Travel

8 of the world's most terrifying haunted asylums

Abandoned asylums don't need ghosts to make them creepy -- cages for humans, vestiges of dubious treatments, and ice-pick lobotomies do the job just fine. Any mental institution is bound to be emanating bad vibes. But a haunted former asylum? Well, now that's the stuff of top-shelf horror movies.

We’ve weeded through the darkest histories to find the former asylums that make American Horror Story feel like Saturday morning cartoons.

Danvers Lunatic Asylum

Danvers, MA
Part prison, part asylum, all terror, this gothic monolith opened in 1878 to house mentally unstable criminals. Thanks to the addition of the mentally handicapped, alcoholics, and plain old felons, it became so severely understaffed by the 1930s that patients’ deaths were often not discovered until days later, when they were found rotting in some forgotten corner. Shock therapy and lobotomies were standard procedures -- in fact, some call Danvers the "birthplace of the prefrontal lobotomy". But a large cemetery on site, said to be haunted by evil spirits, suggests these were not always successful.

The sinister, castle-like building is said to have inspired H. P. Lovecraft's Arkham Sanitarium, and so also Batman's Arkham Asylum, and was the setting of demon-movie Session 9. And as if that weren't enough, Danvers used to be Salem Village – yup, of Salem Witch Trials fame. Regular ghosts are one thing. Witch ghosts are another altogether.

Beechworth Lunatic Asylum

Beechworth, Australia
Formerly the Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum, now LaTrobe University's scenic Beechworth campus, this place saw 128 years of terror before closing in 1995. Apparently, 9,000 patients died here over the years, and people were so fast and loose with the term "lunatic" that few patients ever left the premises alive.

It comes as no surprise that a few people lingered after death. Faces floating in windows are a common sight, along with Matron Sharpe doing her rounds, and children laughing. Tommy Kennedy, who used to transport the dead out of the asylum and died there himself, still hangs around. There's also a woman who was thrown out of a window, and died in front of the hospital because she was Jewish and the only person allowed to move her, a Rabbi, couldn't make it to Beechworth sooner.

Obviously, there are nightly ghost tours.

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum 

Weston, West Virginia
This impressive structure – allegedly the world's second-largest hand-cut stone masonry building after the Kremlin – looks like it was designed as the set of a blockbuster thriller. Built around the Civil War era, the asylum was designed to house around 250 patients, but ended up holding more than 2,400, including, for a brief period, the infamous Charles Manson. That's the opposite of a celebrity endorsement.

Along with severe overcrowding, profound abuse abounded – people were locked in cages, lobotomized with icepicks, chained to things – and the combination led to hundreds of deaths and a palpable air of suffering. Apparitions are aplenty, like the still-deranged patient Ruth, who likes to attack visitors. And, since the asylum was also briefly a Civil War military base, uniformed soldier-ghosts roam the halls. Thousands have claimed to hear voices telling them to get out. Civil War-themed ghost tours, tours of the Medical Center, Forensics building and Geriatrics building, and zombie events and balls fully play up the twisted history on the campus grounds.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Louisville, KY
With an alleged 63,000 deaths taking place inside its walls, this place is up to its eyeballs in spirits, not surprisingly topping lists of America’s most haunted spots. Originally built as a tuberculosis hospital in 1910, the building saw many die from the disease – but tales of mistreatment and dubious human experimentation trickled out. And patients left the premises in what was known as the “death tunnel”, or “body chute”.

Apparitions include Timmy, a boy who likes to play with rubber balls who's been caught on tape; the nurse who hanged herself in room 502; another nurse who fell from the same room’s window;and scattered screams and footsteps.

Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital

Gwangju-Si, South Korea
Believed to be one of the most haunted spots in South Korea, this abandoned psych hospital could be the basis for the next Stephen King novel, based on its checkered history. According to local lore, patients here began dying mysterious deaths, one after the other, forcing the facility to shut down. Many believe the murderous owner of the place was to blame, claiming he kept patients as hostages, only to flee to the States when families of the deceased demanded explanations. There are also rumors of doctors going insane, rivaling their patients in madness… OK, in reality, the hospital closed due to sewage problems, but that doesn’t mean that abused patients didn’t drop here like flies.

Lier Sykehus

Lier, Norway
About a half hour from Oslo, this asylum was opened in 1926, and today is considered one of the most haunted hot spots in the country. Despite its reputation, and the fact that most of the place has been abandoned since 1985, parts of it still house psychiatric patients, who share their space with ghosts, shadows, and odd noises. Between 1945 and 1974, the hospital was notorious for conducting experiments on its patients, especially the testing of new drugs that even the pharmaceutical industry was hesitant to try on humans.

Rolling Hills Asylum

East Bethany, NY
More a stockpile of outcasts (the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the handicapped, the criminal, the alcoholic) than an insane asylum per se, the former Genesee County Poor House established in 1827 counts over 1,700 documented deaths. Some are convinced that's a lowball number, and hundreds more were buried on the property in unmarked graves.

Paranormal activity in the 53,000sqft building includes screaming, doors slamming, and apparitions, most famously of Roy Crouse, a 7.5-ft giant who died there in 1942. There’s also something known as the “Shadow Hallway”, so named because of the shadowy apparitions that peek out from doors, or shuffle and crawl across the corridor. A variety of ghost tours are available.

Narrenturm

Vienna, Austria
It's unclear what's worse – the surely morbid history that took place in Vienna’s “Fool Tower”, Europe’s first insane asylum, built in 1784 -- or its current use, the Anatomical-Pathological Museum, which features more than 4,000 graphic, gruesome abnormalities, jars full of deformed fetuses, and sickening wax models of untreated STDs. Either way, there's enough nightmare fuel in this place to last you until next Halloween.

Sophie-Claire Hoeller is Thrillist's ĂĽber-efficient German associate travel editor, and has had frequent flyer status since she was born in a Lufthansa terminal. Follow her @Sohostyle

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