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Historical Fiction

October 1879

My name is Katherine and I am a nurse at the Willard Asylum for the mentally ill, I transferred a year after the building had opened ; it was rumored to be more suited to the patients needs. Unlike my previous employers who believed chaining the patients to their beds or confining them to cages was the best thing for them. The tournament these people went through was to much to take, they where starved and beaten on a daily basis. Electroshock therapy was given to all patients no matter what their aliments, most of them were lobotomized as a way of making the doctors and nurses lives a little bit easier . The building of the Willard Asylum it's self was very dark and foreboding; more like a prison then a hospital really; I came to find out that it was ran just the same. My very first day I was greeted by very a very friendly nursing staff who walked my through the in workings of the asylum; it was a very long building, Willard is one of the largest Asylums in the United States is what I was told by Marlene; she had also transferred from an Asylum in Main after witness the same atrocious conditions in her facility as I did mine. After a week of intensive training and getting to know all of the 1,500 patients and the histories of their illness, I was placed on nights with Marlene, I was comforted in knowing that I would be with a familiar face. At night the building took on a whole different personality, hallways were dark and eerie; filled with the lonely cries of those who were condemned to die here because their families didn't have he means to take care of them. Although they were free to roam the halls in the mornings, they where confined to there rooms at night; their personal effects where taken away upon admission, they had nothing to remind them of their families or the lives they had before coming to this place; sadly many of them would never see their most prized possessions ever again.

October 2021

“Okay is every one ready?” Even before anyone had a chance to answer me I was already running up the steps, my body trembling with anticipation. My body trembled in anticipation, I was standing front the very same building that a distant relative worked in 142 years prior; I told great pride in telling everyone I met that I was even named after one of the nurses that worked here.

“Katherine we are ready when you are.” My best friend Traci was in charge of all the camera equipment; she wasn't just a history buff but she was also an avid ghost hunter.

I quickly fixed my hair and clothes, it was crucial that we get everything right on the first one run through; having special permission from the State of New York we were under a very strict time limit. Before we even started filming Traci and went over the list of rules that was specified to us by the state, the most important one was that the other buildings were off limits as they were being used by the apartment of corrections. We only had permission to investigate the original building and that was good enough for me.

“Traci, make sure that the whole building in the shot, we want to capture the entire atmosphere of the Asylum. I could tell she was slightly aggravated; we were losing light and really didn't want to get stuck in the building over night.

“Okay ready and mark.” Traci gave me the signal that we finally set up and ready to go.

“I am standing in front Willard State hospital; before it changed it name in 1890 it was known as the Willard Asylum for the mentally ill. What is most interesting was before over 2000 patients called this home, the land was the home of the states first agricultural college; unfortunately the war of 1860 caused the institution to close after only a few months of it opening, in 1866 the state began construction on what would be the largest asylum in the United States and in 1877 the Willard Asylum opened its doors. Even though were are not hear looking for anything paranormal it is worth noting that doctors and patients have experienced bumps in the night. One of the most famous ghost known to haunt these halls in the woman with red hair; started out as a nurse here, died as a patient. It is unclear is to what caused her mental break; she is often seen at night roaming the halls, others claim to hear her spine chilling screams coming from all corners of the asylum. Sadly many of these patients where admitted to the asylum for things that in today's standards would we would not consider to be mental illness, a patient by the name of Joseph Lodell was spent ten years at Willard for what his doctors described as a 'rare medical disease' , while he was born a woman he felt was meant to be a man. After his tenth year he was transferred another facility where he remained for the rest of his days. Things like this where frightening and did not fit social norm. Other reasons for admitting a patient included:


Brain Fever

Female disease


small pox

jealousy and religion

false confinement

fall from a horse


Looked at like the black sheep of society they where locked away, forgotten until the day they died, many where cremated; they were the lucky ones, the rest where buried in the cemetery, because it was thought to be embarrassing for the family members, the names of the patients where not permitted to be on the grave stones; they were nothing, merely numbers.” I wiped a tear from my cheek, even though I didn't personally know any of the patients that resided here I was overcome with emotion.

