Horrors and Hauntings at Alton State Hospital

Posted by junketseo in Chicago Ghost Tours
Horrors and Hauntings at Alton State Hospital - Photo

As is the case with most mental hospitals from the early 1900s, the patients of the Alton State Hospital were subjected to cruel and inhumane ‘treatments’ under the guise of medical progress. Patients unlucky enough to land within its thick walls found themselves victims of the abuse that Alton State Hospital was famous for.

Keep reading to uncover the horrors and hauntings of the Alton State Hospital. And be sure to book a Chicago ghost tour with Windy City Ghosts to check out the most haunted places in Chicago!


Alton State Hospital History


In the autumn of 1912, the State Board of Administration, along with State Architext W. Carbys Zimmerman, visited Upper Alton to find a site for the new hospital for the ‘insane’ and to relieve overcrowding in other hospitals.

In 1913, Senator Edmond Beall introduced a bill in the Legislature for $500,000 to start construction on the hospital. By July of that same year, the land was purchased from William Cartwright, Edward Rogers, Colonel Andrew Rodgers, and Harriet Kirkpatrick. The purchase included farmhouses and existing buildings.

A year later, problems arose between some politicians in Chicago who wanted the state hospital to be built closer to the city center. There were difficulties with roadways, utilities, and transportation to the hospital that Alton officials claimed to be unaware of. Eventually, in March of 1914, cattle and other livestock started to arrive at the property. By 1915, work began on the hospital itself, and even though it had not officially opened its doors to the public, small numbers of patients began to arrive on-site as well. By October, five hospital buildings were completed but not fully utilized.

Finally, in 1917, the hospital was ready to welcome patients from other hospitals. Dr. George Zeller, previously from the Peoria Insane Hospital, became Alton State’s new superintendent. He was a pioneer in mental health and was credited with starting the movement that resulted in occupational therapy as a treatment for various mental health disorders. He believed strongly in the ‘non-restraint’ policy, stating that caging patients did not heal them, and believed that they should be free to roam as they please. No locks or bars existed on the doors or windows.

Unfortunately, the policy started to trouble farmers on neighboring properties as patients began to ‘escape’ the hospital and roam on other properties, frightening children and residents. In 1922, hospital patients were even blamed for the burning of the Culp School.

Like many other hospitals of the time, Alton State Hospital was also a working farm. It was believed that work and responsibility were necessary in treating mental health crises. Alton State Hospital became well known for its gorgeous grounds. Patients were allowed to care for the cattle, other animals, and plants, including a well-stocked fish pond, apple orchard, and even tobacco crops. One patient even grew peanuts, which they then sold in Upper Alton.

In 1918, the hospital recognized the need for an attached cemetery for those who died and were unknown or unclaimed. Later, the hospital was even used to house shell-shocked soldiers coming home from the horrors of WWI.


The Horrors of Alton State


In 1921, Dr. Zeller resigned from Alton State and returned to Peoria State Hospital, where he found mass neglect. He checked himself into the hospital for three days, living in a different ward every night. His experience was so profound that he ordered that every staff member live life at the hospital as an ‘inmate,’ as they were once called.

The death of Dr. Zeller removed a distinguished part of the community for the improvement of the care of the mentally ill. His belief in lockless units and a zero-restraint policy removed the stigma of those with mental illnesses and found other treatments that became more successful, such as occupational therapy.

By the 1940s, hydrotherapy and electro-convulsive therapy were introduced at the hospital. By this time, the hospital had 757 patients, with over 65,000 hours of hydrotherapy performed in one year. By 1959, the patient population was 1,775, with a hospital capacity of only 1,084. With overcrowding came issues of abuse and neglect. The hospital also started to see lobotomies.

The Department of Mental Health assumed control of the hospital in 1961 and changed its name to Alton Mental Health Center in 1975. It is primarily a forensic services provider, with about 200 court-ordered patients living there. A high-security building was completed in 1997 — a stark difference from the free-range patients of Alton’s past with Dr. Zeller were accustomed to.


Spirits of Alton State


The heavy energy felt here by the patients has stuck around, and the atrocities experienced by former patients are a key ingredient for souls refusing to give up contact with the physical world. Today, the current Alton Mental Health Center staff have had some of the strangest experiences.

Staff and visitors report hearing unusual sounds, disembodied voices, and slamming doors. Nurses on duty report hearing a quiet voice that asks, ‘Who is that?’ Others report the sensation of being touched, and one photo even showed a bright orb with a vision of a man’s face in agony.

While the facility is still operational today, ghost investigators who manage to visit are told by spirits to get out and are promptly pushed out of the room.


Haunted Illinois


Alton is considered one of the most haunted small towns in America. Its sordid past of tragedy, murder, and death has led to its extremely haunted present. Several locations in Alton are said to be haunted, including the infamous McPike Mansion, the First Unitarian Church, and the Milton School. The city itself has even been featured in countless articles and TV shows, and Mark Twain once referred to Alton, Illinois, as a ‘dismal little river town.’

Alton State Hospital offers just a glimpse of the hauntings that Alton has to offer.

If you prefer a hands-on experience, book a ghost tour with us at our website here! You’ll experience some of America’s most haunted locations in a way you’ve never before.