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Traveling through american history, destinations & legends since 2003., haunted athens asylum for the insane, ohio.
Today, this complex, called the Ridges, is part of Ohio University, but these historic buildings once housed the Athens Lunatic Asylum. Not only are these buildings steeped in history, but some are also said to still “host” visitors from the past.
The historic hospital got its start in 1867 when the Ohio Legislature appointed a commission to find a site for an asylum in southeastern Ohio. A suitable site was found in Athens, and Levi T. Scofield was chosen as the architect. The buildings and grounds’ designs were influenced by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, a 19th-century physician who authored a book on mental hospital design. His designs were often recognizable for their “batwing” floor plans and lavish Victorian architecture.
The original design included an administration building with two wings, one that would house the males and the other for females. The building itself was 853 feet long, 60 feet wide, and built with red bricks fired from clay dug on-site. Built onto the back were a laundry room and boiler house. Seven cottages were also constructed to house even more patients. There was room to house 572 patients in the main building, almost double of what Kirkbride had recommended, leading to overcrowding and conflicts between the patients.
The administrative section, located between the two resident wings, included an entrance hall, offices, a reception room on the first floor, the superintendent’s residence on the second floor, and quarters for other officers and physicians on the 3rd and 4th floors. A large high ceiling amusement hall filled the 2nd and 3rd floors, and a chapel was included on the 4th floor. Behind and beneath the building’s public and private spaces were the heating and mechanical systems, kitchens, cellars, storerooms, and workspaces.
The site, which was first comprised of 141 acres, would eventually grow to 1,019 acres, including cultivated, wooded, and pasture land. The grounds were designed by Herman Haerlin of Cincinnati and would incorporate landscaped hills and trees, decorative lakes, a spring, and a creek with a waterfall. Not only would the patients enjoy the beautiful landscape, but citizens also enjoyed the extensive grounds. Though the facility would never be fully self-sustaining, over the years, the grounds would include livestock, farm fields and gardens, an orchard, greenhouses, a dairy, a receiving hospital, a Tubercular Ward, a physical plant to generate steam heat, and even a carriage shop in the earlier years.
The hospital, first called the Athens Lunatic Asylum, officially began operations on January 9, 1874. Within two years, it was renamed the Athens Hospital for the Insane. Over the years, its name would be changed many times to the Athens State Hospital, the Southeastern Ohio Mental Health Center, the Athens Mental Health Center, the Athens Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center, and the Athens Mental Health and Developmental Center.
Bird’s Eye view of Athens, Ohio Asylum
During its operation, the hospital provided services to a variety of patients, including Civil War veterans, children, the elderly, the homeless, rebellious teenagers being taught a lesson by their parents, and violent criminals suffering from various mental and physical disabilities. With diagnoses ranging from the slightest distress to severely mentally ill, these patients were provided various forms of care, many of which have been discredited today. The asylum was best known for its practice of lobotomy, but it was also known to have practiced hydrotherapy, electroshock, restraint, and psychotropic drugs, many of which have been found to be harmful today.
More interesting are the causes listed for admission, including epilepsy, menopause, alcohol addiction, and tuberculosis. General “ill health” also accounted for many admissions, which included in the first three years of operation 39 men and 44 women. For the female patients hospitalized during these first three years of the asylum’s operation, the three leading causes of insanity are recorded as “puerperal condition” (relating to childbirth), “change of life,” and “menstrual derangements.” According to an 1876 report, the leading cause of insanity among male patients was masturbation. The second most common cause of insanity was listed as intemperance (alcohol). Depending upon their condition, a patient’s treatment could range from full care to amazing freedom.
Over the years, numerous buildings were added, including a farm office, a new amusement hall, additional wards and residences, a laundry building, power plant, garages, stables, mechanics shops, a firehouse, therapy rooms, and dozens of others. By the 1950s, the hospital was using 78 buildings and was treating 1,800 patients.
Athens Asylum cemetery courtesy Encyclopedia of Forlorn Places
In the 1960s, the total square footage of the facility was recorded at 660,888 square feet. At this time, its population peaked at nearly 2,000 patients, over three times its capacity. However, the number of patients would begin to decline for the next several decades as de-institutionalization accelerated. As the number of people at the Asylum declined, the buildings and wards were abandoned one by one.
Comprised of three graveyards, burials began soon after the institution’s opening as there were deceased patients who were unclaimed by their families. Until 1943 the burials were headed only by stones with numbers, with the names of the dead known only in recorded ledgers. Only one register exists today, which contains the names of 1,700 of the over 2,000 burials. In 1972 the last patients were buried in the asylum cemetery. Today the cemeteries continue to be maintained by the Ohio Department of Mental Health.
In 1977, Athens Asylum made news when it housed multiple personality rapist Billy Milligan. In the highly publicized court case, Milligan was found to have committed several felonies, including armed robbery, kidnapping, and three rapes on the Ohio State University campus. In preparing his defense, psychologists diagnosed Milligan with multiple personality disorder, from which the doctors said he had suffered from early childhood. He was the first person diagnosed with multiple personality disorder to raise such a defense and the first acquitted of a major crime for this reason. Milligan was then sent to a series of state-run mental hospitals, including Athens. While at these hospitals, Milligan reported having ten different personalities. Later 14 more personalities were said to have been discovered. After a decade, Milligan was discharged. He died of cancer at a nursing home in Columbus, Ohio, on December 12, 2014, at 59.
The next year, the hospital made the news again when a patient named Margaret Schilling disappeared on December 1, 1978. It wasn’t until January 12, 1979, 42 days later that, her body was discovered by a maintenance worker in a locked long-abandoned ward once used for patients with infectious illnesses. Though tests showed that she died of heart failure, she was found completely naked with her clothing neatly folded next to her body. More interesting is the permanent stain that her body left behind. Clearly, an imprint of her hair and body can still be seen on the floor, even though numerous attempts have been made to remove it.
By 1981 the hospital housed fewer than 300 patients, numerous buildings stood abandoned, and over 300 acres were transferred to Ohio University. In 1988, the facilities and grounds (excluding the cemeteries) were deeded from the Department of Mental Health to Ohio University.
The Athens Center officially closed in 1993, and the remaining patients transferred to another facility. The property stood vacant for several years before restoration began. The name of the property was changed to the “Ridges” and in 2001 renovation work was completed on the main building, known as Lin Hall. Today it houses music, geology, biotechnology offices, storage facilities, and the Kennedy Museum of Art. Over the years, other hospital buildings were modeled and used by the University, although many others still sit abandoned.
It comes as no surprise that the buildings of this historic asylum are allegedly haunted. One of the most famous ghosts is that of Margaret Shilling, who left her body print upon the hospital floor. Her spirit is said to have appeared staring down from the window of the room where her body was found, has been seen attempting to escape, and has been known to wander various parts of the building at night. And, according to some, she is not alone. Other former patients are also said to remain in residence, with reports from visitors seeing strange figures standing in the empty wings of the former hospital, hearing disembodied voices and squeaking gurneys, seeing strange lights, and hearing screams echoing through the walls. More frightening, there are rumors of spirits of patients who remain shackled in the basement. These many spirits are thought to be those who died or suffered at the hands of staff in the asylum.
The cemetery is also said to be haunted by shadowy people and strange lights. In one area, the graves’ linear shapes form a circle, which is said to be a witches’ meeting point.
Tours of the outside grounds of the old asylum are held on the third Sunday of each month.
© Kathy Weiser-Alexander / Legends of America , updated April 2021.
