Past the rolling hills of West Virginia I ride for three hours until I see the sign for Weston. This small town is home to the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, a place that had been in operation from 1864 until closing it’s doors in 1994.
Initially it was the architecture that spurred my desire to travel here, to see this historic building with my own eyes, feel it under my own experience. As I approached the front gate though, men and women in stark white nursing uniforms of old let me know that there was much more to this place.
I slowly walked up the entrance steps and in to TALA.
We start by strolling the hospital grounds and learning the history of the place here, from Civil War stories to the types of people that were put in this place. A building that housed only patients with tuberculosis, a children’s ward, the lock down rooms of those unfortunate souls that received lobotomies, blood letting, and other “cures” for mental illness in the late 19th and early 20th century.
As Macey, our guide, shows us the different floors, you can see the remains of the torturous souls that resided here. Marks on the inside of metal doors and plumbing pipes where a persons head was repeatedly pounded by self infliction, most likely trying to expel the demons in their mind.
Surrounding these hallways are the Doctors quarters, where whole families of the treating physicians would stay. It’s a stark contrast to the bleak and empty patient rooms, filled with beautiful artwork and comfortable living rooms. I wonder how the screams of the thousands of patients were blocked out though…..
It’s a place where you fill in the emptiness with your imagination, trying to picture what the faded paint and peeling wood would say if it could speak.
Iron bed frames and gurney straps, lone wheelchairs and broken rockers.
I come to the patient art gallery, where paintings show some insight of the people that were here.
Lonely writings to scary self depictions, you can see their thoughts strewn onto paper.
It makes you wonder about the power we give to human beings to choose who is Sane vs. Insane.
Mentally ill vs. Normal.
Crazy vs. Fine.