Why Do Asylums Give Us the Creeps? [Horror October]

Horror October is hosted by Leanne @ Literary Excursion!

For some reason, I’ve always had a strange fascination for asylums. Insane asylums. Yep, you heard me. It’s just… it’s so strange that people tend to be afraid of them and turn them into something to be feared. I mean, I get that crazy people sometimes do crazily dangerous and deadly things. But is it REALLY the lunatics in the “loony bin” that gives us the jeepers? WARNING: This post is funner when read at night, lights off, all alone…

Insane asylums have been turned into a form of pop culture. They appear in my horror movies, and even video games, and even though you’re told that they have been abandoned for years, they always turn out not to be. But here’s the thing: I don’t think it’s the crazy people who once lived there that actually scare us. It’s the stories surrounding these abandoned places. At least, that’s what I think.

Before they were abandoned…

Old asylums were known for mistreating their patients — living conditions were horrible, patients weren’t properly cared for (it wasn’t uncommon to see patients walking around aimlessly, stark naked), and the nurses didn’t give a crap about their job other than that it paid the bills. It’s also not unusual to hear about the abundance of deaths that go on in this place — especially suicides. These deaths might prove to be a problem… Furthermore, the head doctors themselves were more than a little cuckoo. They’d do all kinds of things to the patients: most notably lobotomy. This is where the frontal part of your brain is removed. Some doctors claimed that lobotomy presented stunning results. More often than not, though, they only served to cripple the patient, or make their condition worse. 

So we have filthy asylums, neglectful, oftentimes evil, nurses, and mad doctors with their crazy experiments. It’s no wonder everyone feared the madhouse.

But get this: it’s not the horrors that were performed on the patients that actually give us the creeps. For me, it’s the rumors, the hauntings, the stories surrounding these supposedly sinister places. C’mon. You’ve heard of them. Mostly. But I’m going to share some of my favorites (and also the ones that raised the hairs on my arms.)

The Ridges — Athens, Ohio

The official name for this asylum is Athens Asylum for the Criminally Insane. On January 12, 1979, the corpse of a female patient, Margaret Schilling was found in an abandoned floor of the asylum. She had disappeared one month earlier, but her body had only been found now. It is said that her body left a human-shaped stain on the floor, and her spirit can be seen peering into the window of this abandoned ward. People have also claimed to have heard disembodied female voices, squeaking gurneys, and to have seen mysterious “shadow people.”

Inside Byberry Mental Hospital

Byberry Mental Hospital — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This mental institute was known for its brutality against its patients: padded cells, restraining devices, lobotomies, electric shocks, and cruel beatings by nurses were all just some of the things Byberry’s patients had to face. Apparently, there is a huge network of catacombs built under the hospital as well, and one scary legend is that a former mentally ill and violent patient still lurks in these tunnels, holding a large knife, and lying in wait for the next unsuspecting person brave enough to explore the institute. Freaky, huh?

Topeka State Hospital — Topeka, Kansas

Okay, so this story’s more disturbing than creepy, but: apparently, in the early 20th century, a reporter visited the asylum and saw a patient who had been strapped down for so long that his skin began to grow over the restraints. And as if that wasn’t enough, other patients were chained up, naked, and many of them were faced with infinite boredom. They were given nothing to do, so they sat in rocking chairs and stared into space.

New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum — Trenton, New Jersey

This is one case where I think that the head doctor was crazier than his patients. When Dr. Henry Cotton became director of the institute in 1907, he introduced some seriously disturbing treatment methods for his patients. Cotton believed that mental illness was actually an illness — caused by infections. Viruses. Bacteria.  Because of this, he thought that the only way to cure retardation was to remove these infections.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

He began to remove patients’ teeth, even when x-ray scans showed no visible infections. And he didn’t stop there. Soon he was removing other organs, like the gall bladder, stomachs, ovaries, testicles, colon tracts, and others. What’s worse is that he made all these experiments public. No one bothered to investigate. Cotton remained at the asylum until 1930, three years before his death. I mean, if this guy isn’t psycho, I don’t know what else to call him.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium — Kentucky

