The abandoned asylum is the quintessential horror movie setting; crumbling buildings where humanity's most helpless members were shut away, abused, neglected, and experimented on. Quite a few of these sites are rumored to be haunted, and honestly, it's not surprising. After all, thousands of people suffered greatly in these places, and some things don't go away when the doors close.
Byberry Mental Hospital—Philadelphia, PA
AKA The Philadelphia State Hospital, Byberry is a place straight out of your nightmares. Built in 1907, it exceeded its patient limit quickly. It maxed out at over 7,000 residents in 1960. It was used as a dumping ground for all kinds, from those suffering from mental illness to the criminally insane. The staff was allegedly abusive and said to harass the patients; one patient was even said to have had a tooth pulled without painkillers or anesthetic.
And then there's Charles Gable, who killed and dismembered a female patient. He apparently escaped and was never apprehended, but his victim was found strewn across the property. Her teeth were recovered with another patient, who was playing with them.
Suspicious deaths of patients weren't unusual, either. Even as the hospital was preparing to close, the bodies of two patients who had been recently released were found in the Delaware River two days later.
Is it haunted? I'd say yes. Visitors have reported sounds of growling that could have come from a human, as well as unexplained scratches appearing on their bodies.
The Ridges—Athens, OH
Originally known as the Athens Lunatic Asylum, this facility was renamed The Ridges after the State of Ohio acquired the property. Athens, Ohio is listed as the 13th most haunted place in the world by the British Society for Psychical Research, and this facility is no exception. It even has its own cemetery, where patients who died and were not claimed were buried beneath headstones that bore only their patient numbers. A notorious rapist named Billy Milligan, who is said to have suffered from multiple personalities, was housed here for years.
And then there's the stain on the floor.
On December 1st, 1978, a 54-year-old patient named Margaret Schilling disappeared from one of the active wards. The building was searched, but she wasn't found until January 12th, 1979. She was lying dead on the floor of an abandoned ward. The official cause of death is listed as heart failure, likely from exposure to the cold in an unheated section of the hospital. It's thought that she locked herself in the ward as a game to hide from hospital employees. Due to a combination of sunlight and decomposition, her body left a stain on the concrete floor that can still be seen today. Nowadays, she's said to haunt that ward and wander the rest of the hospital at night with other ghostly patients.
Pennhurst Asylum—Spring City, PA
When it opened in 1908, Pennhurst immediately succumbed to pressure from the public to accept not only those with disabilities, but also immigrants, criminals, and orphans that could not be housed elsewhere. Within a few years of its opening, it was overcrowded. Like similar facilities of the day, Pennhurst functioned almost completely separately from surrounding society; it had its own power plant, police force, and even produced its own food. Anything that they couldn't provide for themselves was supplied by a private railway line that served as one of the only connections to the outside world.
By the mid 60s, Pennhurst had been opened for around 50 years, and it housed 2,791 patients—most of them children. This happened to be around 900 more than the facility could comfortably accommodate. Decades of allegations of abuse and neglect finally caught up with the facility in 1987, when it was closed and abandoned. Its current owners use it as a form of haunted house attraction.
Pennhurst is alleged to be incredibly haunted. The group known as the Shore Paranormal Research Society has conducted several large-scale investigations on the property, and they report such phenomena as numerous shades that can manifest and dissipate at will, objects such as doors and rocking chairs moving without anyone near them, scratches and marks inflicted by unknown presences, and hundreds of recordings of Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP). A medium is said to have felt multiple malevolent energies on the grounds, some that could even qualify as demonic. I find the most disturbing presence to be that of the hunched-over figure with dangling arms that can be seen in the Quaker Building.
Rolling Hills Asylum—Bethany, NY
It began as the Genessee County Poor Farm in 1827, and from the beginning, it was a place to dump outcasts. Widows and orphans were sent there, along with those with disabilities and criminals. More than 1,700 deaths were documented on the property, and rumors claim that there are hundreds more unclaimed bodies buried on the site.
