Lewis County, West Virginia is a sleepy little town of roughly 4,000 that has seen itself rise and fall since its incorporation in 1846. Weston, the county seat, is a picturesque little town that has two historic districts: Weston Downtown Historic District and the Weston Downtown Residential Historic District. The earliest residence listed was built in 1839, before it’s official incorporation. Weston is home to the WV Museum of American Glass; however, it is best known for being home to the Weston State Hospital, also known as the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.
Overshadowing everything and everybody it casts it’s shadow on, the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum sits on the outskirts of this quiet little town and is a large, dark stain on the town, the state, and the country just as most of these state hospitals or asylums became.
Construction began on the hospital in 1858 and it officially opened its doors to patients in 1864. During the early 1860’s, the grounds and the partially built hospital was home to Union Troops during the Civil War, known as Camp Tyler. There was fighting seen close by and the Union Troops were ousted by Confederate Soldiers for a time, with the grounds and building be raided and damaged in the process. The hospital was designed in the Gothic and Tudor style specifically with the patient’s needs in mind – it was originally built with the best of intentions – to supply an abundance of sunlight and fresh air to foster healing in its patients.
The hospital sits on over 600 acres and was largely self-sufficient as they grew their own food, made their own clothing and curtains, and operated a dairy herd. All of this was designed to provide the patients with a trade. There are 3 different cemeteries located on the hill behind the hospital, all with patients buried during different time spans. There are only a few markers throughout all the cemeteries, leaving the thousands buried there spending eternity in unmarked graves with little records available to determine who they are.
It’s easy to speculate how alone, lost and abandoned a person must have felt as they slowly succumbed to illness, disease, age, or one of the numerous inhumane treatments administered regularly during their state at the asylum. In the end, it must have been the ultimate indignity to be left in a grave, without so much as a marker with your name on it, to spend all of eternity unknown and unrecognized. The cemeteries were not somewhere my heart would allow me to visit while at Trans Allegheny – the suffering, pain and outrage is too high.
The hospital’s history is similar to so many hospitals of this type during the mid-1800’s and through the 1900’s – rife with over-crowding (~2,400 patients at its max), neglect, abuse, the use of barbaric and inhumane treatment practices, pain, suffering and even murder. The very first patient documented was a housewife who was committed for “domestic troubles” – one can guess what that means. Many of the first patients were committed for things life grief, seduction, novel reading, and feebleness of intellect. Imagine suffering the loss of someone, like your child, and being committed to a state hospital because you were grieving. Suppose you loved to read, thrived on the escape it provided from the mundane or difficult tasks of your life and your husband had you committed for it. The reasons for being committed became increasingly unbelievable including laziness, superstition (I would have been locked up with the key tossed away), masturbation (yes this was a committable offense but I’m going to guess it was likely only for woman) and menopause. The fact is that these hospitals became dumping grounds for unwanted people and the scariest part is that people were offered money, from the hospital, when they brought in a patient to be committed. A significant number of patients showed absolutely no sign of mental illness when they were admitted but I bet after being exposed regularly to the indignity and inhumane practices, most didn’t stay completely sane for long.
Although there were many changes through the years to the buildings (additions being added, fires occurring), the hospital remained extremely overcrowded, making it impossible to control, properly care for and keep patients safe. As a result, the hospital was often teeming with violence – patient on patient as well as against nurses and caretakers. It is said patients were kept in cages, tied to their beds, or even tied to sinks in the bathroom. Taken with the barbaric treatments, it must have been a life of pure hell for most patients.
The hospital finally closed its doors for good in 1994 and sat vacant until 2007, when it was purchased and opened for various types of tours as well as paranormal investigations. It is during one of the tours, once I was finally able to enter the building, that I had some of the most profound, emotional, and even dark experiences to date.
The first trip we made to Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was a short detour on our return home from a long weekend jaunt to Kentucky (Octagon Hall) and Tennessee (Bell Witch Cave) – post on these coming soon. At the last minute we decided to drop by Weston and check out this asylum we have heard so much about. It had already been quite the weekend, with a lot of interaction with Spirit, so I was a little hesitant to be honest. We also had my teenage daughter in the car, and by this point we have spent most of the last few days driving. That is a horror story in and of itself and reason enough to pause before adding on a few minutes to the drive. But we wanted to check this place out for ourselves after years of hearing so much about it and seeing it investigated on some of our favorite paranormal shows. So, we went for it…
As we drove through Weston, I was quite surprised at the state of the town. I had heard that it relied heavily on this hospital for its economy, with most residents working there or for a business associated with it. Without the hospital, this historic little town seems to be in distress.
I couldn’t help but wonder how the people of this town are currently making a living and where. Weston is off the beaten path a bit and not particularly close to any big cities. We found the hospital easy enough as it is the biggest part of the town and hard to miss. As we pulled through the large gates and drove down the long driveway, I was taken aback at the sheer size of the buildings and the openness and vastness of the grounds. I was not prepared. I began to get very anxious and nervous as the energy shifted and really began to impact me. We pulled alongside the main building and parked the car. All of the sudden, it got very “loud” for me. I have gotten pretty adept at maintaining my cool and determining when what I am “hearing” is what everyone else hears or what Spirit is sharing. However, right then, I was so overwhelmed with emotions (anxiety, fear, pain, terror, pain, helplessness, trapped, depressed, loss of control, pain, terror…….) that I began to lose my focus. All I could literally hear was shouting, and crying, and pounding…pounding…pounding on the windows. All I could feel were these wild array of emotions, burning inside of me until I wanted to shout… or run… or pound…
I stepped out of the car and looked at the building. I could see hundreds of Spirits standing behind the windows, some looking out, some standing a little back, others pounding on the window in what appeared to be a plea for help. Men and woman, young and old, various periods of dress… The worst for me were the Spirits who were full of rage and anger. Those are the scariest because I completely and totally understand their anger but once you are so fully consumed by something, especially anger – as these Spirits were – it becomes very hard to know how they will act or react to people and especially to me.
The impact was so strong, so overwhelming, so emotional that I began to feel it physically. The anxiety and panic came on strong. I began to feel the Spirits pain in various ways – sharp pain to the eye, pain in the head, jolting through my body, stabbing pain in my gut – and I got dizzy and sick. I also began to pick up on a dark presence, a dark energy, different than anything I had encountered prior to this. And I was intimidated and yes, a little scared. I was not in control and there was no way I could continue, let along enter that building.
It is very hard to explain, especially to the teenager I mentioned earlier who may have cheerfully jostled me at this point, that I could not enter the building. I encouraged them to go on ahead with a tour without me, but they caught on real quick that leaving me alone would likely be a problem. So, despite everything, we took a few pictures outside the building and returned to our drive home.
However, I wasn’t finished with Trans Allegheny. It had touched me deep inside, left a mark on me with all the pain, suffering and anger I knew Spirits, most who were good decent people in life, were stuck experiencing again… and again… and again… I knew I had to return, that even learning or experience a little more could help some Spirits in some small way… And I was right.
We returned to Trans Allegheny the next Spring, without the teenager, and this time I was prepared!
To be continued…… (please check out Part 2 – to be published soon)