Traci as well as the rest of the crew was speechless, I wasn't sure if this was a good thing or not. Margret one of my lead researches finally spoke; “That was amazing, the raw emotion was unbelievable.”

“Believe it or not Margret , I actually feel dejected about the horrific things that had taken place here.” I angrily pushed passed her and went to meet with the rest of my crew.

“Look, that is not what I meant, I understand you feel personally attached to this place. It was supposed to be a complement on your camera presence.”

I glared her once again, this time she received my message loud and clear, this wasn't just about my on camera presence, I wanted people to be empathetic to the plight that these patients had to endure.

“Sorry to interrupt; we are loosing light and still need to film the inside of the building so you two need to get over whatever this is so that we can get this done.” Traci stormed right passed us and walked right inside.

Traci was right, I had no reason to take what Margret had said so personally after all she was there to do one job, to make sure all of our facts where right. She had no attachment to the building or to the people that once called it home. After apologizing for my abrupt behavior we joined the rest of the team.

“Here's the plan, we will split up into three groups of two and one group of three; each taking a floor and gathering as much video documentation as possible. My team will take the basement, Traci yours will take the main floor and Margret you will take the attic and the upper floor because you will be covering more ground you will have an extra person. Remember this building is very old and may be structurally unsound so please be very careful.

I took Emma with me as the newest member of the team I wanted her close by my side, as we made our way into the dark damp basement my senses started to play tricks on me; shadows started darting out of the corner of my eye. I thought I heard whispering all around me. I quickly reminded myself that I need to stop being so foolish, after all there was no such things as ghosts.

“Emma, get the camera ready and please make sure the night vision is on.” I tried to hide the nervousness in my voice but by the look on Emma's face I was doing a horrible job of it.

“Why are we down here? After all your the project leader, we could have taken any other floor but this one. Not that I am afraid or anything, I was just wonder is all.” She jumped and screamed as a rat ran across the floor, the rat squeaked loudly as if it was screaming back; I am not sure who was more frightened, Emma or the rat. I took the camera, there was no way we were going to get a steady shot with her shaking like a leaf.

“There is nothing down here to be afraid of, plus I wasn't going to give up the chance to see the crematorium its where all of the records of the deceased patients are supposed to be kept, its the only way to find out who is buried there.”

After what felt like hours we finally found the crematorium, my heart sank as I looked around the room, there was plenty of interesting items but not what I was looking for. In fact this room seemed completely unscathed by time. The cremation chamber still had remnants of ashes; no one came to calm the bodies so they burned multiple bodies at a time to save on the cost of running the oven. It is said that the same could be said about the crematory, some of the grave stones had more then numbers on them which indicates that more then one body where placed in the grave.

“Lets go look for the others maybe they found something” I couldn't help feeling like I had failed.

“Why we just got here, you said upstairs that our objective was document as much as possible, we only get one shot at this. Plus it's really spooky down here; would make a great atmosphere for another ghost story.”

I knew that my strange actions would eventually need an explanation but it wasn't one that I was ready to give, so Emma and I stayed in the basement collecting video evidence. I tried to stay focused, but I couldn't help thinking that someone else was going to find the files and dismiss them as junk.

“Its really sad what happened here, I couldn't imagine being locked away forever just because society thought that there was something wrong with me.” She shivered as I handed her back the camera.

“This place treated the patients and staff much better then most of them did at that time, its to bad that we don't have the patient files so that we could track down the surviving patients.”

“Maybe the other teams found them.” Emma glanced at her watch; “ Its getting pretty late anyway, I don't know about you but I don't want to be locked in here.” She shivered once again.

When we got back upstairs, the rest of the team was impatiently waiting for us. Margret looked like she had seen a ghost.

“Lets get out of here.” Before I could ask what was wrong she was heading for the front door, when she went to pull the door open it wouldn't budge.

“What time is it?”

“9:05, why?” Margret was still pulling on the door as it if by magic it would miraculously open.

