Haunted Places: Central State Hospital for the Insane
(Indianapolis, IN, USA)
This now largely-vanished hospital complex was for a long time the largest mental hospital in the state of Indiana. The hospital was constructed according to the Kirkbride plan, which focused on using aesthetics and design to enhance a patient’s treatment. The most famous of the buildings was the women’s quarters, called the Seven Steeples. There was also a farm for occupational therapy, and in 1895 a power plant was built on the grounds. It flourished during the late 1800s, but by the 1970s most of its buildings were deemed unsafe and were demolished - the only surviving structures from that era are the pathology building (pictured at the top) and the power plant. Newer wards were built after that point, but the hospital was closed in 1994.
I’ve actually been to the grounds, which now house the Indiana Medical History Museum. It was a really fantastic tour, beginning in the main lecture hall (the pathology building was part of a teaching program dedicated to finding a physical cause for mental illness) and going through the basement morgue/autopsy room, the record rooms, and an exam room. The guides are knowledgeable and stress that the hospital did its best to care for its patients.
Now for what you’re all interested in: why is this place haunted, if it was supposedly so great to its patients? They even had a farm! Well, like all asylums, it’s not perfect. Far from it, in fact - according to the state archives, for decades the hospital confined its worst cases to the basement “dungeons”. In 1870, the superintendent Dr. Everts discovered this and wrote to the governor asking for help:
"basement dungeons (are) dark, humid and foul, unfit for life of any kind, filled with maniacs who raved and howled like tortured beasts, for want of light, and air, and food, and ordinary human associations and habiliments…"
He also said that the entire hospital was in disrepair. Efforts were made to fix the problem - a journalist named Albert Thayer organized protests, published exposés, and encouraged former patients to publish their stories in his series of articles called “The Indiana Crazy House” - but the state archives say that part of the reason the hospital was closed were “lurid tales of patient abuse”. There are rumors also of patients who escaped the basements and fled into the tunnels, later to die there. Seems like a pretty solid foundation for a good ghost story.
Urban exploration is mildly difficult but not impossible - I was able to enter the old power plant without a problem. The State Police do keep their horses on the grounds, but because tours of the grounds are self-guided nobody asks too many questions if you’re there during the day. The biggest hurdle is that so few buildings remain, but if you dare to enter the tunnels perhaps you’ll discover their secrets.