Barbeque Happens after a Spooky Tour of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
Historical buildings make me weak in the knees. I am such a sucker for peeling paint and structures that tell a story that when I realized the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, or Weston Hospital as I’d heard it called, was just a short drive down the interstate from our new home, my family and I planned to visit the abandoned complex of buildings during October so we could add a new level of creepiness to our Halloween season. A postponed trip south left us with a free weekend and the opportunity to explore the massive asylum buildings.
Though my husband and I had seen both episodes of Ghost Hunters when the TAPS team investigated the hospital, we headed to Weston with no intention of being involved in the paranormal tours or activities that are available at the asylum. And other than the search for a spine-tingling Halloween adventure that didn’t involve overcrowded “haunted” houses and hayrides that seem to be everywhere in the Alleghenies ~these people LOVE Halloween up here~ we went for two reasons: A. To help support the preservation of the hospital, as sales from tour tickets go directly to the buildings’ remodeling. B. I love old buildings and have really been bummed about not having the Biltmore Estate just down the road as I’ve been so spoiled for more than the past decade to have. It was time to find some new “old” to explore. What we didn’t think we would have, in broad daylight, on just a 1st floor tour of the compound with a dozen other visitors and a tour guide, was an actual paranormal experience. And while I don’t want this post to be a focus on the supernatural, and I personally don’t think it’s a good idea to go in search of paranormal activity because you never what you’re gonna get, I will be happy to tell what happened to all 13 of us in the Medical Center of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum to anyone who asks in the comments or via email. I’m still a little disturbed by the incident, but it won’t deter me from going back to tour the entire building at another time. I just love it, even with its distressing past. Check out my pictures of the asylum below to see why.
We were greeted at the entrance by an employee in hospital garb. That really gives you an idea of what your day of admission might have been like, had you been a patient at the hospital.
What amazed me most throughout the hours we spent at the asylum is that fact that it was in operation until 1994. 1994!! It’s really hard to believe that such a decrepit building was functional up until that point, though functional is a relative term since the hospital housed 2,500 patients at one time, when it was only designed for 250. Patients could be committed for just about any reason such as gastritus or indigestion, political excitement, the fact that your parents were cousins, spinal irritation, religious excitement, jealousy, asthma, grief…
The hospital was meant to be an asylum in the truest sense of the word, where patients could go to recuperate and recover in an environment that was created to be a sanctuary. But what it turned into was a place where people could dump those in their lives who were unwanted: wives, children, parents. And women, particularly, were brought to the hospital because women’s rights were virtually nonexistent when the asylum opened its doors in 1864. In fact, its first nine inhabitants, who were housed in the original structure of the asylum, the Civil War area, were women.
A man could bring his wife and his children, saying her offspring were afflicted with the same ailment as their mother, have them committed and be done with the responsibility of having a family. Her wishes or testimony wouldn’t be taken into account. So sad.
Before the invention of prescription drugs used to treat mental and emotional disorders, therapy during the hospital’s lengthy period of operation could include electroshock therapy, hydrotherapy, and lobotomy.
But the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was actually designed as a sanctuary in the Kirkbride style that was popular at the time of its construction. Long narrow wings were created to flank a central unit so that all rooms would receive exposure to sunlight throughout different parts of the day. This really makes sense when you consider how a sunny window can lift spirits. What doesn’t seem logical is that these views would have been “enjoyed” by the patients who occupied those rooms by looking through barred windows.
But even with bars on most every window, the main building of the asylum is gorgeous! Built from sandstone like a fortress, by castle builders commissioned from overseas for the purpose of its construction, the ornate detail added to its facade and roof line seem unnecessary considering the purpose of the building. Cupolas over the center section of the building and along the roof equaled five at one time, though only two, that I could see, remain intact.
Dogwood flowers on the Civil War building.
Ornate cast moldings over the front door and at the roof peaks.
