I have always had an obsession with all things creepy, especially abandoned places. This summer my mom surprised me an abandoned weekend with my best friends (most people's nightmare, my dream vacation). The trip originally consisted of camping at an abandoned amusement park for the whole weekend and ghost hunting there (we had the owner's permission, don't worry!). While on the long car drive there, I started to research what else was in the area. My moms GPS suggested a place called Swannanoa Palace so we stopped there first. This huge marble palace was in the middle of nowhere, right behind an abandoned portion of the highway called Rockfish Gap.
The building was in obvious decay but there were multiple cars parked out front. It had turned out we were lucky enough to get there right before closing. We walked the whole palace, viewing the beautiful architecture, the stunning stain glass, and the decaying gardens. After exploring as much of the palace as we could (much was blocked off due to structural dangers), we got back in the car and headed to our campsite for the night. We set up camp at the amusement park (Lake Shawnee) with the group hosting the event. The most famous part about this abandoned park is the huge Ferris wheel that has been reclaimed by nature.
It towers over the lake and stands next to a spinning swing ride where a little girl died after a truck backed into the swings in motion. There are stories about seeing a man sitting in one of the Ferris wheel carts. We spent the night investigating the many different (creepy) parts of this park. The next morning, I told my mom how there is an abandoned asylum about an hour away and I have always dreamed about going to one. Mom got in our car and said "Alright, let's go then.". We drove through a pretty populated town, especially for the areas we had been in so far, and came up on a huge building in a state of ruins: St Albans Sanitorium. We pulled up the drive cautiously, hoping not to get caught considering we were trespassing (which I do not in any way recommend!). We pull into a parking spot and see a sign for "gift shop" which was very confusing considering it was abandoned and had previously been an asylum, not really a gift stop.
As I am staring in awe at this incredible building in front of me, a girl, about my age, walks out the front door and towards our car. Fully convinced she's a ghost, I look at my mom wide-eyed as she gets out of the car. She talks to the girl, the girl goes inside, peeks her head back out the door and says something to my mom, and my mom starts walking back to our car. She opens the door and says "Okay, let's go". Luckily, we happened to pull up just as the caretaker and his daughter were finishing up their rounds and they were the nicest people on the face of the earth because they offered to give us a tour. We go into the gift shop and meet our tour guides and they lead us down a hallway with soda and snack machines and open a door to complete darkness. We look to our tour guides who say "oh, yeah you probably should have brought flashlights, Maybe use your phones?". One thing I never thought of was how incredibly dark abandoned buildings are, especially the basement rooms. We walked through dark, twisting hallways, the guides with the confidence of people who have done it a million times, us with the confidence of terrified, lost tourists who were kind of concerned they were being led to their death and it was all an act (looking back, we probably shouldn't have trusted the strangers to take us into a dark building with no one around, again don't follow my example).
Some rooms had wheelchairs, some had stretchers, others had weird levers that looked like something Kronk would not want to pull. The whole place had a terrifying feel like people were watching you around everyone corner. From rooms filled with toys with writing along the walls, to rooms with magazines page glued to the wall and holes punched through them, the whole building felt very eerie.
We saw the fenced in rooftop area for the patients to get some fresh air and we saw the rooms that had giant, suspicious tubs that even the caretakers didn't want to talk about. At some point during our tour, we heard voices traveling through the hall and our tour guide went to investigate as we stood there, nearly peeing ourselves from fear. It had turned out some kids were attempting to trespass, and he told them to get out and continued with us. Finally, after walking through this massive building for about an hour and a half, the tour guide turned to us and said "are you ready for the creepiest part?". He led us down twirling, tight staircases, which if I remember correctly, required ducking (which I didn't do, and slammed my head on a low ceiling immediately). He led us down a pitch black hallway with no windows or source of light at all (which makes sense since we were at least one floor underground). He opened a creaky door and we went into a completely dark room. The room had a feeling about it I can't explain but I still can remember perfectly. It felt open, but also like it was full and like there were people there watching from the outskirts of the room. We turned our flashlights on our phones on as fast as humanly possible to see a two lane bowling alley in front of us. The room was massive and so empty every sound echoed of the graffiti covered walls.
We turned our flashlights off again to see how dark it was and my friend noticed something glowing in the mechanisms behind the pin deck at the very end of the lane. I will never understand how this girl did it, because this place was gross, terrifying, pitch black, and literally falling apart around us, but she climbed underneath the giant machinery to figure out what this red glowing thing was.
It turned out it was a big bouncy ball that glows when you shake it, which is weird considering we were the only ones there and had been in other rooms for the past two hours, but this thing was glowing bright enough for this girl to see from the end of the lane. We left the ball, and started to walk out, not forgetting to purchase our asylum memorabilia and tipping our incredibly kind tour guides on the way out. Overall, the experience was terrifying. From my mother feeling like she was being chased, me feeling watched only to turn around and find two holes in the wall with the saying "look behind you", my friend finding a blood stained wall, and my other friend getting lost in a dressing room full of mannequins, the asylum held quite a bit of terror and excitement for us.
One of the most terrifying parts about the tour however, was realizing that people lived this. Not only can you see the evidence of torture, whether it be the electroshock room and the hydrotherapy room, but you can feel it. The whole building is filled with a sense of torment and pain. The damage of the buildings is almost symbolic of the damage the building caused to those that were admitted there. The trip was incredible, but our unplanned, unintentional, total surprise tour of St Albans Sanitorium will forever stick out in my mind. Not only did it provide me with some awesome and creepy photos (for more, check out my Instagram mmae_photography), but it also filled me with a sense of sorrow for the mentally ill that were tormented here. It has awoken a hunger in me for more adventures to abandoned asylums, and though I have been lucky enough to visit a few more (such as Eastern State Penitentiary), it is very hard to find abandoned places that are legal to visit, so I am still on the hunt for more! Remember, as incredible as this experience was, it is not worth getting arrested, so please do not trespass. If you decide to explore the ruins of the past, please do so with permission and/or guides, as these buildings are dangerous. Explore at your own risk!