Is there any location that is more the stuff of nightmares than a 19th century insane asylum? A staple of horror fiction for a very good reason, these half-hospitals, half-prisons of yore are simply permeated with horrific associations with medicine’s crude and unenlightened past and the many patients who have passed through over the years.
Though it has modernized and changed its name over the years, the San Antonio State Hospital remains much of what it used to be when it was opened in the late 19th century. Still an operating facility for the mentally ill and bearing the classical architecture (if not the original buildings) that has made it a San Antonio icon, San Antonio looks at once impressive and a little foreboding. That it looks foreboding is no wonder, as its history of overcrowding, violence, and cruelty has made the tales of what happened within the hospital the stuff of nightmares. Life at the hospital was not easy for the mentally ill, and though more than a few have died there over the years, there are those who say they’ve never truly left its haunted grounds…
History of the San Antonio State Hospital
The Southwestern Insane Asylum was opened in San Antonio on April 6, 1892. Built on a lot of 640 acres with the capabilities of caring for 500 mentally ill patients, it was a marvel of health care, a living, self-sustaining community with its own crops, livestock and even a lake for fishing. As time went on and the needs of the community only expanded, more room was needed for more patients. In 1912, an expansion program was initiated that grew the hospital’s capabilities to accommodate 1,140 patients.
By 1925, the terms “lunatic” and “asylum” were no longer seen as appropriately sensitive to the work that was being undertaken, and so the facility was renamed the San Antonio State Hospital. Around this time the hospital’s occupancy was at approximately 2,100 patients, one of the rare times in the hospital’s history when it would have enough beds for all of its patients. Occupancy would soon exceed capacity to some pretty intense degrees, with deteriorating conditions in the hospitals and an increasingly cruel staff toward the patients.
Attempts to alleviate this issue were made over the years, including the administration of modern therapeutic techniques construction of 5 new buildings in 1939, but within a year the hospital was again overcrowded, pushing away any new patients they could not care for. World War II veteran Stephen Aldridge, a patient for a few months in 1942, described the conditions of the hospital, saying, “Never again do I want to experience the sight of such cruelties.” Not mentally ill himself, he would describe orderlies and doctors abusing mentally ill patients without any oversight or repercussions.
Mysterious deaths of otherwise healthy patients plagued the hospital over the decades. 19-year-old Chuahtemco Garcia was not physically ill when admitted to San Antonio State Hospital, yet died within 3 days of admittance. Raul G. Chapa died after 11 days, even though his own doctor stated that his mental condition could not have contributed to his death and that he was physically healthy.
One unnamed 75-year-old man was beaten, starved and dehydrated so severely over the course of 15 days that he lost 30 pounds before dying. These are only the deaths that were publicly reported, it is entirely likely according to some sources that many may have been covered up.
Conditions were so poor in the hospital that people who were admitted were often said to be on the “March of Death.” Reports of these cruelties and unexplained deaths did lead to several investigations of the conditions of the hospital over the years, though few have resulted in anything more than the most token of actions.
San Antonio State Hospital was officially integrated in 1964, which while a step forward toward progress, only further stretched thin the hospital’s resources and increased the cruelties of the staff toward patients.
Though San Antonio State Hospital has modernized and remains an operating mental health care facility, its online reviews of unsatisfied patients and family members would seem to indicate that it has not improved terribly over the years. Sure, it may not have the reputation for death and degradation that it may once have had, but it is far from the kind of place that you’d want to take a vacation to, let alone seek out quality mental health care from.
Ghosts of the San Antonio State Hospital
Is it any wonder that with a history as long and sordid as the San Antonio State Hospital’s that there have been reports of hauntings and other supernatural events over the years? With such violence and cruelty as this hallowed building has witnessed, it has had more than its share of tales and unexplained occurrences.
Though there aren’t any specific personalities typically assigned with the spirits and specters said to stalk the hallways, unexplained noises are not uncommon within the hospital. People have reported unexplained voices, footsteps, doors slamming and even screams. Cold spots and the occasional intense feeling of being watched, even when alone, have been reported as well. Some have stated that these are related to the many who’ve died at the hospital over the years, while other rumors claim that the grounds are littered with unmarked graves for those who’d died under less than legitimate circumstances.
Current and former employees and residents of the hospital have claimed the hospital to be haunted, stating that it felt ‘wrong’ and ‘creepy’ and that they were glad to be rid of it. Some employees have claimed that the hospital holds a distinct feeling of death in the air and that they saw and heard things that were beyond any explanation.
A Common Misconception
As an active mental health facility, the San Antonio State Hospital is not exactly a tourist destination. Recent photographs of an abandoned facility that claims to be the San Antonio State Hospital are actually of a nearby former juvenile home for boys. While it is no doubt creepy, it is also in a dangerous state of decay and patrolled by a regular police presence, which, in addition to not actually being the abandoned mental institute of many a ghost-hunter and urban explorer’s dream, also makes it very dangerous.
No, unless you’re planning on being checked in anytime soon, the best way to look at San Antonio State Hospital is getting a good look at its beautiful architecture from outside.
Just don’t be surprised if you feel it looking back at you.
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