We were told by our tour guide that these were Celtic additions added by the builders with the intention of keeping evil spirits away, but why anyone would include creepy, deranged looking faces on the side of an insane asylum is beyond me.
Inside, the common areas of the asylum are just as decorative. The original leaded glass of the front entrance was designed so that when the sunlight streamed through, the many prisms that made up the design would send shafts of colored light beaming across the foyer. Our guide told us that this time of year they shoot into the farthest reaches of the hall, even through the back doorway. Another mood-elevating element that Kirkbride included in his hospital design that could psychologically benefit its inhabitants.
I particularly liked the doorways to the other entrances of the main building, especially those with Victorian details, such as transoms, that were also designed to allow sunlight to shine through.
Wait a minute. Was that a bedpan?!
Why, yes it was. An antique, historical, chipped, enamelware bed pan, just sitting on a porch stoop of an asylum. That’s a little freaky.
The restored sections of the asylum give visitors a good idea of what the hospital may have looked like when it was still housing patients, though photos in the building’s museum make it obvious that the brightly painted walls and moldings would have originally been painted in rich, dark hues, as was popular during the Victorian era, in the same style as the remodeled rooms that flank the front entrance.
I can imagine that the brighter shades that exist today, and were included in the remodel, would have a more positive effect on patients’ frame of mind.
The portions of the lower floor of the main building that haven’t been renovated tell a different story. In just twelve years sitting empty, the building went from “functioning medical facility” to “abandoned asylum” in appearance. But me, with my love of peeling paint and history “written” on a wall, had a field day exploring the more dismal sections of the building.
A tour of the women’s ward of the Civil War building was astonishing. Because of difficult to repair roof leaks, the ceiling constantly drips. So, while there are still intact tiles lining the walls and columns and the remains of a very modern soap dispenser and sink, along with a printout of proper hand washing procedures, the room is in shambles. Something about that juxtaposition makes it one of the eeriest places I’ve seen. Add that to the fact that hundreds, if not thousands, of women and children lived here, and it just makes you shake your head. Here is where children spent their entire lives, if they were born while their mothers were institutionalized, or housed with her from a young age. At the age of sixteen, they would be released to the world, unassisted, if they were deemed of sound mind, or committed for life if they weren’t. But I wonder who could be “normal” after growing up in such a place.
Patient wards that have been restored are so nicely decorated that as a visitor you can start to feel what daily life might have been like at the asylum.
Not so bad? I don’t know. But we were told that food was plentiful and so deliciously prepared in the kitchen before being served in the cafeteria that was demolished just before our visit, that patients’ favorite thing about Weston State Hospital was meal time.
Our tour of the ground floor included a trip to the Medical Center, which served as the compound’s infirmary for those who needed treatment for physical ailments.
“Wolfman”, our tour guide who was dressed up for the Halloween season, warned us that because the structure was built in a different manner of that of the main building, it allowed for very little sunlight to permeate its interior so was very cold inside, still in the mid-fifties on the hottest summer day. Boy, was it ever! Stepping through the front entrance is like entering a cave. The dark brick interior adds to the sensation. I don’t know why it was designed to be so gloomy. Or why patients had to enter almost directly across from what we very quickly learned was the morgue. If they weren’t clinically depressed before entering the building for treatment, I’d think that patients would have to be once their visit was over.
The morgue was such an unpleasant room that I’d like to say that I’ll never be caught dead in a morgue, but unfortunately…
And across the hall from the morgue a beauty salon was added. This was because it was believed that looking pretty would make female patients feel pretty, which would help them feel better. Never mind that they had to get dolled up across the hall from the morgue freezer where the peoplesicles were being held!
Across a small road from the medical center is the land that was farmed by the patients to allow the asylum to be a self-sufficient institution. A greenhouse remains, and hills beyond that were worked for growing food and raising dairy and meat animals.
Beside it is the Forensics Building that housed the asylums criminally insane.
