The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum: Who was admitted?

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
Weston State Hostpital

By: Sarah Martin and Olivia Wiley

Salem Witch Trials
Punishment in Salem Witch Trials

The concept of "mentally insane people" started, in effect of The Salem Witch Trials.  The people who were executed for being a "witch" were, diagnosed by psychologist, to have most likely have actually been insane.  

Throughout the next century in Colonial America, the treatment of the mentally insane was barbaric.  The mentally insane people that did not have family or friends to take responsibility were placed in prisions with everyday criminals.  They were chained to walls, unclothed no matter the temperature, and were left in there own filth.  Those that did have family that took responsibility for them were often still hidden so that they wouldn't bring embarrassment to the family.

A cell for the mentally insane.
Mentally Insane Cell

A quote from Dorothea Dix
Dorothea Dix quote

During the 1800s, a much-needed change for the care of the mentally insane became known.  Many individuals aided in these efforts, but most prominent was Dorothea Dix .  She believed the mentally insane should be treated with respect and should have there own place to be treated.  Through her efforts, lawmakers were forced to commit funds for more humane care.  By mid-century, Thomas Kirkbride's theory of creating a curative environment took hold, and the age of the Asylum had arrived.

From the age of the Asylum came West Virginia's own, Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, located in Weston, West Virginia.  It was constructed between 1858 and 1881.  It is the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in North America.  The design for the building was done by architect Richard Andrews following the Kirkbride plan, that called for wings arranged in staggered  formation, making sure that each structure had an abundanced of therapeutic sunlight and fresh air. 

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum Hallway
Weston State Hospital interior hallway

The orginal plan of The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was designed to house just 250 patients, but when it was open to patients in 1864, it  reached it's peak with 2,400 patients.  This large popultaion created overcrowding and generally poor conditions. 

Reasons For Admittance
Reason For Admittance textual image

The large number of patients in the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was due to the ridiculous reasons people would be admitted to the hospital.  People were deemed mentally insane for crazy reasons from being deserted by their husbands to laziness. 

A great example of the ludicrous admittance reaons is that a husband could admit his wife if he had a mistress or if his wife had inherited money.  The husband could just sign her in and leave her until he decided to come back and get her......or until she died, whichever came first.

In addition to the cruel conditions brought about by the overcrowding, the practice of "ice pick lobotomy" and shock therapy were also barbaric practices used on the patients.  A lobotomy is a surgical operation involving incision into the prefontal lobe of the brain.  It made patients more controlable, by taking away their personalities and thoughts.  It was like they were living cucmbers.  "Ice pick lobotomy" was the same concept of a normal lobotmy made quicker by using an ice pick.  Using an ice pick, allowed for the process to be quicker because they didn't need to put the patients asleep.  The doctors would take the ice pick and go through the eye socket to get to the brain.  Shock therapy was sometimes used to subdue the patients before this process.  At any given day, there could be anywhere from 115-150 lobotomies.  Shock therapy was almost used as a form of punishment for the patients.  When they were out out of control, the workers would shock them until they were calm.  

Because of the harsh treatment of the patients and the physical detoriation of the facility, The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was forced into closure in 1994. After it's closure, it was put in auction and is now privately owned and operates as a place to tour. 

The Trans-Allgheny Lunatic Asylum is now known as one of the most haunted places in the United States.  The Asylum has had apparition sightings, unexplainable voices and sounds, and other paranormal activity reported by guest, staff, SyFy's Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunter Academy, the Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures and Paranormal Challenge.