In America, it’s hard to throw a stone and not hit a creepy abandoned hospital. These shadows of our past are dotted throughout the country, grim reminders of how we once treated our ill and unwanted. While some of these buildings are littered with old patient files, stained gowns, and ghosts, one former hospital in Athens, Ohio might have the most sobering reminder of the past hidden on its top floor: an unerasable, human-shaped stain where a patient’s corpse laid untouched for the better part of winter.
Once one of Ohio’s largest hospitals for the mentally ill and the criminally insane, The Athens Lunatic Asylum was the pinnacle of care when it opened in January of 1874. One of the first hospitals to be built using the “Kirkbride Plan“, a standardized method of building mental institutions for self-reliance, compassionate treatment, and wide-open spaces, the asylum quickly gained a reputation for its high standards and began to treat an influx of Civil War veterans suppering from a condition that we now recognize as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Unfortunately, as word of the hospital’s stellar care spread, the number of its patients began to rise to uncontrollable levels. The asylum quickly began to fill with the homeless, the elderly, and those who had become a financial burden on their families. It wasn’t uncommon for people to be admitted for masturbation, rebelliousness, or even being a bad housewife. Regardless of the reason for admittance, by the 1950s, the hospital had swelled to nearly two-thousand patients – over three times its capacity.
The staff, realizing they could use the hospital’s growth to their advantage, began to put the patients to work. Soon, the facilities’ farm was turning a nice profit built on the backs of the mentally ill.
While profits, patient numbers, and staff greed continued to rise, quality of care steeply declined. Patients were beaten, tightly restrained in their beds for several days at a time, and regularly subjected to mass lobotomies, shock therapy, and other experimental procedures like sustained ice-water submerging. During the mid-1900s, the Athens Lunatic Asylum was a waking nightmare for anyone unlucky enough to be housed there.
The hospital finally closed its doors in 1993, having donated much of its property to Ohio University, who had already begun to renovate some of the buildings. Almost as soon as the old portions of the asylum reopened, which became known as “The Ridges”, students began to experience paranormal activity. Disembodied screams would ring through the empty halls in the middle of night, mysterious figures would walk the former grounds of the demolished Tuberculosis Ward only to disappear into thin air, and electronics would seem to go on the fritz, causing lights to flicker and phones to fail.
The Ridges | Via Athens Conservancy
Paranormal investigator Nicholas A. Lantz recounts a particularly horrifying discovery in his book Ghosts and Legends of Athens, Ohio. In December of 2013, he was able to gain access to The Ridges for a proper investigation, and had the rare opportunity to visit the basement where he found an abandoned room with slimy brick walls. As his flashlight pierced the darkness, he was met with the disturbing scrawlings of a former patient.
“There is something following me.. something hunting me.. I hear things that aren’t said.. I’m going crazy i here.. I see it in my dreams.. the glowing horrible fans and eyes.. the demon.. help me help me help me.. they told me to keep a journal.. I did something terrible and painted it and now it is out.. went into their room while they were sleeping and slit mommy’s throat.. she stopped moving.
While tales of the grounds’ paranormal activity quickly became the topic of discussion among Ohio University students, there was one remnant of the old hospital that was whispered about more than the others: the corpse stain.
Margaret Schilling when housed at The Ridges in the 70s
Margaret Schilling was not a particularly troubled patient at the asylum, so she was allowed a good amount of freedom, and spent her days wandering the grounds, even going to town on her own from time to time. On the night of December 1, 1979, Margaret Schilling went missing.
When Margaret didn’t return, a search party was organized at the hospital, but days of searching turned up no trace of the missing patient. Forty-two days later, a maintenance worker was surveying an unused ward formerly dedicated to patients with infectious illnesses when he made a gruesome discovery. Behind a locked door, her clothes folded neatly on the floor, lie Margaret Shilling’s naked body. She’d somehow managed to get locked inside the abandoned room, and to the horror of onlookers, her corpse was found in such a bad state of decomposition that her body fluids had soaked into the concrete, creating a permanent stain.
Nearly four decades later, the corpse stain remains hidden inside the building, unable to be scrubbed away. For the students who share the building (a portion of which is now used as an art museum), the spirit of Margaret Shilling will occasionally make herself known through the rattle of a phantom door-handle echoing through the halls, a reminder of her eternal attempt to escape from the locked room on the top floor.