Once upon a time I worked at a mental hospital. It’s pretty much all modern and properly hospital-like now, but when I was there it was in the middle of transforming. There were several buildings arranged around a long, straight driveway. The buildings on the left of the driveway were big and modern and reasonably nice. The buildings on the right looked like an old-timey asylum stereotype. I mostly worked in one of the righthand buildings. The haunted one.
I worked days so I never saw anything spooky, but friends on the night shift saw a few things. Mostly in the basement, where the big, empty cafeteria and weird storage cages were. Maybe it was ghosts, maybe it was fatigue and imagination, but if ghosts are real I’m sure that building hosted a few. My favorite story, though, is from after they tore it down. I was working in one of the new, nice buildings and a friend called me over. “Watch this,” she said, and dialed the phone. She called the old building, the one that didn’t exist anymore, and the phone just rang and rang. I guess the ghosts were too busy to answer their ghost phone.
The haunted building may be gone, but there’s still a real “castle” there, way up on the hill behind the main buildings. It’s an outdoor theater built during the Great Depression by one of those New Deal programs, and the hospital used to do a spook alley up there every Halloween. Apparently, it was the only mental hospital spook alley in the country, but I never got to be part of it. They quit doing it just a year or two before I got there. It started in the early 1970s and was incredibly popular, but also became controversial as people worried it might stigmatize mental illness and the hospital’s clients. I see the point, but a lot of the clients I met talked about it fondly and wished they could bring it back.
Since it’s a real hospital that still has residents, Utah State Hospital isn’t listed much on haunting sites. It has a small museum and the castle holds events, but they don’t want people showing up and exploring on their own. It’s a beautiful little place with a fascinating history that most people will never get to explore firsthand.
In all seriousness, it was a pretty cool place to work. It was (and still is) for people who need longer term psychiatric care, so you’d work with the same clients for weeks or months (and years, in some cases) and really get to know some cool people you might not normally meet. I don’t want to compromise anyone’s privacy so I’ll only mention one guy–Pete died quite a while back and I know he wouldn’t mind a shout out. He was pretty well known around Salt Lake City for walking around in a Lucifer costume, with his hair slicked up into devil’s horns. I never saw the outfit, but he had the horns when I knew him–they’d get taller or shorter according to how well he was feeling. I kind of hope he haunts something–he’d be a great ghost to meet. He got a really nice obituary when he died: you can read it here.