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Willowbrook State School

Also known as the Willowbrook Institution, it was built in 1942. Although it was originally meant to be a facility for disabled children, it spent it’s first few years as a Army hospital. In 1947, it was finally opened as originally planned, and the institution was then named the Willowbrook State School. During the first year of its operation, outbreaks of hepatitis were very common in the school. This led to a notably controversial study that caused a public outcry. By 1965, the school housed over 6,000 mentally disabled children, despite being built to only hold 4,000. In a tour of the facility, senator Robert Kennedy declared that the individuals in the facility were living in filth, tattered clothing, in rooms less comfortable than cages animals in zoos are kept in. Unfortunately, all he could do at the time was offer recommendations in order to improve the facility.

Reputation spoke bleakly of the school. People said that the place was nothing more than a warehouse for disabled children, abandoned by their families or the city’s foster system itself. After dozens of articles were written on the poor living conditions at the school, Geraldo Rivera (yes, THAT Geraldo Rivera) investigated the grounds, and what he found was shocking. Overcrowding, inadequate sanitary facilities, and sexual and physical abuse to the patients by the staff; just to name a few. The investigation gained national attention and even won Rivera an award. Soon after, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the Institution and a settlement in the case was reached on May 5th, 1975. This settlement would mandate reform at the site, but no change was seen until several years later. Finally, the state announced that they were planning on closing the school and the last children left the building on September 17, 1987. 

Some time before this, on July 9th, 1987, Jennifer Schwieger was reported missing after going on a walk. After a 35 day search, her body was discovered on the grounds of Willowbrook. The accused of this crime was a custodian at the facility in the 60s. Many people in Staten Island believe that there is a satanic cult that based their rituals in the forest on the grounds. Additionally, people that have been on the grounds or in the building itself have reported hearing wailing and screams, along with being pushed or feeling as if they’re being watched/followed. Many people have claimed to see shadow figures on the grounds. One woman even said that she had a figure follow her home and stand in her front yard until the sun came up, unmoving.

In American Horror Story: Asylum, Lana Winters’ investigation of Briarcliff in episode 13 holds eerie similarities to the video documentation done by Geraldo Rivera. Many people believe that the show is partially based on the atrocities committed at Willowbrook, but I suppose we’ll never know.

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Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

Built between 1858 and 1881, this asylum is well known for being the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in the entirety of North America. While it was originally built as a safe haven for the mentally ill, it eventually became a nightmare to most of it’s patients. The original hospital was build to accommodate only 250 patients, but it reached it’s peak of 2,400 patients in the 1950’s. Although the building was beautifully built with many windows to allow light, the conditions were terrible, as overcrowding caused living conditions to deplete.

This particular asylum was known well for it’s women’s ward in the early years. In those days, men could have their wives committed for just about anything. Depression, greed, menopause, asthma, inheritance, etc. A man could fall in love with the woman next door or just get tired of his wife and drop her off at the front doors. These women would spend the rest of their lives behind the asylum walls. The only person with permission to check them out were their husbands, who left them behind.

While the medical practices used on mental patients were renowned as “breakthrough operations” in their time can now only be described as cruel. The most popular method of treatment for the worse patients was Lobotomy, which was an operation done on the brain that severed ties to and from the prefrontal cortex. This was meant to cause a calmed state in the patients. However, for the most part, patients that underwent this surgery were thrown into a permanently vegetative state. Many patients were also exposed to shock therapy and other generally torturous experiments and treatments. Additionally, patients that could not be controlled were thrown in cages for days, some even weeks.

The asylum was finally closed in 1994 and is now mostly used to paranormal tours, but is otherwise abandoned. As can be expected from such a wretched place, there are literally hundreds of different paranormal accounts regarding the grounds. People have reported hearing women screaming “help me” and “get me out of here.” A woman on a paranormal tour claimed that she heard a young woman begging “please call my husband.” Additionally, people touring the buildings have reported feeling followed and feeling someone breathing down the back of their neck. The head paranormal investigator in the area reports the spirit of a 9 year old girl that he regards as a very active spirit. Born in the asylum, she lived a short life before succumbing to pneumonia. The investigator states that he’ll ask the young girl, named Lily, to do tasks. These tasks include tapping on walls/windows, turning a flash light on and off, and once tugging on the investigator’s hair. She was able to complete these tasks almost every single time he asked.

For more information on the hospital and tours, click here.

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Additionally, the rad people over at unexplained-events have an actual list of reasons for admission to the Asylum dating all the way back to the 1800’s. Click here to check that out!

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