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In the Middle Ages, most people would go their entire life without experiencing surgery. Today, we live in the age of preventative medical procedures and things like cosmetic surgery. A 600 years ago, no one ever thought of going under the knife without a very good reason why, because it was difficult to manage the pain. Anaesthetics were incredibly primitive in the early days of the Middle Ages. No, people didn't undergo invasive procedures without pain relief completely. The options available were limited and, well, potentially deadly.


In England, a common method for pain relief was a potion called Twala, which the patient drank prior to surgery. Dwolla was a solution of wine mixed with a number of other ingredients. Some were pretty mild, like lettuce and bore bile. But the recipe also called for Hemlock and Belladonna, both known to be highly poisonous. Everyone wanted Dwolla for their pain, but it was always a gamble if it was prepared correctly. It worked. If it wasn't, though, if you used a flawed recipe or bought your potion from a less savory individual, you ran the risk of horrible pain, even death.


Sometimes the most honorable goals can lead to horrible results. As the old cliche says, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It's a powerful glimpse into the core of the human mind. We're really good at breaking the things that we try to fix. And in no other profession has that been more true than the early days of the mental health field. Well, there might not have been bottles of Dualla laying around the early practitioners of mental health and had their own fair share of misguided intentions and flawed recipes.


They tried to help, but in the end, they did more harm than good. And while most of the people who suffered through that pain are long gone, the after effects remain and the stories they tell are horrifying. I'm and Manque, and this is Laura. The early decades of the 19th century were filled with reform movements, abolitionism, education, women's rights and voters rights, all featured prominently in the early eighteen hundreds. American culture was maturing, becoming more aware of who it was and what its flaws were.


As it did, champions rose up to move those issues forward, leaders like Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, these were progressive women, persistent women. We wouldn't have the culture we have today without them. And right there beside them all was Dorothea Dix. Dorothea's area of passion was for the mentally ill, inspired by the lunacy reform movement in England, Dorothea Dix threw herself into an investigation of American methods for mental health care. And what she found was appalling.


Many who suffered from mental illness were kept in cages or stalls. They were often restrained with chains and beaten into submission. The sick were treated as prisoners, not patients, and that needed to change through the eighteen forties. She pushed state after state to do better, calling for humane treatment and housing. And that resulted in a new crop of facilities specifically designed to care for the mentally ill. Building a better home for these patients required a fresh approach, and the man who helped with that was Dr.


Thomas Kirkbride. Although he was a physician, Kirkbride passion for mental health care led to a whole new architectural style. Buildings shouldn't be large square structures. They should stretch out and provide as much sunlight and fresh air as possible. And yes, we know his name from his work on the Danvers State Hospital, but he actually started much earlier. Two decades before Danvers in the middle 50s, Kirkbride was consulting on a similar project in western Virginia. It would be a modern, conscious approach to caring for the mentally ill, where people would be patients, not prisoners, and they would call it the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.


After some hiccups caused by the outbreak of the American Civil War, the facility opened its doors in October of 1864. By then, though, Weston was a city in the newly minted state of West Virginia. And so the asylum was named the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane New Building, new name. It was like a beacon. Fire had been ignited and people flocked to it far and wide. Like a lot of the early mental health facilities in America, the West Virginia Hospital was built on a foundation of naivety and hope.


It was only designed to hold about 250 patients at the time, which should have been enough. But as we all know, expectations are meant to be broken. As you can imagine, things quickly got out of hand. See, the problem was the mid 19th century view of mental illness. There was a massive catch all category. So patients suffering from all manner of disorders were sent there. And I'm using large, exaggerated air quotes when I say disorders because, well, just listen to some of these.


You could be committed to the asylum for superstition, for sexual deviants, for deserting your husband or having fits of anger or being lazy. Women were routinely admitted because of what they called menstrual derangement. It's well beyond the limits of irony, isn't it, in the pursuit of caring for the insane caretakers? Well, they were crazy. Within 16 years, the facility was caring for over 700 patients in a space designed for 250, some new wings were added to the original structure.


One was devoted solely to the elderly and those suffering from dementia. Another was set up for tuberculosis patients, giving them plenty of fresh air and sunlight and, of course, isolation from the rest of the patients. Other facilities were built nearby on the same property, things like a large home for patients who the courts declared to be criminally insane. They even built their own morgue. But because many of the patients would become upset when they saw a hearse pull up at the front door, they built the new entrance on the back side of the building away from prying eyes.


The hospital grew from 700 to sixteen hundred patients by the 1930s, a decade later, there were eighteen hundred people there and by the early 50s it was 2600. The West Virginia Hospital for the Insane was growing like a weed. But inside such a cramped facility, all of that growth was beginning to choke off the lives they were trying to save. It was a time bomb quietly ticking away behind a hauntingly beautiful Gothic revival facade. And that bomb was about to explode.