Before you start thinking about The Wizards of Waverly Place and cool magic: this facility is nothing like that. It is responsible for 64,000 deaths, and many places throughout it is haunted. For example, people have claimed to have seen an old woman wailing, with her arms and legs chained and all bloodied up. Two kids also haunt the third floor (OMG, deja vu!), and apparently, people have heard the sound of a ball bouncing around, or even bouncing down the stairs. And that’s not all: on the roof, there are ghostly sounds of children singing “ring around the rosie.” Nothing like a good children’s rhyme to scare everyone, right?

But the scariest and most unsafe place in Waverly Hills is the fourth floor. On this floor, much of the building has fallen into ruin, so tourists aren’t allowed to go into certain rooms because the floors have collapsed and the building isn’t stable. But there have been reports on doors being closed by themselves — and the wind most definitely isn’t strong enough to do that. Ghostly silhouettes can also be seen lurking around on the walls, and more than once, a full body apparition of a man in what seems to be a lab coat has appeared, only to disappear into a different room.

And we know the doctors are the most dangerous ones here…

Over to you!

Did you enjoy this post? I hope you had a nice, good fright! Because while researching all these stories — late at night, all by myself downstairs — I started getting really creeped out and started hearing strange noises. Pretty sure that was all my imagination, though. 😀 Anyway, despite these chilling circumstances, I think it would be insanely cool to visit some of these asylums. What do you think? Do you have any scary stories you want to share? Please do!

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24 thoughts on “Why Do Asylums Give Us the Creeps? [Horror October]

  1. HOLY CRAP THOSE PICTURES. MS DONT LIKEY. I haven’t always been scared of all things that are scary because I am a wimp but I am also really curious at the same time. Asylums are like on the top of the list O.O

    Also, THE GIF FROM THE HELP *crying*

    Fab post, Meg! <33

  2. It takes a lot to frighten me, but the actual history of mental institutions scares the living daylights out of me. I don’t personally believe any of those sorts of facilities are haunted — I think they’re stories people made up thanks to the brutality those facilities displayed, maybe as a kind of coping mechanism — but knowing that, you know, those things actually happened (the beatings, the lobotomies, the electroconvulsive therapies) makes me shiver. I have a huge interest in psychology and am always trying to push a positive image of it on people, because mental health is stigmatised far too much, but these times are such dark times in the history of psychiatry that it’s hard to overlook them.

    Now, the abandoned, derelict buildings of the asylums? They freak me out. Look at that endless corridor!

  3. I just had to read this post, didn’t I? AND I’m planning to go to sleep soon. That first example (the athens asylum) is exactly the sort of thing that I’ll remember when alone somewhere. So THANKS. 😉

    Super creepy though! I agree with you – it isn’t the mentally ill that make asylums such interesting/disturbing places (or at least, it shouldn’t be), but rather the stories that seem to be associated with them. I wonder how many times I’ll hear children singing in my head tonight…

  4. I definitely would not be up for visiting any of those!!! Lol. I’m a real scardy cat. I remember trying to watch an episode of Supernatural a few years ago set in an old asylum, but wimping out 1/2 way through! 🙂

  5. ARE YOU TRYING TO CREEP ME OUT?!??! I am now severely creeped out!! *deep breath* Anyway, as creepy as this post was, it was really interesting. Also, WHY ARE ALL THESE ASYLUMS IN THE U.S.?? I think this is the creepiest part of all… or maybe it’s just me? I would love to visit the least scary of these, only for the experience but I don’t think I’d do that anytime soon! Awesome post and thanks for giving me the creeps! 🙂

  6. Oh god, Meg. Why is it that even though I KNOW I will be freaked out by something ahead of time, I still feel compelled to read it/watch it? I don’t know why I do that to myself! Eeek, I should’ve stopped reading when I read the warning, but I read the entire thing O_O

