In the decades or centuries they’ve existed, hospitals have had a long time to accrete stories — some of them the spooky kind.
Haunted hospitals are often beautiful old buildings long past their useful days. And owing to long-held stigmas around mental illness, it should be no surprise that a lot of the places now deemed haunted once held people with little-understood brain disorders.
Still, for many modern-day thrill-seekers, the hospitals make for enticing exploration, and many of them cater specifically to that market, offering ghost tours or welcoming in TV crews.
And perhaps the disembodied voices and shadowy figures can be explained by science, but where’s the fun in that?
1. Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Louisville, Ky.
An epidemic of tuberculosis was overtaxing medical facilities in Kentucky when the state’s Board of Tuberculosis Hospital decided to add on to the 40- to 50-bed sanatorium it had opened in 1910. By 1926, the sanatorium’s capacity had increased tenfold.
Patients at Waverly could expect treatments that varied from balloons implanted in their lungs to the removal of ribs and chest muscle to allow for lung expansion. When the treatments didn’t work, a handy 500-foot tunnel, or “body chute,” allowed personnel to discreetly send bodies down to be whisked away on waiting trains.
Nowadays, the tunnel area is where the ghosts hang out, according to visitors to what is now a tourist attraction. They have also reported seeing the ghost of a nurse in room 502. According to one Yelp reviewer, “(W)e walk up by there and I do get some weird vibes. Hair stands up on my arms, I get flush feeling, sometimes a lil queasy. It’s awesome!”
2. Eloise Complex, Westland, Mich.
What started as a poorhouse and farm in 1839 gradually expanded to add a psychiatric hospital, a tuberculosis sanatorium, and a county hospital. Eloise was a virtual city unto itself, consisting of 76 buildings on a 900-acre property and housing about 10,000 people who were homeless, mentally ill, or in hospital care, along with 2,000 staff members. It also had many of its own support services, including a fire station, power plant, and cemetery with numbers on the stones instead of names.
Modern day visitors have said they’ve encountered mysterious moans, screams, and a spectral woman in white at the asylum. An intrepid TV reporter who explored the facility returned with shots of glowing lights floating around her and the camera crew.
Eloise went up for sale in 2015, but hasn’t found any willing buyers yet. But if you ask about hauntings, Mike Deighan, who is handling the sale, will tell you what he told STAT: “Can’t talk to you. Client’s rule.”
3. Rolling Hills Asylum, Bethany N.Y.
The Rolling Hills Asylum opened in 1827 as the Genessee County Poorhouse. According to an official newspaper announcement at the time, the place was open to “habitual drunkards, lunatics (one who by disease, grief, or accident lost the use of reason, or from old age, sickness, or weakness was so weak of mind as to be incapable of governing or managing their affairs), paupers (a person with no means of income), state paupers (one who is blind, lame, old, or disabled with no income source) or a vagrant.”
Regardless of their reasons for being there, all residents were referred to as “inmates.” Perhaps that is what the ghosts are so ticked off about. The facility was also known to perform lobotomies and electric shock therapy.
These days one of the most frequently seen ghosts is Roy, who died in 1942. Rumored to have been 7 feet tall in life, Roy reportedly spends his afterlife as an equally tall shadow, crying.
Another visitor on a tour of the facility said she heard footsteps behind her, but flashlights showed nothing. Then she turned around again, snapping a picture of this.
4. Northville State Hospital, Northville, Mich.
Opened in 1952, Northville was one of the more modern mental hospitals in the United States at the time. Northville was an early promoter of art and music for treating patients who could practice playing musical instruments or performing in plays, as well as study trades or work in hospital facilities. But as priorities shifted in the 1970s, Northville declined steadily, closing in the early 2000s.
The abandoned hospital then became a subject of local lore. Sneaking into its abandoned buildings was a rite of passage for young people. One visitor even made a whimsical, tongue-in-cheek video, advertising Northville’s former glory and welcoming new patients. Another posted a series of photos from inside.
Many of the trespassers who went to look for ghosts instead found hefty fines and community service hours. But some who avoided getting caught describe Northville’s tunnels, which ran under the hospital to provide heat and water through a system of pipes. In these tunnels, people have reported hearing footsteps and voices, along with the sensation of someone breathing on them.
5. Pennhurst Asylum, Chester County, Pa.
When it opened in 1908, Pennhurst took in mostly patients with physical and mental disabilities. But like other institutions at the time, Pennhurst also held “inmates,” which encompassed not just actual criminals but also orphans, immigrants, and pretty much anyone who had nowhere else to go. And also like similar places, Pennhurst was self-sufficient, with its own power plant and other amenities.
By the 1960s the institution was overcrowded, underfunded, and falling apart. Television reporter Bill Baldini exposed abusive and unsafe conditions for children living at Pennhurst, and his story helped propel a movement to change the way people with disabilities are housed and treated. But still, the institution remained open until 1987.
Pennhurst has since become a controversial tourist attraction. WeirdNJ, a ghost-hunter website, reports having picked up a voice saying “We’re upset” in its recordings within the hospital. At other points in its tape a female voice asks, “Why won’t you leave?” Other voices offer variations on that theme with “Go away,” or “Why did you come here?” And in an ironic twist, there’s also a male voice that reportedly says, “I’m scared.”