WESTON, W.Va. -- Haunted places aren't born. They're made. And if ever there were a place in West Virginia that earned the dubious honor of being called haunted, it would be the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, formerly Weston State Hospital.
Nearly a quarter of a mile long and carved from native sandstone, the imposing Victorian-era mental hospital treated and mistreated, housed and incarcerated generations of the ill and the misunderstood.
Stories about the institution and its inhabitants have become legend. Newspaper reports spoke of Weston residents hearing screams coming from the hospital at night -- and the staff says ghosts roam the halls.
"I don't want to believe in ghosts or the supernatural," manager Rebecca Jordan Gleason said, "but I've seen things here that are hard to explain by any other way."
One afternoon when she was on the fourth floor, 40 doors suddenly closed all at once.
"One would be pretty scary," Gleason said. "Forty at once was terrifying."
It all sounds like a pretty convenient story for someone who, for the past six years, has put on what's becoming one of the state's more popular Halloween destinations, but Gleason isn't asking anyone to believe her. People can come and, for $10 per person, they can take the tour and make up their own minds.
A lot of them have.
Bill Slaughter of Buckhannon made a return trip with his family.
"We came up two years ago and bought the VIP package," he said. "There were people everywhere, and you had to wait four hours just to get into the haunted house."
The haunted house is a separate attraction and is overseen by Gleason's brother, John Jordan. It's a mainstream Halloween haunted house with about 65 volunteers waiting on the other side of the creaking door to scare the living daylights out of anyone brave enough to come through.
Last Saturday night, during the asylum's annual fall festival, parking along the West Fork River was packed tightly. Visitors parked wherever they could, pulled up on the sidewalk in front of the grounds or else hoofed it from down the road somewhere.
The crowd easily numbered in the thousands, and the tours of the asylum ballooned from quiet groups of six or eight people to chaotic mobs of nearly 30.
"We saw about 25,000 people last year," Gleason said. "On our busiest nights, we had maybe 2,000 people standing around on the lawn, waiting to get in."
They've even had to turn people away.
"You hate to do something like that," she said.
Fun is fun but, eventually, everybody has to go home, and a lot of the volunteers over at the haunted house have school in the morning.
Visitors to the asylum seem to mostly come from out of town.
"We get a lot of people from Morgantown and Pittsburgh, some from Ohio and people from Charleston and other parts of the state," Gleason said, but acknowledged that locally, they're not a huge hit.
Local people, she said, are wary of the place and aren't especially happy with what her family is doing with the property.
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, later renamed Weston State Hospital, was constructed through the mid-1800s. It was built following the Kirkbride plan, a popular system of asylum design developed by eminent 19th-century psychiatrist and mental-health advocate Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride.
Kirkbride advocated open space, fresh air, sunlight and seclusion from many of the urban pollutants sometimes considered the probable cause of certain mental illnesses. The asylum was surrounded by hundreds of acres, including woods, gardens and farmland. Patients were encouraged to work and help make the facility self-sufficient.
Kirkbride advocated humane treatment of the mentally ill. However, a century of overcrowding, declining public funding and interest, lack of oversight -- as well as numerous treatment fads -- led to scandalous conditions, neglect and the sort of incidents that are the fuel of nightmares.
The hospital closed in 1994 and, nearly two decades later, much of the building's interiors could pass for Hollywood horror movie sets. By the yellow light of tour guide Andrea Lamb's flashlight, it doesn't take much encouragement to imagine there might be things lurking in the corners of the ceiling, watching.
Some of the other guides talk a bit more about spectral experiences and ghostly encounters. In one room, people claimed to have seen a boy standing in a corner. A few of the guides have seen and felt things themselves.