The Athens Lunatic Asylum Also known as The Ridges is in Athens Ohio. It was built in 1867 and designed by architect Levi T. Scofield. He had originally took inspiration for his design from a book of mental hospital designs written by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride. The asylum is 4 stories tall, 853 feet long, 60 feet wide and was originally built on 141 acres of land. It took six years to build the asylum and it finally opened its doors on January 9, 1874. The main building’s structure consisted of the main administration building, a right-wing and a left-wing. The administration building held the entrance hall, offices and a reception area, while the wings indicated the women and men sections. Behind the main building was the laundry and boiler rooms. Behind and underneath the private and public space in each wing there were heating and mechanical systems, kitchens, storerooms, cellars and, workspaces for residence and staff. A lot of the work in the asylum was done by patients that were still well enough to work.
Outside the building, they had a lake, wooded areas, a waterfall, and a spring to help create a relaxing and welcoming environment. Over the years the building owners obtained more land and the grounds grew from just 141 acres to 1,019 acres. They now had room for a greenhouse, orchard, livestock and gardens. They even had a carriage shop in the earlier years. They also added several cottages and a tuberculosis ward to help prevent overcrowding.
The asylum went through several name changes over the years. After just two years it was changed to Athens Hospital for the Insane. The asylum had around five different names over the years but the last name while it was still open was Athens Mental Health and Development center. It wasn’t renamed to the Ridges until 2001 after it was closed and began getting renovated.
Overcrowding and Cruel Treatment
Like many institutes around this time, the asylum would often pay for patients leading families to give their disturbed relatives to the asylum for care and easy money. A lot of the patients also arrived due to court orders meaning a lot of these people didn’t have living family or had been disowned.
The buildings could house up to 572 patients but quickly grew past maximum capacity. The asylum took in the elderly, homeless, alcoholics, and even rebellious teenagers that parents couldn’t handle. From slight distress to severe mental illness, and even violent criminals all were housed in this one asylum but all got different levels of treatment to fit the situation. People could be admitted for a list of things such as epilepsy, menopause, drug addiction and, tuberculosis among other ‘illnesses’. Due to this, there was overcrowding regardless of how many buildings they had. In the 1950s they were using 78 buildings and had 1,800 patients. By 1960 they had 2,000 patients. This was over three times the max capacity and led to patients becoming aggressive with one another and staff.
Some of the cruel treatment methods used for the patients at the asylum consisted of hydrotherapy, ice water baths, electroshock therapy, restraints and, psychotropic drugs. One of the most prominent and commonly used methods was the lobotomy. This procedure was thought to be the cure to numerous ailments but often left patients in a vegetable-like state or sometimes even killed them. The doctors here performed over 200 lobotomies. Around this time in the 1960s, the asylum began to decline new patients and people had started to be de-institutionalized over the next few decades as mental health was being better understood. This led to the buildings being abandoned and fall into disrepair one by one.
A Violent Criminal Patient
In 1977, there was a huge court case involving Billy Milligan. He was being charged with several felonies including kidnapping, armed robbery and three counts of rape on the Ohio State University campus. His defense claimed he suffered from a multiple personality disorder and when he was examined by a psychologist he was officially diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder and it was found he had suffered from this since childhood. Milligan was the first person to have his case acquitted for such serious charges on the count of insanity, or mental disorder.
He was sent to several different mental health hospitals including Athens. During his stays at these hospitals it was reported at first he had 10 different personalities but later they found he had 14 more. After spending a decade in mental health hospitals, he was discharged. He later died of cancer at the age of 59 in an Ohio nursing home on December 12, 2014.
The Missing Patient
In 1978 on the 1st of December a patient was reportedly playing a game of hide and seek with some of the nurses. Her name was Margaret Shilling. The story claims while playing this game with the nurses they got distracted and continued with their duties forgetting to look for Margret. Margaret was missing for several weeks until a maintenance man found her body on January 12, 1979. She had somehow managed to sneak into a part of the building that had been abandoned a year prior and got locked in. Her body was found lying naked and severely decomposed with her clothes folded neatly in a pile next to her. After they removed the body it was found that her bodily fluids had left a stain on the concrete floor and no matter how many times they scrubbed the floor the stain could not be removed. It is now a popular spot for tourists to want to visit today. It’s also said that you can still hear and sometimes see Margaret’s ghost in and around that room.
Cemeteries on the Grounds
The asylum needed to construct three cemeteries to accommodate the dead that had either no family or had never been claimed by their families. Up until 1943, the patients who died at the asylum and were buried on the grounds had headstones with only their patient numbers on them. Their names are now lost having only been written down in record ledgers that are now nonexistent. Only one record book remains giving names to just 1,700 graves out of over 2,000.
After 1980 the State had stopped caring for the three cemeteries which left it open for teens to vandalize and natural elements to damage the headstones. Many of the headstones had been uprooted, broken or stolen. In 2000 the Athens Ohio National Alliance of Mental Health began to reclaim the graves and repair them as much as possible. The grounds are now under the care of the Ohio Department of Mental Health today.
Conversion into the College and Museum
By 1981 the asylum had fewer than 300 patients and many abandoned buildings and so they decided to transfer 300 acres of land to the Ohio State University. In 1988, the Ohio Department of Mental Health gave the deed to the grounds, excluding the cemeteries, and the facilities to the Ohio State University but the doors didn’t officially close for the asylum until 1993. The remaining patients had to be transferred to other facilities in the area.
The facility sat abandoned and crumbling for several years until the university began renovations. In 2001 the main building was called Lin Hall and consisted of music, geology, biotechnology offices, storage and the Kennedy Museum of Art. Many of the other buildings got re-purposed and renovated to become classes and dorms but a lot still sit abandoned and in ruins. Mostly because they are full of asbestos and lead and would be dangerous to the health of the community if they were to be torn down.
What Makes it Haunted?
Many patients died at the asylum, along the line of 2,000 souls are buried in on the grounds. A lot of the elderly were sent to the asylum and a lot of people died from tuberculosis as well. Margaret died in the abandoned upper floor and people died from lobotomies as well as other brutal medical treatments and this can cause a tortured soul to stay behind.
But besides the deaths of the patients at the asylum, there are other reasons why many people believe this location to be haunted. If you look at the Ridges, Athens Lunatic Asylum, on a map you can draw lines connecting to five cemeteries that surround the area. The lines connect and make a pentagram with the asylum in the middle of the star. The five cemeteries are Simms, Hanning, Cuckler, Higgins, and Zion. A lot of people believe this is why the area is so haunted, but another reason could be due to the West Green building was built on Indian Burial ground. I know this is a common excuse for hauntings but it’s claimed that you can hear native Americans chanting and music playing at night in this area.
People have reported seeing shadow figures darting across hallways and into empty rooms. People have claimed to also see phantom figures standing behind them in mirrors.
People have also reported seeing apparitions through windows of buildings nobody has access to. The most common types of activities are disembodied voices, or EVP’s and shadowy figures hiding in rooms and darting down the hallway.
How you can visit.
While still being an active and open college, they still have tours that you can go on. Not all tour guides like talking about the haunted or ghostly aspect of the building and will only discuss the history of it but on Halloween they have special tours. These tours get filled up quickly so you’ll need to buy tickets and reserve your spot early. You can check out the detailed information here.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.