October's Haunted Asylums - Anoka State Hospital, Anoka, Minnesota

It is that time of year again; time for our annual Haunted Series where we've explored things that go bump in the cemetery, the restaurant, the town … and this year the asylum! Join me each Friday in October as we cast an eye upon those buildings that were feared by the residents and avoid by everyone else ... those places that are now Haunted Asylums!

Anoka, Minnesota has an interesting claim to fame – It is believed to be the first city in the U.S. to hold a Halloween celebration in order to prevent locals from playing pranks or causing trouble around town. Since 1920, it has been known as the “Halloween Capital of the World.”
It is also home to one of the most haunted asylums in the country.
First State Asylum for the InsaneIt began as the First State Asylum for the Insane. Built in 1898 in the cottage style, the hospital opened in March 1900 to admit patients from other state asylums that had become too crowded. The first 100 patients were males from St. Peter State Hospital and were considered to be “chronic incurables”- Men who had lost their minds due to heredity causes or environment.
A Numbered GraveResidents were not to receive any type of treatment; this was the final stop for them until they died. And die they did. A total of 86 of the original patients were buried in numbered graves in the asylum cemetery.

Anoka State AsylumIn 1906, 115 women were also transferred to the asylum from St. Peter State Hospital. Then in 1909, state policy changed and the hospital was only allowed to admit female transfer patients. (The male patients were then sent to another asylum in the state.) But by 1925, another wing had been added to the building and the hospital became co-ed, admitting both women and men.
The name was changed to the Anokea State Asylum in 1919
Another name change occurred in 1937 when the institution was renamed Anoka State Hospital in an attempt to soften the image of the asylum. Although the name was kinder and gentler, treatment at the facility was not. Patients were subjected to medical experiments and suffered both mental and physical abuse.
Although the hospital provided care to the insane, cruelty and neglect were often reported during the 1930s through the 1950’s. Those deemed a threat to themselves or others were restrained with manacles and straitjackets. Others that were seen as less dangerous were left to wander the grounds and buildings.
From 1948 to 1967, the hospital also treated mentally ill patients with tuberculosis. Actual treatment of the mentally ill began in the 1940s but many times that treatment “progressed” to lobotomies, hydrotherapy, and electroshock therapy.

Gov Luther YoungdahlConditions became so bad in the Minnesota asylums that in 1948, Governor Luther Youngdahl took a reporter and photographer with him on Halloween to witness his stand against the cruelty being inflicted at the state’s seven asylums including Anoka. With a torch, Youngdahl burned piles of leather wrist straps and straitjackets in front of a nighttime crowd of over 1,000. The governor also began to allot more funding for the state’s hospitals and the care of the mentally ill.

Building on ComplexWith the advancement of psychoactive drugs in the 1960s, the winding down of these asylums began. Anoka’s population went from 1,085 in 1960 to just under 500 by 1970. It was during the 1970s that the facility also began treatment of emotionally disturbed children and adolescents.

In 1985, the hospital underwent its final name change to the current Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center. The original hospital complex closed in 1999 and residents were transferred to a new facility located close by.

Aerial of the ComplexThe buildings and property were then given to Anoka County to use for offices and to house the county workhouse. The remainder of the buildings were closed and boarded up.

With such a sordid past, it is no wonder that the Anoka State Hospital has been rumored to house phantom patients. Former employees have reported that while unusual occurrences happen throughout the buildings, the most paranormal activities are linked to the tunnels located below the buildings.These tunnels were used as a way of transferring patients from one building to another without risking escape.
TunnelIronically, many patients believed these tunnels would lead them to freedom and so they tried to escape by going down into them. But after a few twists and turns, escapees realized that the tunnels were more of a maze than an escape route. Without an understanding of where each tunnel went and how they joined together, it was easy to get hopelessly lost in them. Several escapees became so disoriented and distraught that they took the only way out that they felt was left to them and hung themselves from heavy pipes suspended along the ceiling.
For years, employees would report hearing footsteps trudging through the tunnels, stopping, pausing; maybe a "former" inmate considering which way to go ... There were also reports of whispering and low voices in conversation, but the words were not understood. Could a past patient have been trying to warn those still using the tunnels of the dire consequences when you didn't know where the routes led? The sounds of voices, plaintive and pleading, seemed to follow those who made their ways from one building to another. At times a burst of laughter might be heard in the dark tunnels, along with odd, ominous noises. And many former employees reported cold spots that moved all too frequently throughout these dark catacombs.
The paranormal activities became so rampant that most employees refused to use the tunnels because they were just too eerie. Today, only maintenance and security are allowed in them.
While there may be other state hospitals that were far worse in the treatment of their patients, some of those who lived at Anoka have apparently not forgotten, or forgiven, their experiences under the guise of medical treatment.

Anoka County BoardToday, the county owns the buildings that made up the former insane asylum complex. Although the complex was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, it appears that time has past. The current buildings are in a state of extreme disrepair. It has cost the county $22,000 a year, per building, to preserve them. Now, the county spends about $5,000 for each structure, per year, with no money for unkeep allotted for 2015. 
Information released on September 30, 2014, indicated that the County Board hopes to use three of the buildings as locations to house homeless veterans. But with the condition of the buildings, it remains to be seen if the plan is feasible.  If not, the Anoka State Hospital would be slated for demolition in 2016.
And who’s to say whether the destruction of the facility will lay to rest those ghosts who remain there; only time will tell …
~ Joy