Nearby is the Geriatrics building that contained open wards for all of the elderly patients to live in.
A tuberculosis treatment facility was added to the grounds when it was believed that fresh air would cure patients of the disease.
Open-air balconies were built on either end.
Inside the first floor, in the main section of the building, are rooms full of memorabilia pertaining to the hospital’s patients, staff, and history.
In one portion, visitors can see the patient art, a room dedicated to the reported paranormal activity in the building, and a history of the asylum.
The tour that we chose was the 1st Floor Historical Tour that takes 45 minutes to complete. By the time we went through all of the museum rooms in addition to the tour, however, we were at the asylum for several hours. And guess how much our tickets cost. Ten bucks. That’s all! It was a whole lot for the money and I will gladly fork over more to see the rest of the place.
Because we worked up a good appetite on our explore, we went in search of dinner. But before we knew it, we had driven right out of town and were looking for a place to turn around. A great looking barbeque joint came into view before we could, so our search for dinner, and the ongoing one for a decent plate of Southern BBQ, was over.
We happily piled out of the van to see if Hickory House Restaurant’s smoked and sauced meats could hold a candle to North Carolina barbeque.
The “Frac-Burger” threw me for a loop because when we talk of fracking in the mountains of NC it’s a bad thing. In coal mining territory where everything’s already been fracked, stripped, mined, and attempted to be restored, it’s celebrated.
Sweet tea and two kinds of barbeque sauce on the table says Hallelujah, you’re in the South!
Hickory House is a quaint little place, as barbeque restaurants should be, in my book, with a wood stove, red checkered floors, advertisement art, and a smoker out back, puffing away.
Oddly enough, I didn’t feel like having barbeque, even though we’d finally found the perfect BBQ place, so I had fall comfort food in the form of a cup of broccoli cheddar soup with garlic mashed potatoes on the side. Oh, they hit the spot. So good!
My son’s baked potato looked out of this world. No foil on this puppy before it went in the oven, I’m sure. I don’t know how else they would have gotten it so crispy-brown on the outside. He was immensely happy with that potato.
I did feel obliged to try the barbeque, to see if I wanted to blog the restaurant, and it was spot on delicious. Tender and juicy with none of that liquid smoke taste that I despise.
The sauces were fabulous, too. As were the crinkle-cut fries.
Speaking of fries… My son, who, as I’ve mentioned, is a teenager, was trying to add ketchup to his fries when the plastic squirt bottle made one of those typical flatulent noises as he squeezed. Because he’s a teenaged boy, he didn’t back off on the pressure, as I would have done out of embarrassment, no, he squeezed harder! So the very rude sounds that were coming from our booth in the furthest corner of the restaurant emanated beyond the privacy screen that separated us from the booth of diners behind us. The four of us were giggling uncontrollably, yet silently, until one of the patrons at the next table yelled in his Southern drawl, “You guys all right over there?!” Guffawing ensued while a man clearing the empty table nearby said, “It’s barbeque. It happens!” So of course my husband had to expound on a popular, rude expression and say, “Barbeque happens!” And thus, the title of this post. Oh, my family! Only we could cause a circus of activity around our booth in a restaurant. My funny little guy! It’s like this all the time with him at home, but I guess he’s getting less bashful in public and I’ll have to start keeping an eye on him!
We thought our trip was over and it was time to head home, but, uh-oh. Historical marker! I LOVE historical markers because you’d never know what is just down the road without them. And this one was kind of a doozy.
So up the road we went with our bellies full, just as the sun was starting to sink.
The setting sun was so pretty that as we headed back to town, we decided to see what the asylum looked like in the dark. It was kind of terrifying because the grounds were bustling with activity and the air was full of the sound of screams, thanks to the start of the evening’s festivities which included, all night paranormal investigations, Zombie Paintball, and a haunted house that was set up inside the tuberculosis ward. Some crazy stuff! (Pun intended.)