Female Ward, Athens, Ohio Asylum
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WORTH THE DRIVE: Tour the grounds of a haunted former asylum and cemetery in Athens
Credit: Southeast Ohio History Center
For a few select nights in October, guests will be able to tour one of the most haunted buildings in the state of Ohio.
The Southeast Ohio History Center, located in Athens, Ohio, will be offering historical tours of The Ridges, formerly known as the Athens Lunatic Asylum, from now and throughout the end of October.
The Athens Lunatic Asylum was a mental hospital that operated in Athens from 1874 to 1993. Throughout its years, the asylum provided services to a variety of patients that included Civil War veterans, children and violent criminals — all suffering from various mental disabilities. Many inhumane and outdated mental health treatments, like lobotomies, hydrotherapy (water therapy in the form of baths, etc.), electroshock treatments and early psychotropic drugs were in practice at the asylum during its years of operation.
Surrounding the former asylum are three cemeteries that contain the graves of 1,930 former patients of The Ridges. Of those graves, 1,659 were only marked only with a number until the state of Ohio began putting names, births and deaths on each stone that was missing this information in 1943. Many of the oldest stones had not been replaced until recently.
Today, the Ridges exist as a part of Ohio University and house the Kennedy Museum of Art, an auditorium and many offices, classrooms and storage facilities.
As you might imagine, the asylum is a decidedly eerie sight, and now, for a few select dates throughout October, guests will be able to revel in the ghostly glory of The Ridges on intimate walking tours. The tours are hosted by George Eberts, a long-time Appalachian Behavioral Health employee and Athens Asylum advocate.
Guests will meet in front of the Kennedy Museum of Art and Eberts will then lead the group on an outdoor walking tour of the grounds, cemeteries and various buildings within the complex. While on the walking tour, guests will learn more about the history of mental health treatment, the asylum, the cemeteries and more as it pertains to the asylum.
Tours will be taking place on Friday, Oct. 23 at 5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 24 at 2 p.m., Friday, Oct. 30 at 10 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 31 at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Tickets are $15 for members, $18 for non-members, $10 for students and children 12 and under are free. The tour on Friday, Oct. 30, or All Hallow’s Eve, will be $25 for members, $30 for non-members, $20 for students and children 12 and under are free.
All guests are required to wear masks and the tour takes place outdoors in order to maintain proper social distancing practices.
To reserve your spot, call Dominique at 740-592-2280, ext. 100. Space will be limited, so be sure to reserve a spot as soon as possible. For more information about The Ridges, Kennedy Museum of Art, the Southeast Ohio History Center and tour offerings, pay a visit to athenshistory.org .
About the Author
Ashley Moor is a Dayton native and graduate of Kent State University. She is a multimedia journalist for Dayton.com, and strives to provide impactful stories about the community and its people.
The Ridges Asylum: A Chilling Walk Through Ohio’s Dark Past
Why should you visit the ridges.
Hey there, my fellow urban explorers & paranormal investigators! I know you’re probably thinking, “Why on earth would I want to visit the exterior of an old insane asylum?” But trust me, the Ridges is one of those places that will keep you coming back for more.
First of all, the history of this place is just mind-blowing. You can feel the energy of the past as soon as you drive up to the campus. And even though the treatments that went on inside these walls were pretty horrific, the asylum is now a beautiful place to visit with walking trails. There are also two cemeteries, a pond, and even a putt-putt course. While walking around the campus, for a moment, you may not realize how dark things once were.
I know seeing the inside is usually the best part, but it’s rare to get inside these buildings unless you’re a student here. However, I may have a little secret up my sleeve about seeing the interior of the Ridges. So, if you’re ready for a truly unique and unforgettable experience, come and check out the Ridges with me!
Table of Contents
History of the Ridges
The Ridges Asylum, also known as the Athens Lunatic Asylum, was built in 1874 in Athens, Ohio. The facility was designed to care for people with mental illnesses and was one of the first institutions of its kind in the state.
The asylum was in operation for over 100 years and was in operation from 1874 until as recently as 1993. During this time it housed thousands of patients and was designed to provide services to a variety of patients, including Civil War veterans, children, and those declared mentally unwell.
During the early years of the asylum, the treatment of patients was considered to be progressive and humane. However, as time passed, the institution became overcrowded and underfunded, and the treatment of patients became increasingly inhumane.
Patients were subjected to harsh conditions, including overcrowding, and inadequate food. Many were also subjected to experimental treatments, such as lobotomies and electroconvulsive therapy, which were considered to be controversial at the time.
When the asylum finally closed, the buildings and grounds were left abandoned, and the site became a popular location for urban exploration.
What Type of Patients Were Here
The first patient admitted was a 14-year-old girl with epilepsy, who they thought was possessed by a demon. Sadly, Epilepsy was actually considered one of the major reasons for admitting patients to the asylum in the early years. Can you even imagine?
But it wasn’t just epilepsy that was considered a cause of insanity. Ailments like menopause, alcohol addiction, and tuberculosis were also reasons for being admitted to the asylum!
Unfortunately, women were often institutionalized for unnecessary or outright fallacious reasons. Postpartum depression or “hysteria” were labeled as insanity and they were sent to the asylum to “recover” .
Here’s something that’ll really shock you though, in the asylum’s first three years of operation, 81 men and one woman were diagnosed as having their insanity caused by masturbation. Yikes!
Today it has been reported that the words, “I was never crazy” are scrawled into various places in the building. That is absolutely devastating.
The cemeteries on site have sad stories of their own. The mistreatment was terrible in itself, but even in death many of these people didn’t get the respect they deserved until many years later.
There are over 1,900 people buried at the three cemeteries located at The Ridges. Prior to 1943, many of the headstones were only marked with a number, with no names or identifying information about the person buried there.
After 1943 they finally started to label the sites with the appropriate information, but by the 1980s the state stopped taking care of the cemeteries altogether.
With no supervision or care, natural occurrences and vandals destroyed the headstones and the cemeteries. Many of the headstones were left in disrepair, with hundreds left uprooted and broken.
But in 2000, the Athens, Ohio chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) stepped in to help restore the cemeteries to their original state. They discovered more information on the unidentified patients, who were mostly veterans.
NAMI has made it their mission to honor these veterans and all of the patients buried at The Ridges. They’ve helped replace headstones, kept the grounds in proper condition, and even started organizing Memorial Day Ceremonies to give these veterans the recognition and dignity they deserve.
Today the cemeteries at the Ridges are scenic and beautiful. It’s quite fascinating to walk through and see the various headstones of the lost.
Experience the Location
It is incredibly important to remember and learn from the past, and that’s why places like The Ridges are worth visiting and understanding their history.
Exploring the location of a historical site such as The Ridges offers a unique opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the past.
As you walk through the campus and really feel this place and take in the beautiful scenery. It truly is a photographer’s paradise. You may also witness the present day activities of the Ohio State University Students, heading to class or joggers who are running their daily path.
Oh, did I not mention that part… The campus for the Ohio State University is actually built on the grounds of the former Ridges, and remnants of the abandoned Kirkbride buildings can still be seen up on this hill! Many of these beautiful old buildings are now being repurposed. They have an art museum, an auditorium and even classrooms!
Visiting the Ridges allows for a meaningful blend of past and present experiences.
Plan Your Visit
Today you can pretty much walk the grounds at your leisure. If you want to see the buildings from the outside you are free to do that, and once you’ve finished, there are a few walking trails that you can take to see more of the outskirts of the property and cemeteries.
Now, if you prefer a more guided experience be sure to check out their historical walking tours .