One of the strangest reports was experienced by a public ghost hunt group. They were seated in a circle in the basement when their only source of light—a glow stick—began to sway. A rocking horse nearby was reported to move, and some saw a disembodied hand appear and reach for a ball.
The second-floor corridor in the East Wing is generally referred to as the Shadow Hallway, due to the staggering number of shapes that have been seen there. One of the hospital's most interesting occupants is the ghost of a seven-foot-tall man who had been diagnosed with gigantism. He is often seen in his room, where he spent most of his life alone.
Danvers State Lunatic Asylum—Danvers, MA
Originally built in 1878, Danvers was destined for hauntings. After all, it was built on a site that was originally in Salem Village, the place famous for its witch trials in 1862. It had an OK start and was renowned for modern treatments and excellent patient care, but, like all asylums, it soon succumbed to a combination of a lack of funding and staff and overpopulation. Between 1940 and 1950, the facility crammed 2,000 patients into a building that had been designed for 600. Extreme neglect came with this overcrowding, and patients who died were known to go unnoticed for days, or even weeks.
Despite its closure and conversion into apartments in 1992, the paranormal still runs wild here. Both residents and visitors to the property have recorded full-body apparitions, flickering lights, disembodied footsteps, and doors that open and close on their own, amongst other phenomena.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium—Louisville, KY
Though technically not an asylum, Waverly Hills was still used to segregate people from the rest of society. This time, though, its residents were tuberculosis patients. It was initially designed to accommodate 40-50 patients, but as TB became an epidemic, it was expanded to support at least 400. Though it was considered one of the best sanatoriums at the time, the property is not without dark secrets. Many reports of the paranormal appear to be connected with the story of a nurse who hung herself with lightbulb wire in the facility after discovering that she had become pregnant by the owner. If that's not disturbing enough, there's the area known as the Death Tunnel.
In order to avoid upsetting the patients still living in the facility, it was equipped with an underground passage through which the dead could be transported and disposed of without being seen. For obvious reasons, such a macabre feature is full to the brim with paranormal activity. Various paranormal TV shows have spent time recording on the property, including Most Haunted. One of the cast members from this expedition reported having scratches inflicted upon them by an unknown entity while on the property.
Willowbrook State School
Those familiar with the Staten Island "Cropsey" lore might know this place. Willowbrook was a state-supported institution for children with intellectual disabilities on Staten Island in NYC. The school was designed to house about 4,000, but by 1965 it had a population of 6,000 and was the biggest state-run institution of its type at the time. Through the first decade or so that it was operating, outbreaks of hepatitis, particularly Hepatitis A, were incredibly common in the facility, and this led to controversial medical studies being conducted on the residents there between the late 50s and early 70s by researchers Saul Krugman from NYU and Robert W. McCollum from Yale. One of the studies run by Krugman involved feeding live hepatitis virus to sixty healthy children—he justified this by reasoning that many of them would contract the virus anyway. Outcry caused these studies to be discontinued, but the facility was also known for deplorable conditions, neglect, and abuse, and was finally closed due to public outcry in 1987.
So a terrible place like this would have been haunted the second it was abandoned, if not sooner. Rumors abound of Satanic activity on the property, as well as various dangerous former patients that live in the vast tunnels beneath the facility.
So where's the Cropsey lore? To make things on the property even more awful, a former custodian named Andre Rand has been convicted of kidnapping and murdering a 12-year-old girl who suffered from Down's Syndrome, Jennifer Schweiger. Her body was found in a shallow grave on the Willowbrook property. Rand is suspected of multiple other kidnappings and murders, and the institution has been searched multiple times for the bodies of these other victims; unfortunately, nothing has been found thus far. Residents of the nearby College of Staten Island and other passersby have reported seeing apparitions and hearing unearthly yowls and screaming while on the property at night.