    Asylums have got to be the creepiest of all things (wait… also clowns). And I’m with you, it’s more the rumours surrounding the asylums after they’ve been abandoned that freaks me out so much. I’m surprised there are still so many standing, abandoned asylums (all in the US? Weird). And NO IT WOULD NOT BE “INSANELY” COOL TO SEE THEM. *faints*

  7. NO THANK YOU TO ASYLUMS. They freak me out. *hides under my blanket* I think a big part of my fear of asylum is because it has so much history. Like you said, it’s the stories that scare us. Imagination is a powerful thing, and when we have to imagine what has happened in asylums, it scares us (at least me) because it actually did happened. Shitty things have happened in asylums which is freaky. My brain refuses to wrap my head around it because it’s so real and true.

  8. You know, it’s funny how I can watch movies like SAW and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and eat at the same time, but mention haunted mental hospitals/asylums and ghosts of girls (like the one in the Grudge) and I wont be able to sleep for three days straight. And leave the light in the bathroom on. And make my dog sleep on my bed with me.

    It’s weird, because while I find them so fascinating, at the same time I’m as disgusted as a person can be by the treatment patients have received at the hands of uncaring people. It’s just… horrifying to know that people can be mentally unstable to the point of actually inflicting pain on others in such ways. For crazy doctors, running an asylum is probably like having a house full of guinea pigs and you just don’t know where to start. It’s not… right.

    Anyway… I’m totally freaked out by this, but I can talk about it all day 😀

  9. Ack, MEG! You just had to do this to us, didn’t you?! 😡
    Gosh while reading this post, it totally gave me the creeps. So I quickly turned on the lights and hid under my blanket. Oooh. CREEPY. NO THANK YOU. I DON’T FANCY ASYLUMS NO SIREE. Haha but good thing none of these creep-tastic asylums are in asia. High five, girlfriend! We are SA-AFE.
    And I think why we are always so creeped out by this sorta thing is because our imaginations run wild and we believe we actually see such things, when we don’t. So as long as I don’t imagine ghosts and erm, crazy doctors and abusive nurses, they won’t show up in the corner of my room…. right? Erm… Heh.
    I don’t want to believe it’s reality… but I know people actually get mistreated in asylums, and that’s really sad to me. Where’s the humanity and the heart?
    But I really get creeped out by this sorta thing. Oh gosh, I’m so wimpy ><
    Congratulations Meg, you have successfully given me the hint of a nightmare.
    Oh LOL xD

  10. Luckily I have read this by day. Huh I’ll maybe even sleep tonight. So here is the deal I’m scared of asylums. Not only because of movies but because the asylum here in my town is like that – neglected. The city is trying to build another one but economy is really bad so they can’t finish it. One of my friends once worked there (he is a medical student and they have to spend few weeks working in every medical institution) so he told me that the first day he arrived there rain was falling and most of patients were out running and almost naked. Also there was one guy who spent all day hitting the wall and they couldn’t stop him unless they gave him some sedatives or something. It sounds really – crazy? Great post Meg 🙂

  11. Hmm…I guess Asylums are scary because patients may be involuntarily committed, even if they’re not insane (they may have other conditions that make them appear not normal). But if a patient is told over and over again that they are insane…and with all the drugs the patients are made to take and with the funny stuff done to patients brains, they may eventually become so. It’s scary to think how often this could have happened in the past.

  12. *frantically dials 911 to report an attempted murder by “Why Do Asylums Give Us the Creeps?” on Charlotte* Maybe, I have to steer clear from your blog for a while, Meg. After reading a tragic + horror post, I immediately jumped into this nightmarish article which did not only give me a hair raising moment but also a lot of morbid thoughts.

    Why can’t we just talk about Christmas and New Year? Or if you really want to talk about Halloween, why not about procedures on how to make smiling Jack-O-Lanterns? Or the appropriate candies for trick or treat? Why does it have to be about about asylums?