Details from their website:
Join long-time Appalachian Behavioral Health employee and Athens Asylum advocate, George Eberts, for an engaging tour of the grounds and cemeteries. Learn about the history of mental health treatment, from the Kirkbride Plan to the present day, as well as George’s personal anecdotes. Dates for the asylum will be as follows:
- April 9th- 2pm
- May 14th- 2pm
- June 11th- 2pm
- July 9th- 2pm
- August 13th- 2pm
- August 27th- 2pm
- September 10th- 2pm
- October 8th- 2pm
- October 29th- 2pm
- October 30th-1pm
- October 30th- 5pm
Tours meet in front of the Kennedy Museum of Art
100 Ridges Cir, Athens, OH 45701-6812, United States
****Due to the popularity of our tours we do require preregistration.****
Call SOHC at 740-592-2280 ext.100 to reserve your spot. Space will be limited. We will update the list above as tours sell out.
Ticket Prices :
- SOHC Members: $15
- Non-members: $18
- Students: $10
- Children 12 and under: Free
- SOHC closes at 3:30pm so please plan to visit us before the asylum tour!
Reminder: this is a two hour outdoor walking tour, so please plan accordingly.
Rain Policy: We conduct the Asylum Tour in rain or shine so please bring appropriate clothing and umbrellas as conditions require. Cancellation will take place only if dangerous weather such as lighting storm or high winds are active. In winter months, if there is a level 2 or 3 snow emergency, the tour will be canceled as well. In the event of cancellation, those with prepaid tickets can call us and choose either another tour or receive a refund. REFUND POLICY: Refunds will be given only under the following circumstances: • Requests that are pre-paid and made at least 48 Hours prior to tour. • Active lightening storms- you will be given either tickets to attend another tour of your choice, or, ticket price will be refunded. Rain DOES NOT cancel the tours- please bring appropriate rain/weather gear. • Level 2 or higher snow emergency
Now, I’d mentioned above about seeing the interior of The Ridges. It is not a regular circumstance to be invited inside these old buildings, unfortunately. However, there are a few ways you can possibly see the inside for yourself.
- Enroll as a student – Obviously, this is not the most likely scenario, but students do have access for a few spots on campus up here.
- Visit the Kennedy Art Museum. The main building is home to the art museum, and you can go inside to see the various exhibits. -Gallery Hours are: M – F: 10am – 5pm, TH: 10am – 8pm, Sat – Sun: 1pm – 5pm.
- The last option is the hardest to snag, but sometimes, once per year, the historical society offers a historical tour around Halloween. They do take you through the interior, but you’ve got to be fast to snag these tickets. When this tour is offered, you can find tickets on their site. (Same as the walking tour above!)
Other Notable Spots
The Ridges is great all on its own, but you’re bound to get hungry! We LOVE Avalanche Pizza, and can’t recommend it enough! If you enjoy unique pizza, you’ve found your place! Here is their menu .
If time allows and you want more haunted spots to check out, visit Lake Hope Furnace and the Moonville Tunnel !
If you can’t make it out to The Ridges, watch our video to learn more!
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The Athens Lunatic Asylum “The Ridges”
- January 10, 2024
In a city named Athens, in Ohio, you can find the former Athens Lunatic Asylum, which was built in 1868. Today, this huge building belongs to the Ohio University and offers space to the Kennedy Museum, an auditorium, an office, several classrooms, a storage facility and… a couple of ghosts. The students have gotten used to them, well, kind of.
The history of the Athens Lunatic Asylum
The first patient to be admitted to the asylum was a 14-year-old girl with epilepsy. Her parents thought she was possessed by a demon and therefore locked her away. From 1874 to 1993 this was a facility for people with all kinds of mental illnesses. People who were admitted were Civil War veterans, rebellious teenagers, homeless people, elderly people and even violent criminals. Also, tuberculosis patients were taken care of in the seven cottages which are part of this massive terrain. The asylum is about 4000 acres ( 400 ha) large, which can be compared to 800 soccer fields.
More and more buildings were added when the number of patients increased. When the building was abandoned, there were 78 buildings on the premises. The asylum wasn’t self-sufficient, even though it could have been. There were cattle, greenhouses, an orchard, a dairy farm, and the water came from self-dug wells. There are also three cemeteries on the premises, because where people live, people die. Today, the Athens Lunatic Asylum is named The Ridges. This name was chosen in name contest which was organized in 1984. Until then, it had at least 8 other names.
The Kirkbride Method
Dr. Thomas Kirkbride believed the keywords for mental patients were rest, cleanliness and regularity. Men and women were treated separately in their own wing and even had their own dining halls. The main building could house up to 572 patients, but that is double the amount Kirkbride would advise. At its peak, over 2,000 patients were being treated, which, of course, was unacceptable according to the method. The asylum created a lot of employment for people living in the surrounding area, but this medical staff was often unskilled.
This made procedures such as the much-feared lobotomy treatments risky. During these treatments, a thick needle was drilled into the patient’s skull, into the brain, through a spot right above the eye. Apart from the fact that a wrong lobotomy could lead to death, it could also lead to a condition in which the patient would be locked inside their own body forever. Another feared treatment, called hydrotherapy, was performed daily. During this treatment, the patient would be bathed in extremely cold or extremely hot water. And last but not least there was the electroshock therapy method, in which a patient was exposed to a highly dosed power surge which caused the body to convulse. Sometimes these convulsions were so intense, that even bones would break.
Reasons for patients to be admitted
Back then, there was an enormous list which was used as a manual for admitting people at an asylum. Things like the menopause, menstruation issues, alcohol abuse, epilepsy and even asthma were “illnesses” that were to be treated in an asylum back in the days. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? But the main reason people were admitted to the asylum was… masturbation. And this is no joke. When a family member was admitted, all contact was broken off. That was best for the patient according to the Kirkbride Method. That is perhaps why some people (700 women and 959 men) who died during their stay at the asylum were buried on the premises with only a number on the headstone.
A total of 1930 people were buried at the asylum’s cemeteries. Some patients were claimed by family members after they died and buried elsewhere, but most family members were ashamed of the fact there was mental illness in the family. They didn’t want anything to do with that person anymore. From 1943, headstones were given names and data. Unclear is what caused the change because before that, only a number was given. Over 80 Civil War veterans are buried there as well. They were eventually honored in 2000 by the NAMI: The National Alliance of Mental Illness. They organize an annual memorial for these soldiers. The cemeteries are now under the maintenance of the Ohio Department of Mental Health.
Asbestoses in the walls
Almost all buildings have been renovated when the Ohio University moved in. All, except for “Cottage B”, one of the 7 cottages used for patients with tuberculosis. The walls and ceiling of this particular cottage were literally packed with asbestosis. This is ironic, knowing this cottage was used for people whose lungs were already very sick. The other cottages were renovated into campus for students who study at the university.
In the news
The Athens Lunatic Asylum hit the news at least twice, and not in a good way. The first time was in 1977, when multiple personality rapist Billy Milligam was admitted. He committed several felonies including armed robbery raping three Ohio State University students on campus. His attorneys claimed his other personalities committed the crimes without him even knowing it. A year later, on December 1, 1978, the Athens Lunatic Asylum was in the papers again, this time because patient Margaret Shilling had disappeared from her department.
They searched everywhere, except on the top floor of Building 20, where her decomposing corpse was found 42 days later by a caretaker. She was found naked, on her back, with her arms crossed over her chest. Prior to her death, she took off her clothes and neatly folded them and put them on a chair. According to the pathologist, Margaret died of natural causes. She had a cardiac arrest. Did she feel it coming? There are a lot of mysteries surrounding her death. When her body was taken away it left an impression on the concrete floor. Probably due to the decomposition in combination with the bright sun coming through the large windows. The stain Margaret left behind is impossible to clean, even up to this day.
