Visiting the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is my favorite place to explore as an artist and photographer.So when a friend explained a desire to see the huge building in person this Halloween, I was over joyed to share my love with them. So Oct 29th we spent the day exploring and learning about one of West Virginia’s most unusual places. The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, constructed between 1858 and 1881, is the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in North America, and is purportedly the second largest in the world, next to the Kremlin. With the VIP tour tickets in hand, we spent our morning learning about the treatment and care of our mentally ill and how it has changed over the last 140 years. We also took this unique opportunity to photograph something that is in various stages of restoration and decay. The TALA was closed in 1994 due to the deterioration of the facility and changes in the laws about care of those who suffer from mental illness. At that time the State of West Virginia had no plan for the future of the building and the 300 acres of farm land that they now had owned in the center of a sleepy farm town.
The Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum fell into deep disrepair over the next 9 years leaving the community of Weston, West Virginia to wonder what the future would hold for their Georgian style monument. Would the building be sold off one huge block at a time, would a developer take control of the land and building and turn it into something that would help the small town or would the TALA just fall apart from neglect. In 2003 Lewis County got its answer as Morgantown asbestos demolition contractor Joe Jordan bought the nationally listed historic building for 1.5 million dollars. It was the start of a new beginning for the building and the town.
As a local resident for many years, I have always heard the ghost stories told about the Asylum. I always wanted to get inside to see for myself if it was as spooky and mysterious as reported. Over the years I have been inside some of the buildings, but this trip I was astounded at the amount of work that the Jordan family has committed to doing. Here is just a sample of images that show what kind of shape the building was in 2007 and in some cases still is today.
Drop cloth on the floor of the plaster repair shop TALA.
Sunlight on a solitary confinement room at the TALA.
Washing sink in the kitchen food prep area of the hospital. This seems to be one of the first sinks in this area the newer ones are stainless steel.
Creepy reflections appear in a widow at the medication dispensary area of the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.
The woman on the left is a lady as part of our tour group… the older woman on the right without a body remains a mystery. I also have several photos with orbs in them and some believe that the orbs are images of spirits that are in the room.
Lilly’s room at the TALA where at times ghostly things happen with the toys offered to her.
Single desk in a common area of the TALA with bared windows and chipping paint.
Metal bed frame imprinted into the tile floor of one of the patient rooms.
Sunlight streams through a cobweb covered window looking out on another portion of the TALA.
Doors and windows and grotesque faces on the back of the civil war section of the building of the TALA.
Our tour took us up the three floors of the main building and from the civil war era to almost modern times with in the building. Each tour that Greg gives is slightly different and geared for the group he leads.Some portions of the main building have been restored had wonderful time period furnishings and made visitors understand what the buildings intended purpose was in the 1800’s.
Tour guide Greg showing off some of the furniture that is original to the TALA.
What a room at the TALA could look like for those who were well-behaved.
Common room area niche with “tea time” table setting on first floor wing
The first item to be restored was the clock tower and clocks the color that was chosen for the trim of the tower is a color match from the 1800’s.
My friend Alex Smits in the reflection of a mantel mirror in the restored administrators office at the TALA.
Second floor nurses quarters unmarried nurses were allowed to live at the TALA and these are were they would have visited and relaxed in the common areas.
The VIP tour lasts around 90 to 95 minutes and covers every area inside the large stone building from the entry area to the scary electro-shock therapy rooms and solitary confinement rooms. It showed what the building was meant to be and also showed visitors what really happened in the days of over crowding when a one person room would have three or four living in small 10 x 10 cells that reminded me of prison cells rather than recovery rooms.
Observation window in the wall of the shock therapy room.
Alex and I both felt a mixture of fascination and horror while on the tour when we found out the many ways Dr.’s tried to “help” the people who found themselves committed here. I have often been disappointed in our fellow-man but when a person realizes the reasons that were used to place people in facilities like this one… if makes the hair stand up on the back of you neck.
REASONS FOR ADMISSION
WEST VIRGINIA HOSPITAL FOR THE INSANE (WESTON)
OCTOBER 22, 1864 to DECEMBER 12, 1889Amenorrhea
Bad habits & political excitement
Bite of a rattle snake
Carbonic acid gas
Congetion of brain
Death of sons in the war
Decoyed into the army
Desertion by husband
Dissipation of nervesDissolute habits
Douby about mother’s ancestors
Effusion on the brain
Excessive sexual abuse
Excitement as officer
Explosion of shell nearby
Exposure & hereditary
Exposure & quackery
Exposure in army
Fall from horse
Feebleness of intellect
Fell from horse
Fever & loss of law suit
Fever & nerved
Fits & desertion of husband
Gathering in the head
Ill treatment by husband
Imaginary female trouble
Jealousy & religion
Kick of horse
Kicked in the head by a horse
Liver and social disease
Loss of arm
Marriage of son
Masturbation & syphillis
Masturbation for 30 years
Medicine to prevent conception
Over action on the mind
Over study of religion
Over taxing mental powers.
Parents were cousins
Pecuniary losses: worms
Rumor of husband’s murder or desertion
Seduction & dissappointment
Sexual abuse and stimulants
Shooting of daughter
Snuff eating for two years
Softening of the brain
Supression of menses
Tabacco & masturbation: hysteria
Time of life
Vicious vices in early life
Young lady & fear
In most cases we would all be committed and institutionalized for the rest of our lives here if they still fallowed these reasons. Thank goodness we have modern medications and treatments.Yet, our tour guide repeatedly told us that several patients at the Asylum cried and became distraught when they closed down the building and had to be move. Some patients had lived inside the gates of the TALA their whole lives and were not stable enough to understand why they had to leave.
No matter how you feel about the TALA it is an interesting tour and a very educational one. I left the building with mixed feelings, I felt shame and heart-break for the people who lived here, fascination for the history and architecture, scared in some of the rooms and by the detailed information given about procedures and treatments. I felt sadness while looking at the art of the patients. I did not include many of my photos because the drawings and painting evoke such strong emotions that I felt as if I was sharing something very personal and did not have the right to.
In the end I had a great time, I got spend time with someone I really enjoy, and got to take photos of a historic old creepy building.. what a wonderful Halloween I had.