If you grab a tomato and squeeze it slowly, the insides will eventually start to leak out. And that's what began to happen at the Western State Hospital, as it was called in the late 40s. Reports of overcrowding began to spread and people were alarmed by what they heard.


In January of 1949, a newspaper in Charleston, West Virginia, The Gazette, ran an investigative series on the facility. What it discovered was absolutely horrifying. One reporter described how disabled children were left naked and alone, chained to their chairs for hours.


When he visited, there was a portion of the cafeteria ceiling that had begun to collapse in on itself because of a septic problem with the toilets on the floor above.


Rather than fix it, they had simply propped up the collapse with spare lumber in the room where the patients ate their meals.


Some of the rooms were so crowded with beds that you couldn't access the floor or run a hand between the mattresses. Another report noted how poorly the facility was heated in the winter and how little light there was. And darkness, as we all know, can be a breeding ground for terrible things. Looking back, some historians and mental health professionals blame the conditions on how poorly the staff had been treated. They worked incredibly long hours for very little money, which contributed to a high turnover rate.


And it's hard to offer consistency in quality and care when the people managing the patients are constantly changing faces and levels of experience.


So with limited unskilled staff and very few resources to make it better, the facility did the only thing they could. They tightened their grip. Patients rarely had contact with the outside world. Even letters in and out were prohibited. Once you step through the doors of the West State Hospital, you would never see the outside world again. One effort to control the patients came in the form of the lobotomy, the man who pioneered the transorbital lobotomy, Dr. Walter Freeman, spent a good amount of his time in Weston, traveling there in his van, which he lovingly referred to as the Lobato Mobile.


Conservative estimates place the number of lobotomies performed there by Dr. Freeman at around 70, while others go as high as a few hundred. And with each one, the goal was the same subdue the patient to physically sever the portion of the brain that control their psychotic behavior, cutting it off from the rest of their mind. According to one historian, only one third of these procedures were effective, which left a lot of patients physically disabled or worse yet, dead.


But it was clear why they were trying, however desperate those attempts had become, some of the patients were horribly violent once a nurse went missing during her work shift and the administration just assumed that she'd quit in frustration and gone home without telling anyone. Her body was found two months later lying under an unused staircase. Much of the violence was due to the mixing of patients, children were kept in the same place as adults, patients with a history of violent behavior lived on wards with other, more vulnerable people.


Physical assault, rape and murder were common occurrences because of all of this. One powerful story tells of three men who shared one bedroom, one of the men reportedly snored, which bothered the other two. So one night they dragged the snoring man out of bed, pulled his sheets off and tied them into a noose. Then they hanged the noisy roommate from a pipe overhead in an effort to silence him. It didn't work, though.


When they untied him, he fell to the floor and began to struggle to get up. So the others lifted the man's bed and placed one of the bed posts on his head. And then they jumped on it when they were asked later about what happened, one of the men responded with a simple answer. The ghosts did it.


The hospital had come full circle, created as a solution to the horrible conditions found by Dorothea Dix over a century before it had somehow become just as dark and just as horrifying as it was back then. There were efforts to fix it, to right the ship and save the mission. But it was too little, too late. The damage had already been done. The hospital's doors finally shut for good in 1994. Like the patients who once lived there, the Western State Hospital was abandoned to the ravages of time, a shell of its former self.


But the story wasn't over yet. Like a lot of abandoned buildings, the old hospital became the centerpiece of a number of new schemes. The governor of West Virginia in the mid 90s wanted to convert the facility into a prison, which speaks volumes about the perception of the place when the most logical use for an old mental hospital is a place to lock up criminals. Well, that's revealing. Over a decade later, in 2007, the facility came under new ownership and the name was changed back to the original Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum as a whole.


The old hospital is a massive complex of ancient buildings, but portions of it have been opened up to the public for historic tours, which, as you can imagine, drives a good number of people through those old hallways, hallways that have seen the worst of human behavior. And that's a lot of watchful eyes. So it's no surprise to learn that visitors have seen things, things that are difficult to explain, things that leave a chill in the air.


As the old saying goes, if walls could talk right. And if you believe the stories, the walls of Western State Hospital do much more than talk. The morgue building that separate structure near the main complex where dead patients were examined and prepared for burial. That's one of the main places that has sparked tells visitors there have seen shadows move in and out the back entrance, as well as in the larger exam room. Most of the shadows seem to be centered around the large wall of metal racks used to hold bodies.


Witnesses have said that these shadows are unnaturally large and evoke a deep feeling of sadness and oppression. Inside the main building, though, is where the experiences have been the most unnerving after serving strictly as the female ward of the hospital, Ward F transitioned in the early 1980s to the home of the most violent of Westons patients. Later, patients disabled by lobotomies were also moved here. Visitors have seen more of the same shadow figures sometimes appearing from around corners, the sounds of footsteps have often been heard there, as well as the distant echo of laughter and even knocking on some of the doors.


Speaking of doors, there is apparently a set of doors on the top floor of the hospital that have behaved in a rather unusual way. That's the area that began life as an on site residence for some of the staff before transitioning into a ward for drug and alcohol recovery patients.