Ghosts of the Athens Lunatic Asylum
Many people claim both the former asylum and the cemeteries are haunted. But there are more recent hauntings as well. The fact that part of the area used to be an Indian burial ground, makes it even more spooky. Some buildings are still vacant, so who knows what ghosts lurk there?
The main building
The main building is now called Lin Hall. Today it houses music, geology, biotechnology offices as well as the Kennedy Museum of Art. Strange figures have been seen roaming around the old floors. Others have heard disembodied voices, footsteps and screaming. Most appealing to the imagination is the basement. Some claim severely disabled patients were kept on chains in this dungeonlike place. Some say they’ve even heard chains being pulled.
There is no evidence that patients were ever chained to the walls here, but the arches in the basement sure look creepy. The ghost of Margaret Shilling has been seen looking out of the window from the place she was found, but she’s also been seen on other floors. Doors open and close by themselves and people hear footsteps when they are alone. People also “feel” the presence of others and shadow people are frequently seen. A man with a long, black coat creeps out students in the men’s room for years.
The cemeteries have been vandalized during the time the buildings were abandoned. Shadowy figures and strange lights have been seen here. In one area, the shapes of the graves form a perfect circle, which is rumored to be a witches’ meeting point.
Nearly all the buildings on the West Green are haunted. This is where the Indian burial grounds were located. Wilson Hall is no exception. This is the most haunted dormitory on the campus. This hall is also right in the middle of a pentagram formed by several cemeteries in the Athens region. Most hauntings occur on the fourth floor. Apparitions have been seen, voices have been heard and doors slam shut by themselves. A student committed suicide in a room on the fourth floor.
The Convocation Center, The Convo in short, is also located in the West Green area. This place is haunted by several ghosts, mostly in the dormitory part of the building. A Resident Assistant was supposedly killed by her boyfriend here, and she now roams the corridors. A student who died here in his sleep now tends to embrace other students while they are sleeping.
Washington Hall is in the East Green area and the dormitory is allegedly haunted by an entire basketball team of high school girls. They were killed in a bus accident after they visited the university. Students have reported hearing running feet and bouncing basketballs.
The Athens Lunatic Asylum today
Today, the Athens Lunatic Asylum or The Ridges as what it is now called, is an operating campus. You cannot just visit it, but there are some tours that you can take. There’s the Asylum Tour provided by the Athens County Historical Society and Museum. This is not a ghost tour. They used to have ghost tours around Halloween, but they are very limited. Please note that you cannot explore the vacant buildings on your own. If you really want to experience the hauntings, there’s only one thing to do: go back to school!
Cover photo: Sarah Hina via flickr CC BY-NC 2.0 Sources: wikipedia , legendsofamerica.com, atlasobscura.com, hockinghills.com and onlyinyourstate.com Address : S. Plains Rd, Athens, Ohio, 45701 USA
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Photo Project Takes Viewers Inside Old Athens Asylum
Posted on: Wednesday, April 22, 2020
WOUB to hold YouTube Premiere of asylum documentary on Friday
ATHENS, OH – The Old Athens State Mental Hospital, now known as The Ridges, is a place that fascinates many. In 2013, WOUB Public Media produced a documentary, which is being released for free on YouTube this Friday, on the cemeteries located at the Asylum to tell the stories of patients who were buried on the asylum grounds under numbered tombstones. Many Ohio University offices are currently located in the buildings, but a large portion of the facility remains empty and has been closed to the public. But, there’s a new way to get inside and see what those historic buildings look like.
Michigan Photographer Christian VanAntwerpen is the creator of a photography series called Project Kirkbride . The project captures detailed images of old asylums built under the Kirkbride architecture style for historic preservation. The Kirkbride Plan was created by Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride in the mid-19th century. Kirkbride believed in a concept called moral treatment which meant he believed that with the right environment and lifestyle mental illness could be cured.
“ Project Kirkbride started in 2013 when the old asylum in Fergus Falls, Minnesota was at risk of demolition, and I suggested the idea of photographing every square inch,” said VanAntwerpen.
The project then grew to other asylums across the United States.
“The ultimate goal with Project Kirkbride is to have a definitive collection of buildings that have been completely documented for the sake of history as a preservation tool to show people what these buildings were like as we get further and further from that concept of the Kirkbride plan and the moral treatment of the mentally ill. I think of it as a reminder that we had this period where we cared this much about mental health, and we built these giant castles of care.”
“It was quite an experience. The thing that is amazing about the Athens buildings is that you turn a corner, and the light is completely different,” said VanAntwerpen. “The pictures don’t do it justice because of scale but literally you could drive a car through those hallways. It was that large. From the outside the building doesn’t look that big. When you go on the inside it felt huge. That’s what stood out to me the most.”
“Preservation and restoration are a great exercise of the human spirit to be able to switch these buildings around and turn them into something fantastic rather than tear them down,” said VanAntwerpen. “If we knock down the physical reminders of our past, we are most likely to repeat the mistakes that were made in the process.”
You can view all of VanAntwerpen’s photos of the Athens asylum at https://christianvanantwerpen.com/athensstatehospital
You can watch WOUB’s live YouTube Premiere of The 1900: Voices from the Athens Asylum on Friday, April 24 at 8 p.m. here: https://bit.ly/The1900
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The Athens Asylum Was at the Forefront of Treatment in the 19th Century
A victorian asylum has become a museum—and a setting for horror stories. .
An early glass slide image of the Athens Asylum.
Snow Collection, Southeast Ohio History Center
It has the most dramatic vista in Athens: a Victorian-era, Gothic Revival building that once served as a mental hospital, made of red brick and overlooking the Hocking River Valley, with rolling grounds gorgeous enough for teenagers to stage their prom photos and architecture ominous enough to star in B-movie horror flicks.
The building and its history, says Patricia N. Williamsen, executive director of Ohio Humanities, “are very much a part of the physical and psychic landscape.” The most arresting and remembered work by Cleveland architect Levi Scofield, the edifice looms high and heavy over this town of twenty-four thousand near the West Virginia border.
In March, the Southeast Ohio History Center opened an exhibit to commemorate the one-hundred-fiftieth anniversary of the hospital’s dedication. The exhibit runs through the end of the year.
The property has been known for generations as the Athens Lunatic Asylum. Construction began in 1867 and the building, though unfinished, was dedicated the following year. A somewhat infamous landmark, given the general misunderstanding of mental illness, decades of questionable patient treatment, and frequent overcrowding, the asylum once represented the gold standard of treatment.
“A wave of asylums [were] built in America in the nineteenth century,” says Katherine Ziff, an Ohio University adjunct professor who published in 2012 Asylum on the Hill: History of a Healing Landscape , upon which the exhibit is based.
The first public institution for the mentally ill in America opened in Williamsburg, Virginia, in the 1770s, and Ziff notes that the grand asylums (which, like the one in Athens, included ballrooms and amusement parlors) replaced “poor houses, jails, private asylums” and many smaller mental hospitals across the nation. The asylum era was also the first time nurses and attendants were trained specifically in the treatment of mental illness.
Encompassing one thousand acres, the Athens bluff also holds the hospital cemetery and is surrounded by former farmland, worked by the men and women who were committed there, as many as eighteen hundred in the 1950s.
Now known as the Ridges, the asylum is home to the Kennedy Museum of Art of Ohio University. The museum took over much of the property from the state department of mental health in 1988 and the last patients were transferred to a new, nearby facility in 1993.
