Paranormal Perceptions ~ The Old Asylum on the Hill
The Paranormal Perceptions series was created to gather some of the most interesting authors that are using paranormal elements in their stories. Every author has their own perceptions and provides their own insight on all things paranormal, ranging from urban legends and paranormal research, to myths and inspirations. This week on the guest series is author of Abrahans Men, author Kristen Selleck. (@Abrahamsmen)
When I was a teenager, my parents moved our family from Detroit to a town outside of Louisville that barely warranted a dot on the map. I was a 16-year-old self-proclaimed ‘goth girl’, who worked very hard to appear cynical and brooding, and in my new small town high school, I stood out like Sam Kinison in a library.
You could probably guess that I didn’t make friends very easily. There was this one boy though, and I’m not going to wax poetic about his finely molded cheekbones or any of that crap, but I generally turned into a stammering, dyslexic, cavegirl when he talked to me.
Example- “Oh…uhhhh…yeah, huh-huh, you like music good? I like too that. I-I-It’s…yeah.”
* (translation: Hey, I see you’re listening to the Pixies. I am also fond of this musical act. Their innovative blend of indie and noise rock was influential on mainstream alternative rock.)
If you’re starting to roll your eyes at the fact that my life sounds like the intro to every paranormal romance you’ve ever read…stick with me, it gets better. Anyhow, the guy was unfailingly nice to me, and ended up asking me to hang out with him on Halloween.
We drove around on these winding, two-lane, back roads as he told me scary stories about the area I had moved to. We went to a cemetery where, supposedly, the souls of the confederate soldiers who were buried there, rose from their graves when the sun went down. We drove by a cave where a bunch of people were murdered (maybe). There was also an old covered bridge that was haunted by—to tell you the truth, I don’t even remember. Finally he brought up something called ‘the Death Tunnel’. The story went that there was an old abandoned insane asylum that sat on the top of a hill, and the death tunnel started at the bottom of the hill and led up to the basement of the asylum. In the old days, people were tortured and killed there, and the bodies were hidden in the tunnel until they could be disposed of. It was said that if you went into the tunnel you could hear voices whispering, and that hands would reach out and grab you.
Now for those of you who are familiar with the true history of Waverly Hills Sanitarium, a tuberculosis hospital that closed down in the 60’s, you’re probably shaking your head at this, but most urban legends start with at least a grain of truth. The tunnel was used for getting supplies up the hill from the trains and for employees to walk through to avoid the steep downhill descent. At one point, when the tuberculosis epidemic was causing mass casualties, it was used to transport bodies for burial. This was due to the fact that it was generally thought that if the patients were to see a constant stream of bodies being taken away, they might give up the will to live.
But at the time, I didn’t know any of that. I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of being able to walk around inside of an abandoned asylum. It would be just like a horror movie! We never found it (understand that this was in the long ago 1990’s, before there was GPS or Siri.). But it did serve to spark an interest in me. Up until that point, I had never wondered why there were so many abandoned insane asylums, or why they all looked so similar.
I know the answers now. Here’s the condensed version, try and stay awake: A bunch of doctors realized that insanity didn’t occur from demon possession and began studying the workings of the human mind. Asylums were built so that those affected with these diseases could be studied, taken care of, and, hopefully, cured. A great many of these institutions were based on the architectural recommendations of a brilliant physician and advocate for the mentally ill, Thomas Story Kirkbride. He felt that if you housed these sick people in beautiful buildings, with large windows, and spacious hallways, gave them pleasant and peaceful grounds to view and to walk, it would help inspire them to become healthy.
It was a nice thought, but as most of you know, it didn’t work out that way. Asylums quickly became overcrowded, understaffed, and badly regulated. Lobotomies…electric shock therapy…water treatments… we’ve all heard the stories, and they’re true. By the time psychiatric drugs came on the scene, we had already begun to realize that taking all of the mentally unhealthy people and locking them up away from the rest of society, wasn’t working. As more and more useful drugs and better treatments became available, these old asylums emptied out and closed down.
And now we are left with dozens of elaborately beautiful old structures--empty, windows broken, insides gutted and exposed to the elements--and mostly, they’re just rotting away.
In case you’re wondering, I did finally get inside Waverly Hills… legally, and into a lot of ‘real’ asylums too (uhhhh…not as legally). They’re very eerie and sad places, and they draw a certain sort of dark fascination from people. I noticed this when I used to show my pictures to friends and they would immediately ask all sorts of questions and sometimes even ask for prints. When I started writing my first novel, I took my interest in the history of psychology and institutionalization, and combined it with my secret addiction to paranormal romance to produce a weird little book which was aptly (albeit, uncreatively) named, Asylum. It did well enough that I was encouraged to turn it into a series, and very recently, I published the second book, Abraham’s Men.
Horror movies have taught us that all abandoned asylums have a stock cast of ghosts: the evil, experimenting doctor, the uber hot and completely emotionless nurse, lobotomized patients, the psychopathic serial killer, etc. I didn’t take any of my characters from that catalogue. Although the story is a fictional one, I hoped it would cause people to think about the people that really lived there, and what they went through. I’ve been in a lot of abandoned asylums, and I can tell you honestly that I’ve never seen an apparition, or heard voices, or felt a cold hand on my shoulder. I have always felt something though. It can best be described as an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and abandonment. And maybe, underneath the images of blood-spattered doctors with hacksaws, and zombie patients that asylums seem to conjure up, that’s what really scares us.