I figured you might be interested in the research trip I took to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (TALA) in Weston, WV. First, a few facts. TALA was built in 1864 and used continuously until 1994, which is a damn long time for a building here in the US (I know my European friends are rolling their eyes at this point). It was built on the Kirkbride plan, which is responsible for the classic look of many Victorian insane asylums. According to our tour guide, Sarah, almost 300 Kirkbride-style buildings were constructed; of these, less than 10 remain, and TALA is the only one you can legally visit.
Coming into Weston, I missed a turn somewhere, but that didn’t matter because the sheer size of the building means it’s pretty freaking hard to miss. Seriously, it is massive. The length of the building from one end to the other is 1,295 feet – nearly a quarter mile long! There was no way I could get a picture of more than a relatively small section at a time.
The imposing entrance. Note the restored clock tower on top. It only has clock faces on three sides; the fourth faced the direction of the fields some inmates worked in order to supply the asylum with food. Without a clock, they had no way of knowing how long they had been working.
TALA offers heritage tours and ghost tours. I chose the 4-floor heritage tour, because I was there to get a sense of the building and the realities of day-to-day life inside.
The restored superintendent’s office, just inside the front door.
A collection of antique wheelchairs.
“Trustworthy” patients were house in the wards on the ground floor. This is the restored sitting room, as it would have appeared in the late 1800s.
The view from inside a patient room.
The restored hallway of the first floor ward.
Carved faces, meant to ward off evil spirits. The Celtic masons hired to build the asylum believed evil could only enter through the back, so only the back entrances have these carvings.
The unrestored children’s ward on the second floor. Children with Down’s syndrome, autism, or other disabilities were often housed in mental asylums. When grown, they would move to the adult wards, where they would spend the rest of their lives.
Next time, we’ll visit the staff quarters!