In small anterooms at the art museum’s entrance are vintage photographs from the building’s asylum days and some text, including a quote from Charles Gall, a long-ago foreman on the asylum farm who rued the day that drugs like Thorazine began to replace farm work in the 1950s. “The farm provided therapy for patients to help them forget their problems,” he said.
“One of the tenets of ‘moral treatment’ [for the mentally ill] was the role of the landscape—beautiful views of nature were seen to be curative, as well as taking outdoor exercise,” says Ziff.
Contemporary approaches to nature-based therapy—healing gardens and ecotherapy, for example—have emerged in treatment, says Ziff, who is also a mental health clinician and the director of the project commemorating the asylum’s anniversary.
Activity once described as “meaningful occupation” in the “moral treatment” model promoted by mental health advocate Thomas Story Kirkbride (1809–1883)—lots of sun and air, kitchen work, milking cows, picking fruit, mending shirts—was considered key in “training the mind” all the way up to the middle of the twentieth century. The practice ended when a federal court ruled in 1973 that patient labor had to be compensated with minimum wages and overtime. By the 1980s, the process of deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill gained momentum, and state hospitals, such as Athens, began to close.
The project commemorating the sesquicentennial encompasses all phases of treatment at the asylum. It was funded in part by Ohio Humanities and installed earlier this year at the Southeast Ohio History Center, headquartered in the World War I-era First Christian Church of Athens, about two miles from the Ridges.
This glass slide shows the picturesque landscape of the asylum.
The exhibit—which carries the same title as Ziff’s book—includes asylum artifacts along with oral histories from doctors, employees, former patients, and their families. One of the more intriguing items in the exhibit is a violin made from scratch in 1930 by a patient identified only as “John.” It is on display with a lobotomy pick—once used in surgery to subdue as many as 20 patients in a single day—and an early electroshock therapy machine.
An aspect that Ziff and her colleagues do not dwell on is the enthusiasm for the paranormal that draws some visitors to the imposing building. The subject inevitably arose, however, at public talks organized around the exhibit.
“Oh, the spooky stuff—it does bother me,” says Ziff, noting that the thrill of being frightened in such places comes at the cost of misery once suffered there. In 2000, she says, a TV program filmed at the asylum and its woefully neglected burial grounds named the Ridges one of the “world’s scariest places.”
In response, the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness cleaned up the three graveyards on the property, set aright the tombstones, and endeavored to demystify the image of a psychiatric hospital as the final resting place for its former patients. Easier said than done, especially with so many raucous fraternity houses nearby, local Halloween celebrations that attract thousands, and all manner of dares and double-dares that go on.
In 2016, Ohio author Mindy McGinnis won an Edgar Award for her young adult historical thriller A Madness So Discreet , which is set at the asylum. She had never been to the Athens hospital when she conceived the novel, but had heard about it through books and television as a haunted place, which she then visited.
“It provided a meeting point for many of my interests,” says McGinnis. “The history of mental illness, women’s rights, the evolution of medical treatments, and old architecture.”
Grace Savage works a reception desk for visitors to the Kennedy Museum. “People are always asking me how many ghosts I’ve seen,” says Savage, a sociology major at Ohio University.
Rafael Alvarez is the author of Basilio Boullosa Stars in the Fountain of Highlandtown , a story collection.
This article is available for unedited republication, free of charge, using the following credit: “Originally published as "150 Years of the Athens Asylum" in the Summer 2018 issue of Humanities magazine, a publication of the National Endowment for the Humanities.” Please notify us at @email if you are republishing it or have any questions.
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The Haunting Tales of Athens Lunatic Asylum in Athens, OH
The dawn of an institution.
In the heart of Athens, Ohio , a symbol of historical significance has withstood the test of time: the Athens Lunatic Asylum . Its story began in 1868 when the ground was broken on the Arthur Coates and Eliakim H. Moore farms. This marked the beginning of an institution serving as a beacon of care for the mentally ill for many years.
The original design of the Athens Lunatic Asylum was influenced by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride’s philosophy on mental health care. He believed in creating serene and spacious environments for patients, which was reflected in the construction of the asylum.
The architectural plan featured a central administrative hub with separate wings designated for male and female patients on either side. The primary building could accommodate up to 572 patients, nearly twice the capacity suggested by Kirkbride.
The architect Levi T. Scofield of Cleveland and landscape designer Herman Haerlin of Cincinnati worked together to bring Kirkbride’s vision to life. Their collaboration created a staggered “bat-wing” floor plan of the wards, High Victorian Gothic architecture, and sprawling grounds.
A Beacon of Care
On January 9, 1874, the Athens Lunatic Asylum opened its doors. It provided services to various patients, including Civil War veterans, children, and those declared mentally unwell. The hospital underwent several name changes throughout its operational years, reflecting its evolving role in the community.
Notably, the hospital functioned as a secluded community. It wasn’t self-sustaining but had its own livestock, farm fields and gardens, an orchard, greenhouses, and dairy. These features served a dual purpose.
They provided the hospital with self-sustainability and offered the patients therapeutic benefits. Work, particularly tasks requiring skill, was viewed as medicinal and economically benefited the state.
While the hospital provided care to those in need, it is also remembered for its infamous lobotomy procedure. This controversial procedure, which involved surgically cutting into the frontal lobes of the brain, is now regarded as a dark chapter in the history of mental health treatment.
Expansion and Evolution
With time, the Athens Lunatic Asylum expanded. It added specialized buildings like the Dairy Barn (now an arts center), Beacon School, Athens Receiving Hospital, Center Hospital, and the Tubercular Ward. These additions allowed the hospital to offer more services to its patients and the community.
The expansion also meant that the hospital could accommodate more patients. The main building was supplemented with seven cottages, including Cottage B, to house more patients.
Despite their smaller size, these cottages facilitated a beneficial arrangement of patients in a setting reminiscent of a dormitory. By the decade of the 1950s, the hospital had become the biggest employer in the town, serving a population of 1,800 patients.
Shadows of the Past
The Athens Lunatic Asylum has a storied history of chilling tales and dark secrets. The asylum was operational from 1874 to 1993 and grew from 141 acres to a sprawling 1000-acre property with 78 buildings.
Despite its tranquil surroundings, Athens Lunatic Asylum was also known for its harsh treatment methods, such as ice water baths, electroshock therapies, and lobotomies, especially during periods of overcrowding.
Additionally, the hospital’s patient demographic changed over the years, with individuals deemed rebellious or inconvenient by their families also being committed to the institution.
The Ridges is perhaps most infamously known for the tale of Margaret Shilling, a patient who mysteriously disappeared and was later found dead, leaving a permanent stain in the form of her body imprint on the hospital floor.
Her spirit and those of other patients are said to haunt the former hospital buildings. Ghostly figures, strange lights, disembodied voices, and even screams are reported phenomena, adding a layer of eerie mystique to the asylum’s past.
The Ridges: A New Chapter
After the closure of the Athens Lunatic Asylum in 1993, the State of Ohio acquired the property and repurposed it, renaming it “ The Ridges .” The term was derived from a naming contest held in 1984 to provide a new identity for the area and its evolving purpose.
Today, The Ridges is a part of Ohio University and house various facilities, including the Kennedy Museum of Art, an auditorium, numerous offices, classrooms, and storage facilities. It stands as a reminder of the area’s history while serving a new function in the present.
The building’s former function as a mental health institution still resonates in the architecture and layout, with the main building maintaining its original design by the Kirkbride Plan.
The Athens Lunatic Asylum represents a complex part of our history. Its story is a testament to how our understanding and treatment of mental health has evolved. The site bears the marks of its past—both in its physical form and the stories of ghostly encounters that continue circulating.
