leave some sections fixed up just enough to be safe because photographers would otherwise be outraged. Jeff and I shot each other knowing looks. Heaven knows I love me some peeling paint!
One of my favorite things I saw were actually the stone faces on the exterior of one of the buildings. It is said that spirits cannot come in through the front door so they put these ugly faces above the back door to scare away any spirits who might wander in the back. The uglier the better. While I don't believe in "spirits", I do LOVE folklore. After walking back in the building Jeff whispered "Can we get some of those for our house?" I had already been thinking of asking him the same thing!
After the tour you're allowed to visit a wing of the main building that's basically a museum. There are tools, old photos, headstones, and even some of the former patients artwork. It was a great way to end the tour, especially since I wanted more. We took the shortest tour since I hate guided tours so much (and of course, time constraints) but I was way into it! I feel like they could probably rope people into the longer tour at the end of the short tours by simply offering to let them pay the difference and continue on with the group.
Like I mentioned, I am not a fan of guided tours but this one was well worth it. Our tour guide was knowledgeable, kind, and seemed to actually be interested in what she was doing. Maybe I've only been on guided tours with poor guides in the past? We only took the first floor tour but I would love to go back to take the cemetery tour. It's not my thing, but if you're into ghost tours they offer those year round as well. I definitely recommend stopping in if you're anywhere in the area! It was waaaay cool to be able to finally visit such an incredible building with such amazing history.