Archive for October, 2011

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, once known as the Weston State Hospital.

On a recent trip to north central West Virginia, I heard an ad on the radio inviting visitors to the Halloween tours of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston.

Oh, we like to be scared.

We went to theme park haunted houses as kids.  We love scary movies and tv shows.  Being scared can be great entertainment when we know it’s not real.  In the back of our minds, we know that the scare will end with no harm being done.  Tours of abandoned prisons and mental hospitals play into that.

The old hospital in Weston is classic, scary building architecture.  Seems like it was made for a Hitchcock movie.  It’s also kind of awe-inspiring.  It’s not just one building, but a sprawling campus that reflects the treatment philosophy of the day.

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (its original name) was designed using the Kirkbride plan, which followed the theory of “building as cure” and was meant to provide humane conditions for patients who at the time were chained to walls in jails and almshouses.  Originally planned for 250 patients in 1858, it housed more than 2,400 in the 1950’s.  As conditions continued to deteriorate and treatment philosophy evolved, Weston State Hospital (its final name) closed in 1994.

That’s only 17 years ago.  I would guess that there are many people who lived at Weston State Hospital who are still alive.  There are undoubtedly many family members who can vividly recall the heartbreaking visits to their loved ones at Weston.  They are not interested in make-believe haunted houses.  Their hauntings are real.

I go by the old hospital occasionally.  I see big, empty buildings and a huge expanse of yard.  It’s easy for my imagination to go back to the 1850’s and see a new building, lush lawns and newly-planted trees, benches along the sidewalks.  I can imagine that it was a marvelous place, all things considered.  Doctors and patients strolling in the grass, finding a trace of humanity as they reach out to each other in the comfort of God’s creation.

Nothing like that now.  Standing on the lawn, I feel empty.  Like this place is no place for people.

At one time the Weston State Hospital was a beautiful place, but its scars are many and deep.  We should be thankful that it existed.  We should be thankful that it no longer does.

This past summer I was privileged to attend the weddings of two of my nieces, Hope and Hannah.  Both took place in the greater Cincinnati area, one in Covington, Kentucky and the other in Fairfield, Ohio.  Both weddings were beautiful and my nieces married great guys, Jonny and Rob.

Hope’s wedding in Ohio took place at the Fairfield Community Arts Center, adjacent to Village Green Park, which served as the setting for the post-wedding photographs.  It’s a really beautiful park with lots of water, lush landscaping and interactive sculptures. For a photo-op, it was hard to beat.  Even an amateur like me was able to capture some halfway decent images.

It’s obvious that more than a few bucks were spent on Village Green Park.  With all the spraying water, it seems perfect for kids.  And there are nice spaces for adults, too.

There will always be kids at Village Green Park. And a dog. Always.

But here’s what I left the park thinking about.  I was there on a perfect summer evening, and yet, if you subtract the visiting wedding party, there were only a handful of people in the park.  It made me wonder how much it’s really used. I know it’s hard to judge a place when you’ve only been there once for about twenty minutes, and maybe more visits would reveal a different reality.  I hope that’s the case because a park that nice needs to be enjoyed by lots of people. And as you can tell by the photo below, the wedding party had a good time.

Village Green Park inspires play even in older kids.

What about you?  Where do you like to go to hang out and be among other people?  Is a beautiful park with lots of cool features enough to attract you?

Photos by the author.