Yet, it has also experienced a rebirth, transforming into a space of learning and culture, demonstrating resilience and the possibility of new beginnings even in the shadow of a challenging past.
While the specters of its former life as a mental institution continue to haunt The Ridges, these stories form an essential part of its identity and remind its history. Moreover, these narratives and the site’s current role as part of a university and cultural center create a unique blend of past and present that sets The Ridges apart.
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I'm Spencer Walsh, a professional traveler who loves to help people discover new places and learn about different cultures. I've traveled worldwide, from Europe to Asia and Africa to South America. My favorite thing about traveling is getting lost because it allows me to discover unexpected gems—finding a hidden museum or stumbling upon a beautiful park in the middle of the city.
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Athens Lunatic Asylum – Ohio’s Most Creepy And Haunted Place
- Miscellaneous and Interesting , Mysterious Places
This is the kind of place that exists as a myth we all believe. We’ve heard of them a thousand times, we’ve seen them in movies, but we’ve never really seen one and we have no idea where one might be. Welcome to Athens Lunatic Asylum…
Athens Ohio is a sleepy little community, and home to the phantom of a headless train conductor, the unexplained violent murders and mutilations of livestock, and not to mention pagan cults…but sitting at the heart of it all in a region known as The Ridges is the citadel of creepy locations, the Athens Lunatic Asylum.
Established in 1874 the Athens Lunatic Asylum functioned as a hospital to traumatized Civil War veterans, but was soon expanded to include mentally ill children. Born of the best intentions, the facility took a turn for the worse – possibly when two years after its opening, its services were expanded to include treatment for mentally ill violent criminals.
At that two year mark the Ridges facility changed its name to Athens Asylum for the Insane, but proceeded to undergo seven more name changes over the 117 years it was in operation until finally landing on Athens Lunatic Asylum.
Although the Ridges facility was designed to function under the Kirkbride plan: a renowned system for the development and operation of mental illness centres Athens Lunatic Asylum operated at more than double the recommended capacity for most of its time.
More importantly the Ohio State University archives contain records regarding the employees of Athens Lunatic Asylum’s background training. Some were fully trained and some, not trained at all.
The university archives also contain numerous reports of hydrotherapy, electroshock treatment, lobotomy, and psychotropic drugs (IE: torture). The leading cause for admittance amongst male patients of Athens Lunatic Asylum was “masturbation”.
In that same ridiculous vein the female patients were most commonly admitted to the asylum for “masturbation”, “puerperal condition” (not adjusting well after giving birth), and “menstrual derangements”. Amongst the children admitted, the leading cause was “epilepsy” for which they were treated via electroshock therapy.
Walk through the halls of Athens Lunatic Asylum and you will be treading the footsteps of men, women, and children admitted for everyday commonplace behaviours that were subsequently tortured, and whom shared their new home with mentally ill violent criminals.
It’s no surprise that Athens Lunatic Asylum is now considered one of Americas top ten paranormal sites. What’s worse is that many of them are still there. Without family or friends to pay for funeral expenses roughly 1,700 of the patients that died on the premises were buried in small unmarked graves behind Athens Lunatic Asylum and the other buildings of The Ridges.
It is also not unusual to find words carved into the walls of the cells by the patients, one in particular amongst the cells in the asylums basement that reads “I was never crazy”. Below the writing a pair of shackles remains bolted to the wall.
Today the main buildings of The Ridges, including Athens Lunatic Asylum have been co-opted into Ohio State University and are referred to as “The Ridges”, but the incidents of violent paranormal activity began even while the asylum was still in operation.
In 1978 a female patient named Margaret Schilling vanished from the care of her nurses and was found dead six weeks later. Although there are many explanations for how and why she vanished, none can explain the state in which her body was found or what it left behind.
On the floor where her corpse was found was a perfect imprint of her, right down to her hair. All attempts at removing the imprint have not been successful and to this day the perfect representation of Margaret can be found in the place where she died.
The building she was found in is the only building that to this day remains completely abandoned and is restricted from access.
Jake Carter is a journalist and a most prolific writer who has been fascinated by science and unexplained since childhood.
He is not afraid to challenge the official narratives and expose the cover-ups and lies that keep us in the dark. He is always eager to share his findings and insights with the readers of anomalien.com, a website he created in 2013.
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Wrong university. Ohio University not Ohio state.
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Athens Lunatic Asylum - The Ridges
Featured on TV’s The Scariest Places on Earth, the asylum has long been a place of mystery and hauntings. There are 1,930 graves at three cemeteries nearby, all marked with only a number. Research has shown that some of the mysterious dead mental health patients may have been veterans, victims of war violence and post-traumatic stress disorder.
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My aunt when she was alive was 67 an daring. She calls me one night an tells me she is lost. Ok normal right… this woman was anything but normal. So needless to say I got a bit worried. Asked her what was the last place she seen . She said the out side of the old hospital in Athens. I automatically knew where she was she had been talking about the place for bout two weeks . So since we didn’t have the money to take the main tour she decides in her drunken state to break into the second floor window of the wing that is closed to the public. I pulled up an looked around for anyone,didnt see them found the window hauled my but up into it. It was deadly quite, one of those you hear your heart pumping quiets. I found her easily enough she was in the second room down the hall. She was talking to someone when I asked who she was talking to a bed slid across the room an it sounded like someone took off running. Scared the crap outta me. Nanny stood up an yelled at me told her I scared away her friend an took off running down the hall. I seriously didn’t want to go further into this place. Two creepy things in less than five minutes already had me on edge. So I called nanny an asked her how far inside she went. She told me she would be back… weirdest thing was on the phone I could hear a young girls voice , spoke very proper English an had a bit of an accent. Worried even more I put my back to the wall an scooted my way down, sound like a scardy cat… didn’t care I was scared. I’m allergic to dust an of course the place was filled with it. Sneezing I jumped when I headed someone say God bless you my child. I turned to high tail it out an bout bumped in to an older lady. I told her I was sorry bout the issues at hand. She told me it was perfectly fine the type of thing happened all the time. She walked me down the halls looking for nanny an the young female I’d heard, the lady said her name was Mary an she had worked there for years. She was so sweet. She told me the history the hospital an about the building that was off to the other side. If you had tuberculosis the building off to the side was where you went before it was an asylum. We finally ran into nanny. I seen no young girl but nanny came with me an Mary an cheated with Mary. She took us around to the front door an unlocked it an told us to have a safe trip home. Getting outside a society officer was checking out my truck. Turning his light he told us we needed to follow him an his partner back inside. They walked around made sure we didn’t do anything I did have to pay for a broken lock nanny did breaking into the place… but when I told them the nice lady Mary showed us out the lady stopped an giggled. I asked what now she told me an nanny to follow her. Ilahe took us to a small office with a bunch of pictures lining the wall an pointed to a picture of Mary. Asked if it was the woman I seen. She was in the picture with a young lady bout in her 20s wearing a older time nurs’s uniform. I said yes in confusion as I studied the oil painting. Nanny said an that’s Angel. I looked over an asked who she was. The lady officer continues to tell me we weren’t the first to be walked out by her an nanny wasn’t the first to name Angel as a friend. Mary was the head of the hospital in the 1800’s she loved her job is what is said of her an took very well care of her people there. Angel was the last nurse she ever hired on , he daughter. Her daughter was just as loving an caring as Mary, people with “issues” such as my aunt had (she wasn’t completely there after her husband passed) was Angels favorite. She would spend hours with them. One of her “issued” patients caused her her life an Mary . Officer said she started seeing angel an from where no one believed her but thought her insane, Mary never changed just talked about Angel. When the hospital was turned into an asylum they felt Mary would be more comfortable there so they moved her to room two in the wing we were in… the room I found nanny in….. Needless to say i haven’t been back in the place. It’s true hard to believe but true, there from what I understand is still a picture of Mary an Angel in the main hall .
