The Athens Mental Health Center, in Athens County, is located on a hill across the Hocking River in Ohio. It opened in January 9, 1874 on land purchased from a local farmer named Coates’s. In recent years, the State Hospital campus last known as ‘The Ridges”, has been absorbed into the Ohio University campus and now houses several of the University buildings. Obviously, lots of changes have taken place on this plot of land, but there still exists some original remnants of the old institution - not entirely physical remnants though…
Many years ago, mental institutions were considered bizarre places indeed. The Athens Mental Health Center was an infamous facility that was used to house the criminal insane. Various stories exist of atrocities that occurred within its walls. Beatings, tortures, and other cruel forms of punishment were apparently the norm for its day and there have even been many reports of deaths and murders occurring within facility's walls.
Roaming The Grounds At Athens
The institution was closed in the 1980’s during the time when Reagan closed many of the state’s hospitals in order to force budget savings. Many of the inmates were simply released on the streets and now account for much of Athens’s relatively large homeless population. Ohio University acquired most of the institution’s campus and many of the buildings have been or are being refurbished to be used as administration buildings. Several of the buildings are opened to the public where interested parties can take guided tours and hear of the atrocities and horrendous treatment of the hospital's inmates.
One of the more popular stories provides the tourists with a vivid and grim reminder of how important a ‘normal’ functioning mind can be. Shortly before the institution closed, an inmate named Margaret Schilling disappeared from the campus. The January 12, 1979 issue of the Athens Post ran a story on it and asked the public for any assistance they could provide. A search party was assembled but no trace of Marge could be found. The center then closed and nothing more was thought about the missing patient. A few weeks later, a maintenance man named Clarence Allison was working in Ward N.20 when he made a shocking discovery in the attic of the facility. Marge’s body, which had been decaying for 5 weeks, was found sprawled on the floor. They reasoned that Marge had hidden in the attic of the building. Demented and unable to care for herself, Marge had simply died of starvation in the very spot she chose to hide. Her body laid near one wall and was somewhat decomposed.
After removing the body,
the officials were surprised to find a perfect outline of her body superimposed
on the floor. The outline revealed many details, the folds and wrinkles of her
clothes and even the style of hair she wore at death, were clearly visible. The
stain was cleaned but mysteriously reappeared. After many more cleanings it was
soon apparent that the stain was not going anywhere. Scientists reasoned that
the stain was caused by the decomposition of here body, an occurrence not
entirely unheard of.
Today, the stain on the marble floor is still very visible and is a focal point of the campus tours.
Another focal point of the facility is one of the campus’s notorious cemeteries. The cemetery still remains, located on the edge of the grounds, as a grim reminder of the institution’s earlier days. Consisting of perfectly straight rows of graves, the inmates were not even given the dignity of a marked grave. Each plot contains a small stone engraved with nothing more than the resident’s number. In one area of the cemetery, amongst the perfectly straight rows of unmarked graves, is a circular arrangement of headstones. Nobody is sure why the graves were arranged in this manner, as there is nothing apparently unique about graves. What is known though, is that this particular spot is a favorite meeting place for witch havens and other alternative religions.
The most talked about and most frequent sighting is of an old man, wearing a hooded robe, who chases people out of the cemetery with his sickle. Simms Cemetery, also listed as one of the top haunted places on Earth by the British Society for Psychical Research, is where you’ll find the Hanging Tree. The cemetery was named after John Simms, a local official known for his many trials and hangings during the 1800’s. The tree still stands and the rope scars are still quite visible to anyone brave enough to approach it. West State Cemetery, currently unused, also has a large number of reported hauntings. Containing many unmarked graves, graves of fallen soldiers, and even a few infamous killers, the cemetery contains an odd piece of art called the Angel Statue. The statue, placed there to commemorate the fallen soldiers buried on the grounds, has been reported by many to flap its wings and to weep real tears.
Stranger still, the 5 area cemeteries, if viewed on a map, form the perfect shape of a pentagram with Wilson Hall, a building located on the Athens campus, lying smack dab in the middle of the geometric arrangement. Wilson Hall, located on the West Green, was first opened in 1964. Most new students find out quickly that Wilson Hall is reputed to be haunted. In fact, one room, room 428, is closed and permanently sealed due to the number of unusual sightings reported there. Students tell stories of objects flying off of shelves and smashing into the walls, doors mysteriously opening and closing, toilets flushing, and the appearance of the ghost of the student who died in the room. The student, deeply involved in the occult, was killed or committed suicide in the room during the 1970’s. It was said that the student practiced astro projection, a method where the human spirit separates from the body and travels on its own. There were also rumors that she often dabbled in sorcery.
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