“I am not staying in here over night, there is no way in hell that we have spent eight hours in here, your watch has to be wrong.” Margret started to panic this time pulling on the door with both hands and one of her feet. Emma pulled out her phone to see if it was a possibility that her watch could be wrong; she just looked at me and shook her head.

“Lets not freak out; we can do one of two things, find somewhere to hunker down for the night and wait until they let us out in the morning, or we could see if there is another way out. Lets take a vote, who wants to stay the night?” Everyone just looked at each other, waiting for someone to raise their hands.

“Okay well I guess we are going to look for another way out, maybe will also come across something that we had missed in the process.”

“Like what? You never said you where looking for something specific.” I could feel everyone's accusing eyes glaring at me.

I cleared my throat; “What I meant was, because we are going to be in a bigger group we might find something that we had missed when we were separated.” I felt like I was being interrogated, the explanation was defiantly not good enough for my team, I don't know why I thought they would buy into my BS. I looked down and my feet, I knew if I came clean now it would destroy all the trust my team had in me.

“I came here with an alternative motive, it is true that the history of this building is nothing sort of amazing but I am really interested in finding the patient files. The ghost that everyone has reported seeing is the family member that I told you about. She was a nurse her when the asylum first opened, sometime after she suffered some sort of mental break down. Those files may hold answers to what happened to her, I am sorry that I brought you here on false pretenses but I knew that you wouldn't have came other wise.”

Emma got right it my face, she was so angry that she was visibly shaking; “You have no right to assume that, I can't believe were stuck in here all because you didn't have the guts to tell us the truth and you don't even know if the files where found, Traci and her team searched the entire main floor which included the administration office, how would you know that.”

She was absolutely right, amongst all the panic I didn't have a chance find out what my team had found. Traci pulled a huge stack of files out of her bag, she was the only one that was not cross with me.

“I knew what you where here for, I came happened to stumble on the nurses name when I was researching the asylum. The last name looked familiar so I pulled up your family tree and sure enough she was right there on your mothers side. I also know that you weren't just interested in the patient files, the emotion you displayed when you where talking about the travesties that had taken place here was very real.” She handed my aunts file;

Katherine Williams

Mrs. Williams, a former patient at Willard Asylum suffered a psychotic episode when she was brutally attacked by another patient during a routine bed check. She was placed under the care of DR. Bryon Becket.

Death: suicide by hanging

buried on march 7th 1897

age 27

patient number 453-5688-458

The tears flowed as I read the file, after all these years I had finally found out what happened to my aunt. Margret tried to console me but it was all for not, I was overwhelmed with so much emotion. I dried my eyes and faced my friends once again, this time my apology came from the heart.

Mark, the quietest member of my team stood up; “Look we are all exhausted, why don't we get some sleep and in the morning we will check out the graveyard. As much a we are all a little perturbed with you at the moment, the fact of the matter is we got some amazing footage but what would really put the icing on the cake is finishing off at the graveyard.”

We couldn't get out fast enough when the doors opened the very next morning, I was never going to complain about crappy mattress ever again. She apologized profusely for locking us in, she told us that she had seen the vehicles parked out front but was to afraid to go into the building to check if we were still in there. We told her all would be forgiven if we could have access to the graveyard. Without hesitation she took us across the street and opened the gate.

Hiding very back of the cemetery under a very large oak tree was the grave that we had been searching for.

“Thanks to the and dedication of my team, we had found the missing patient files. Unfortunately we only found twenty out of the 2000 files that had been kept within the asylum walls, we were also informed by the grounds keeper that buy law we weren't aloud to release the names of the patients unless we were directly related to them, that being said I am standing in front of the grave of Katherine Williams, no longer a number she will exhumed and placed with the rest of my family where she will remain for the rest of her days.  

March 19, 2021 03:59

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1 comment

Amber Brownlee
04:07 Mar 19, 2021

I had a lot of fun doing research for this story, Joseph Lodell was an actual patient there. The ghost with the red hair was a doctor of the asylum, not a nurse and it wasn't specified how she became a patient there. My main characters in both past and present were factious.


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