I used to accompany my boyfriend there,his grandfather was a patient (lived there), we spent hours there visiting with him, I met a lady :that also had lived there,and had a labotamy,we called her hell on wheels, (her name was helen (and mean she was).her name was helen stigler,she lived in crooksville ohio,and married george,they had a son david,whom lives in coshocton co ohio.
I just found out that the woman who gave me up for adoption spent time here when she was about 7 or 8 years old. I would love to have those records but my guess they are long gone. I was told that she had Rickers which is a Vitamin D deficiency which apparently can cause your mental state to be unstable, who know? not me.
How do we book these places for investigations?
I have a phonetic evp for you guys I just can’t make it out
My friend and I went here and she told me the story of when she went into the graveyard she heard what sounded like a little girl laughing hysterically. It happened over and over, slowly becoming more bird-like in nature until it sounded exactly like a bird. (Because it was a bird, or at least the last noises were)
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Spend a spooky weekend in Athens, Ohio with this ghost guide
All the best creepy and historic haunts...
- Featured Trip Guides
- Ghost Guides
Created by Destination Strange - September 23rd 2016
Athens, Ohio, the picturesque historic college town is located next to the undeniably beautiful Hocking River. Home to countless museums, historic neighborhoods, and of course who could forget the pentagram cemeteries… no you didn’t read that wrong. Turns out Athens is a virtual spirit magnet!
If you’re planning a ghost story-inspired road trip to one of Ohio’s most haunted cities, here’s your Ghost Guide, for a guaranteed weekend of scares! Oh, and the layout of the town looks like the points of a pentagram, with graveyards forming the town's boundaries.
E Circle Dr, Athens, OH, US
The Ridges Lunatic Asylum
Topping the list is the Athens Lunatic Asylum, aka “The Ridges.” Operating between 1874 to 1993, The Ridges housed a variety of patients, including violent criminals diagnosed with mental disabilities. The hospital was probably best known for the primitive treatments doctors inflicted on patients, that ranged anywhere from shock treatment to the original lobotomy, the older deadlier more invasive brother to the lobotomy we recognize now.
Patients would have their skulls separated during the “procedure,” which killed many people it was inflicted upon. If you survived your brain surgery, the aftereffects were twice as worse for many patients who lost the ability to function and take care of themselves. For obvious reasons The Ridges is rumored to have become a hotbed of paranormal activity over the years.
The Asylum is located on acres and acres of land, some of which is taken up by three cemeteries that are the final resting places for many patients who lived and died at The Ridges. There are 1,930 people buried between the three cemeteries, each marked with a number. Today the grounds have been turned into the Ridges Cemeteries Nature Walk, where guests can explore, hike, or even investigate the sprits who are reported to haunt the area.
Lin Hall, Athens, OH, US
Kennedy Museum of Art
Today the Ridges has become the Kennedy Museum of Art, a gallery, educational facility, and all round awesome place. The building has been preserved for generations to enjoy, and what was once a not so great place has become an awesome community center.
Township Highway 18, Zaleski, OH, US
Moonville Tunnel was once part of the Marietta Cincinnati railroad, and at one point the area was quite remote and surrounded by a think forest of trees and brush. For years, the area was mainly used for coal mining. Though there hasn't been a train to pass through the funnel for well over 20 years, locals say that on dark nights, an old railway brakeman stands near the entrance of the tunnel, waiting for the next train to pass.
W State St & Cemetery St, Athens, OH, US
West State Street Cemetery
West State Street Cemetery is part of what’s known as the "Pentagram Cemeteries" located all across Athens. According to the legend, if you trace a line from each cemetery, you’ll get a pentagram with Wilson Hall at Ohio University smack dead in the center.
The cemeteries change depending on who you ask, but the one that always remains is West State Street Cemetery. At the entrance to the cemetery is a large angel statue that looms down on approaching guests. Eye-witnesses report that on certain nights the angel will move, speak, and even cry tears.
1 University Terrace, Athens, OH, US
According the the legend, Ohio University is the most haunted campus in the country. Established in 1804, the university is so haunted it even appeared in an episode of Scariest Places on Earth. At the center of all this paranormal activity is Wilson Hall, home to the ghost of room 428. Over the years students staying in that room have reported hearing footsteps, eye-witnessing objects moving on their own, and seeing dark shadows that seem to watch them sleep at night. The room is so haunted that the university sealed it off and no student has stayed there since.
So there you have it, a scare-fueled adventure through one of Ohio’s coolest little towns. Plan your road trip adventure today!
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History of The Ridges
The Ridges was originally developed as the site for Athens Lunatic Asylum, 150 years ago. The main structure that functioned as the mental hospital building was designed under the famous Kirkbride plan and gave this structure its memorable and beautiful layout. After years of declining patient numbers and the onset of the de-institutionalization movement in the 1980’s the mental hospital saw its inevitable end, and in the early 1990’s Ohio University acquired the entirety of the land and buildings.
Current Use of The Ridges
History At a Glance
- Dr. Thomas Kirkbride's plan outlined a new approach to the challenges of mental illness. Kirkbride advocated for Moral Treatment: An approach that emphasized humane conditions with the goal of rehabilitating patients to the highest extent possible. This included creating the physical building to certain specifications including size, access to light and fresh air, a natural setting for recreation, stimulation and farming.
- 1868 — On November 5, 1968, the first cornerstone was laid.
- 1874 — Asylum opened
- 1880 — A decade-long endeavor started, called the Healing Landscape , to update landscaping to make the area a sustainable healing community. Work included designing a water purification system and ponds, farming/working fields, boating, grading/filling/leveling fields, adding a vegetable garden and permeable boundary, livestock, a greenhouse, orchard, and more.
- 1903 — Moral Treatment model shifted to Custodial care model. This new plan shifted from asylum-based care to research-based modern medicine specialties. Cottages were constructed to house even more patients, grouping patients in dormitory-like rooms.
- Throughout the 1950s, psychiatry sought new ways to help patients and alleviate their suffering, including hydrotherapy, electro shock, lobotomy and art therapy.
- In the 1950's, a major breakthrough happened with the release of the first psychotropic drugs for treatment of mental illness. This provided sometimes dramatic improvements in mental function, reducing the need for institutionalization.
- 1970s-1980s — Asylum population was reduced from 1,800 to 200 by 1985. A new modern hospital was built (Appalachian Behavioral Health Care).
- 1988 — State transferred the facility to the stewardship of Ohio University. community contest renamed the Asylum to The Ridges.
- 1993 — Last patients transferred to nearby Appalachian Behavioral Health Care facility.
This information is largely based on the "Historical Overview of the Athens State Hospital" prepared by Nancy Recchie and is used with her permission.
The large complex of buildings sited on a wooded hillside overlooking the campus of Ohio University, which is known today as The Ridges, was originally called the Athens Lunatic Asylum and later the Athens State Hospital. As it was originally conceived during the late 19th century with additional building in the early 20th century, the construction and development of this facility for the mentally ill was a massive undertaking.
Opening in 1874, the Athens asylum represented the vanguard in the treatment of mental health patients. It was based on the ground-breaking work of Dorothea Dix, a social reformer, and Dr. Thomas Kirkbride, superintendent of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane for 43 years, who became a leader in the Moral Treatment concepts as the basis for asylum design and construction. Three Ohio mental institutions were constructed according to the “Kirkbride Plan” — Dayton, Athens, and Columbus (since demolished).
