The Terrifying Treatment at Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

Kayla Moriarty, Feature Editor

Seeing the word ¨lunatic¨ being used to describe people who struggle with mental illnesses is unusual, but years ago this was standard treatment of the mentally ill. Most mental asylums started in the 1800s were often cruel and experimented with the patients, trying everything from torture to electro-shock therapy. It’s no surprise that rumors about “insane asylums” being haunted arise when there is such a traumatic history to unfold. 

History of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum opened in 1863 in Weston, West Virginia, and was originally intended to be a quote-on-quote “rehabilitation center” to aid those with mental disorders in recovering in a comforting manner. It was also originally to hold only 250 people, so patients could receive one-on-one care and the workers would not be overrun. When the subject of mental health became more and more controversial, more people would admit themselves into the hospital to receive treatment to fit in with society. The asylum quickly became full, and that one-on-one, amicable treatment soon faded away. In the 1950s, 2,400 patients were living at the asylum. There were addicts, soldiers, hysteria, and some physical conditions like asthma. Something that is less talked about in this time is the admission of women by their husbands. Some of the conditions written down in the guest book were menstrual derangement, imaginary female trouble, and women trouble. It was not uncommon for husbands to admit their wives so they could be with their mistresses, or for them to try to cure “womanly emotions.” Patients were shoved in rooms together meant to hold only one person. There was a lack of food supply, lack of space, and lack of sanitation. Unfortunately, patients with violent tendencies were locked in cages and put into rooms so the other patients crammed into the room would not be harmed. Walter Freeman began performing lobotomies to “cure” patients throughout the hospital, and his practices often left patients permanently damaged cognitively and physically. Some of his lobotomies were fatal for some patients because he would disgustingly hammer into a patient’s eye socket to break tissue. Lobotomies were not uncommon in the mid-1900s, as they left patients disconnected from their emotions, and on the exterior, this seemed to make them docile. The asylum did not officially close until 1994 because of the conditions patients were living in. 


Considering the disturbing history of the asylum, the possibility of troubled spirits roaming the place where they once lived is not too far-fetched. The amount of deaths recorded at the asylum is 500. Jacob, an alcoholic that lived in the hospital, would roam the hallways in search of a beer. A commonly spotted ghost is a young girl named Lily, who passed away due to pneumonia as a child. Lily came into the hospital by birth, as her mother was a patient. She is said to throw toys to try to get people to play with her. According to The Haunted Places, a historian captured her saying “thank you for the snack.” Some paranormal investigators claim to have seen her or heard her laughing or crying. The hospital was also running during the Civil War and housed many soldiers who were recovering from war injuries. Rumors of murder behind closed doors from workers have not been scarcely historically confirmed, but they are said to have happened. A patient was killed with a bed frame on the third floor by his roommates and is said to still walk around the floor. Unknown apparitions, unexplained noises, and disembodied whispers are also common. 

Although it is interesting to consider the hauntings of the asylum, the treatment and conditions of patients in this period should not go unnoticed. Many people living at the asylum were victims of assault, murder, faulty medical practices, and other horrors. The stigma around mental health has unfortunately not completely disappeared today, and there are still horrific medical practices and treatments. The Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum holds a heart-breaking history and is a reminder of how far mental health care has progressed. 


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