    Only my love for you made me read through the whole thing. I almost stopped after reaching New Jersey asylum. Good heavens, my knowledge on asylums only extend to the fact that they’re meant for insane people. And I refused to widen my understanding of them for the sake of keeping my sanity obviously. Hahaha.

    I think out of all the featured asylums here, Waverly is the scariest (not that the others aren’t scary). Imagine four floors of hellhole haunted by a ghost doctor, kids, and songs. Ahh nooo!

    Please excuse me, I have to re-read Harry Potter to erase the horrible images on my mind.

  13. Eek! Those insane asylum stories are really creepy O_o I’m actually scared of both the stories that surround the asylums and the insane patients and crazy, cruel owners in them. *cowers in the corner*

    However, lots of the stories that surround insane asylums are really sad. Lobotomy, beatings, and cruel treatment in general… It’s just so sad to think of all those patients whose conditions are getting worse because the asylum they’re in is run by cruel or non-caring people.

    “WARNING: This post is funner when read at night, lights off, all alone…” <— Funner, huh? I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO DO, MEG!

  14. There’s an asylum within walking distance in which parts of it are still in use — though soon they will tear it down in favor of expanding The University of Alabama. I used to live right by Bryce and it’s honestly really creepy… But then again since our campus is so old it’s all reportedly haunted anyway and I’ve never seen any ghosts. 😛

    However, apparently across the river in Northport there is what people call the Old Bryce hospital which garners a lot more haunting stories than the one on campus. Unfortunately going near there is trespassing. :<

  15. Haha,way to freak everyone out Meg!

    But I totally agree with you. I don’t think it’s so much the fact that it’s an insane asylum but all the bad practices that went down in them. You just know there are some angry pissed out souls there that want revenge not only on the doctors who treated them so poorly but also everyone else for just letting it happen. I mean, just thinking about it freaks me out!

    Oh and hey, all those haunted places you’re talking about are back in the US so I should be safe right? Surely there’s no haunted places like that here in the UK? 😉

  16. Ahh, they fascinate me too! I love looking at photos of abandoned buildings and asylums are always my favourite… weird.

    I loved reading this, such a cool post! Those catacombs under the hospital are freaky…

    Related story: my cousin is an electrician, and he has been doing a lot of work at a mental institution lately. Apparently they still give electric shock treatment there =/

    • ECT is actually much more humane than it used to be (speaking about electric shock treatment). They focus on a particular part of the brain and there’s anesthetic used as well. Basically they’re inducing controlled seizures that do in many cases help relieve symptoms of mental illness such as depression. It’s usually used as a last resort when no other treatment works. It’s still quite risky but thankfully nothing like what things were like decades ago, even if it still sounds really scary.

  17. You know that they fascinate me. I have a special interest in asylums in the 1800s (mostly between 1850 – 1890). The stories during those time periods are so fascinating. Did you know back then that superintendents (what we would call psychiatrist nowadays) honestly thought that Shakespeare was the leading standard for how the mind worked? That if you studied his works, mostly his play of Macbeth, you could get a better understanding how madness worked? How sad is that? I mean … he lived a long, long time ago and that was their standard. They also let people come in and watch their patients as if it was a zoo for a fee.

    The weirdest thing to me is the superintendents used to live in asylums. Usually in the middle of them — with their families. I would totally not want to grow up in a place filled with crazies.

    Awesome post, Meg! I thoroughly enjoyed it. That Topeka one is particularly disturbing, but if you’ve ever been to Topeka you’d believe it. It has the most mentally unstable people in all of Kansas (not shockingly, it’s also the capital).

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  19. This was an awesome post Meg!! I actually find old insane asylums so interesting, and terrifying but I’ve mostly done research on the ones in Canada so I cannot wait to look into these ones; especially the one in Kentucky… it sounds awful. I’m not sure why they give me the creeps, but I think you are right, it’s the stuff that goes on in them… and now that a lot of them are apparently haunted, that’s terrifying also 😛 Thanks so much for posting this!

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