These doors are never locked and there's nothing blocking them on either side. But one historian reports being in the hallway one day and reaching out to try and open them. She gripped the handle of one of the doors and tugged, but nothing happened.


She tried the other and got the same result, so she pulled harder.


That's when something on the other side pounded on the door, rattling it to the frame. Whatever was waiting on the other side of that doorway and didn't want anyone coming through. Ward number four is home to a particularly chilling story, one tour guide reported coming into work early one morning, only to discover wet footprints in the hallway there, wet human prints. One set was apparently adult sized, while the other was smaller, like a child's. The tour guide followed the prints down the hall until they ended at a chair where it seemed as if they turned around and took a seat.


They faded away a short time later, of course, because that's what water does. But according to some of the tour guides, if the weather is damp enough outside, those prints mysteriously reappear. The most popular story, however, involves a particular room in Wardah up on the fourth floor. There are a number of slightly different versions of the story, but the core legend is that a female patient was admitted long ago while in the middle of her pregnancy when the child was born a daughter.


In fact, that child remained in the hospital where she was raised by the staff and other patients. This little girl called Lily by some of the people who tell her tale, was said to have died at the age of nine from pneumonia. And while her body was most likely taken across the yard to the morgue, her spirit is rumored to have remained behind, trapped in death just as she'd been in life within the walls of Weston. Her room is still there, too.


Or at least that's what visitors believe, there is a room, its walls, once a calming shade of pale green, are peeling and spotty now. And those who have stepped inside have reported incredibly odd experiences, the feeling of a child reaching out and holding their hand. The faint sound of giggling objects that move on their own and scattered all across the filthy tile floor are tributes left for Lily by her many visitors, dozens and dozens of toys. Humans are, by and large, well-intentioned species, we try, we really do, we see brokenness and need and we step into the gap to help out a lot of the time that turns out really well.


Sometimes, though, we fail miserably. In fact. The world of mental health has come a long way since the days of Dorothea Dix and her reform mission. True, there are those who still put an unnecessary stigma on mental illness, while others simply ignore it as if it doesn't exist at all. And for the most part, it's viewed today as a legitimate struggle for millions of people around the world, and we're slowly getting better at caring for them.


Buildings like the old Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum stand as a reminder of how far we've come, the chains and water tanks and surgical theaters for Ice Pick lobotomies are still there, abandoned by time and enlightenment. They were brutal and inhumane when they were new, but somehow in their decay, they've grown even more horrifying. We've all seen photos of abandoned hospitals with rusted wheelchairs and medical implements tossed in a corner, the peeling walls, the water damage, the makeshift nests where something maybe a human, maybe not is taken up residence in a dark corner.


These are clearly not friendly, inviting places. But it's just a building, right? Thankfully, the old cliche is far from true walls can't really talk or can they? One historian who visited Western State Hospital claims to have had a very unusual experience. She toured the facility with a friend walking down those long, dark hallways, peeking inside its countless rooms. There's a lot to see there, after all. And all the while, they captured their experience on a voice recorder.


When she reached the room where the story say the little girl named Lilly had lived and died, she decided to have a snack and pull the box of crackers from her bag. After setting it down on the floor, she wrote some notes down in her notebook and then stopped. Her box of crackers was moving. In fact, she claimed that it was actually levitating, it moved through the air a foot or two and then returned back to where it had been.


A moment later, she heard the distinct, unmistakable sound of crunching, as you might imagine. It was an unsettling experience and she left feeling oddly disturbed.


Later, after returning home, she began to listen back to the audio recordings of her experience there at the hospital. After listening for a while, she finally came to the portion of the recording that took place in Lilly's room. She heard herself set her back down and the noise from the box of crackers being taken out and opened. To her surprise, she also heard the crunching that she assumed she had imagined and then she heard something else, something unexpected that sent a shiver down her spine.


It was a voice, a fragile, tiny voice, barely more than a whisper, but for as soft as it sounded, she could clearly make out the words the voice spoke. Someone or something in the room had spoken five chilling words. Thank you. But the Snax. This episode was made possible by Norton 360 with LifeLock Do you hate doing taxes? There are a lot of people out there who would love to do them for you. And I'm not talking about tax specialists.


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This episode of law was written and produced by me, Aaron Manque, with research help from Marcet Crocket law is much more than a podcast. There's a book series in bookstores around the country and online, and the second season of the Amazon Prime television show was recently released. Check them both out if you want more law in your life. I also make two other podcasts, Aaron. Make his cabinet of curiosities and unobscured and I think you'd enjoy both. Each one explores other areas of our dark history, ranging from bite sized episodes to season long dives into a single topic.


You can learn about both of those shows and everything else going on all over in one central place. The world of Lore Dotcom now. And you can also follow the show on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Just search for our podcast, all one word and then click that follow button when you do say hi. I like it when people say hi. And as always, thanks for listening.