A place of paradox.

Posted: October 27, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

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.

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Comments
  1. I have wanted someone to say what you are saying here for years. I didn’t even know what I wanted someone to say, but I knew that I was pained by the joke that the “Haunted House” activity perpetuates. This is a serious place. It was a place of blessing and of curse. It represents to me so much of what a complete human life entails. Thank you for respecting that.

  2. Janis Bland says:

    I grew up in Weston, born there in 1963. I remember the sound of the days passing by the State Hospital’s whistle. I remember that the more functioning and harmless patients were permitted to roam Weston, to, as far as I’m concerned, no ill effect.

    I’ve always been fascinated with the place. I worked a blood drive in the auditorium when I was in high school. I had a relative (great, or great-great aunt) who died there. I toured it when the Hacker’s Creek folk opened it up in a limited fashion several years ago, and I toured it last weekend. It was a historic tour, but our wonderful guide also did the ghost tours and peppered the history with the paranormal.

    I’m glad Jordan purchased it. If he wants to use the old TB building for a haunted house to generate revenue, I think that’s great. I’m more glad that he is trying to restore the main building. I have no issue with the ghost tours there; in fact I want to do one. That certainly mitigates the awful activities of those “law enforcement” folks who sprayed the interior in a paintball fight years ago. That broke my heart.

    That said, I agree with your last paragraphs.

  3. Joseph Bird says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Elizabeth and Janis. I don’t begrudge anyone the fun of a haunted house.

    I’m always analyzing public spaces. I wonder how people use them, how they enjoy them. Usually the spaces are nice parks or public plazas. Monumental lawns like that at Weston are rare. As I wonder how the lawn might be used as a space for the general public, I remember that at one time it was home for people who needed special care.

    Like you said, Elizabeth, a blessing and a curse. A paradox.

  4. Janis Bland says:

    Joseph, the lawn is used now for various events. There was a fall festival a couple weeks ago (I didn’t attend), and I know that there are classic car events. I’m not sure there’s a regular calendar of such, but at least they’re trying.

    Just talking out of the air here, but if the Jackson’s Mill Jubilee gained steam again, I think the Asylum grounds would be a great ancillary place for an arts-n-crafts show.

    So much potential, but …

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