Dr. Thomas Kirkbride was a leading proponent of the theory that the institution itself - in its design and administration — played a key role in the cure of its patients.
The site was considered as important as the building, and Kirkbride suggested that mental institutions be located in the country and besurrounded by attractive scenery. In addition, he suggested that every hospital have adequate acreage for “farming, gardening, exercise, labor and occupation.” The development of the grounds began in the 1870s and continued for many years.
Landscape Architect Herman Haerlin, from Cincinnati, worked with Athens gardener George Link to create a parklike setting of approximately 60 acres. By the early 20th century, there were four ponds, a waterfall, paths and a large variety of types of trees, plants and flowers.
By the turn of the century, mental health advocates were beginning to advocate a different physical plan for treatment of the mentally ill — the cottage plan. The gaining popularity of this movement is evident from the number of independent buildings constructed during the first decade of the 20th century.
The facility adapted to evolving theories of the best practices for treating mental health patients and in the 1940’s the facility was renamed the Athens State Hospital.
This site is cherished by the local community as many residents have family members that worked at the Ridges or were patients there. The community and county residents used the grounds of the Ridges as a public park and many have fond memories of picnicking and going to see the alligator that once resided in the fountain at The Ridges. By the 1980s treatment for the mentally ill changed radically and moved away from institutionalization toward treatment in the community -- either as out-patients or in smaller group homes placed in residential neighborhood settings.
This course of action led to the closing of the Athens State Hospital complex and discussion of its possible demolition. Instead, the State of Ohio transferred the property to Ohio University, which has been gradually upgrading the buildings as new uses are found for the space.
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Metal Mondays: Burnout is not metal
Metal Mondays is a pretty self-explanatory column; it’s just my takes on music every Monday. It started as my way to write about the best musical genre, but eventually evolved into a huge passion project for me. I made it a goal to write one every week for as long as I could, and I always enjoy writing them. Naturally, I signed up for one each week of winter break that The Post published stories.
Unfortunately, this did not quite pan out the way I had hoped. Only one Metal Mondays has been published over break, and it was one that had just been held over from the previous week because of a technology issue. I was supposed to write one on New Year’s Eve, but I declined in favor of rotting on the couch before celebrating with my family.
I struggled to understand why I was abandoning my column that had brought me so much joy. On days when I could have been writing about my favorite bands and the latest heavy music drama, I was instead watching all of the “Matrix” movies and not moving from the same spot on my couch for hours at a time. This music was my greatest motivator — why would I stop writing about it for no reason other than what seemed like laziness?
I have done a lot of thinking on this. Ultimately, despite initially being in denial, I landed on the fact that I was very, very burnt out.
While this may seem like just an excuse to try and justify my objectively sloth-like behavior over break, I really do believe that I can attribute this lack of drive to overworking myself. I wrote a lot of articles for the publications I’m involved in, not including my school work and spending time with friends.
Additionally, I was turning something I love into a weekly chore. I could talk about metal music for hours without stopping, and writing about it as often as I do is an amazing opportunity. However, It was getting harder and harder to come up with topics that were not overdone, and I felt that my writing had not been meeting my standards. It began to feel like a disservice to the bands that I was writing about when my stories were published.
While I very clearly needed a break, I did not take one and kept pushing through it. Now I see that I simply needed a week where I had not signed up for an article and just read a book or listened to an album that I had been meaning to for a while.
It is good for anyone to realize these things. Especially over a break, we should be cognizant of how we feel and what we can do to help ourselves. For me, it was to stop doing something I love, which was very hard to come to terms with.
But this break from writing allowed me to really focus on the music I was listening to instead of thinking about what I could say about it in next week’s article. It has been really freeing. I’ve listened to a ton of Sepultura , appreciating it for what it is and how lucky I am to be in the same world as the Cavalera twins (instead of thinking about the band's impending final tour). I rediscovered groups I wrote about at the beginning of the semester like Scene Queen and Body Count . I even started listening to the bands that got me into metal again, like Black Sabbath and Skid Row .
This column has been a very valuable thing to me since the first installment I wrote back in September. I never thought it would become such a big deal to me, but I am so grateful for it. That being said, we should remember it is okay to take breaks from the things we love. Whether it's writing, friends or anything that we become attached to, we all need space every now and then.
Jackson McCoy is a freshman studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post . Want to share your thoughts? Let Jackson know by emailing or tweeting him at [email protected] or @_jackson_mccoy_ .
Local Bobcats celebrate the holiday season
Men’s basketball: ohio falls to toledo in its opening night of mid-american conference play, ‘anyone but you’ is much ado about nothing, the lo-down: top mid-major players in men’s college basketball, women's basketball: ohio starts 2024 with 67-58 victory over akron.
Girl, Uninterrupted: No one should be afraid of growing old
Athens Insane Asylum Cemetery
Athens lunatic asylum (the ridges), mt. nebo athens ohio, simms cemetery athens, ohio, wilson hall room 428 (ohio university), moonville: a portal to the past.
The Ridges formerly known as the Athens Lunatic Asylum was a formal mental health hospital and it has a place were they buried the deceased patients. Locals say that there are two or three asylum cemeteries at the Ridges. Yet the most famous of them is the one located at the rear corner of the grounds of the asylum. It is the only part of the Ridges that is still in the property of the state Department of Mental Health.
Many mental institutions in the United States are said to be haunted and thus The Ridges from Athens, Ohio, is no exception to that. If you have ever watched a horror movie, you must have observed that these types of buildings are presented as hulking structures with lots of cobwebs and ghosts that are waiting and haunting at each corner. The abandoned buildings are even worse when it comes to haunting rumors. The Ridges from Athens, Ohio is one of the abandoned places that are said to be powerfully haunted.
Ohio is well known for its ghost towns. Most of them were situated around the railroad or mining industry. After the company built the houses for its employees, they suddenly let the mines run dry and the railroad was not necessary anymore. Sometimes the company left the little towns with nothing behind. This is the reason some little towns from Ohio turned into ghost towns. Some of them have a special history, such as Mt. Nebo.
One of the cemeteries in Athens, Ohio is regularly surrounded by ghost stories. It is not new information that Athens has been labeled as one of the world’s most haunted places. The city is home to hundreds of ghosts and some people believe that every spot in the community must definitely have a ghost. The town of Athens seems to deserve this label, from the college campus to the old mental asylum. The story of Simms Cemetery is one of the most popular and well-known stories in the area.
The Ohio University in Athens, Ohio is perhaps the most haunted campus in the world. The place was established in 1804, a year after the statehood. It was the first institution of superior studies located west of the Appalachian Mountains. The number of allegedly haunted places on the site is quite impressive and they are added to the numerous legends regarding Athens county. Ohio University was one of the places presented in a FOX episode of the series Scariest Places on Earth.
A look at the history and legends of the ghost town of Moonville, Ohio
Ohio State Reformatory, Mansfield
Is the old Ohio State Reformatory near Mansfield one of the scariest places on earth?
Haunted Ohio! The Witch’s Tower
Atop a lonely hillside in Dayton, Ohio sits a mysterious structure. A lonely, unused sentinel,
The Ridges Athens, OH
Margaret Schilling, a patient at the Athens Mental Asylum disappeared 30 years ago. Her lifeless
The Athens Lunatic Asylum Stain | TravelwithAustin |
A brief video talking about the infamous stain at the former Athens Lunatic Asylum. Please remember Margaret was a person too.
A scene from a documentary I am working on about the ridges.
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