Friday, September 9, 2011

death records (part 2)

location: LINDA VISTA HOSPITAL, Los Angeles, CA

My senses were on high alert after the events in the records vault. now every sound  and shadow appeared to have some paranormal significance. of course, i am fully aware of the poisonous ability of the minds eye to manifest what one wants to see in cases like this. in fact, i found it interesting to experience this phenomena with that in an open mind. 

In the surgery room, I glimpsed a face in the reflection of a cabinet window. in the morgue, i became cold and agitated. in the chapel, i heard a cacophony of otherworldly footsteps reverberating off the high ceiling and the ornate walls and the unforgiving wooden pews. only when something could not be denied, did believe it as truth...

The subbasement of the hospital revealed an enormous boiler room complete with two furnaces. upon closer inspection of the aged ash, obvious bone fragments could be seen. when i reached ou to touch these remains i heard a resonant scream - as clear as day - only not in the outside world, but rather it rolled up from some distant shore and crashed into my grey matter. i more than heard the scream - i felt it. 

Later that night, while investigating the hospital with a team of paranormal researchers, we mistakenly entered a wing of the building which was otherwise locked and off limits to everyone at all times. it is easy to lose your way in a labyrinth of complete darkness, but in this forbidden place i knew instantly we had made a wrong turn. the air suddenly got very oppressively heavy and the temperature rose by 20 degrees. 

Then, there was the darkness. never before have i experienced this: a darkness so complete - darker than black and deeper than the void. the shift in the atmosphere had a presence all it’s own and it surrounded us like a fog of total loss and unparalleled abyss. i was scared... terrified, even. my small headlamp was helpless against the overwhelming pitch and i began to panic. 

The others began to feel it as well, but could not quantify or articulate it. their research was single-minded, therefore blinding them from the tenebrous forest. i, on the other hand, was tapped into the very nightmares of Linda Vista Hospital - and they whispered to me of their Hell. 

Feigning technical difficulties, i urged a hasty retreat back to the main corridors of the hospital. as much as i wanted to be fearless - as desperately as i wanted to make meaningful contact - i just couldn’t let myself go. not at that time. not in that place.  

Friday, August 26, 2011

death records (part 1)

Location: LINDA VISTA HOSPITAL - Los Angeles, CA

Easily the most haunting location thus far, Linda Vista Hospital proved one thing to me instantly: Buildings have a soul - and the soul of LVH is a tortured one.

Overlooking downtown Los Angeles, LVH’s bright white facade welcomes one inside. but, once beyond the threshold, daylight shies away and darkness reigns.  

Here, everything appears just under the surface. the bright exterior belying the black within... the smooth art deco lobby design masking the gruesome secrets buried underneath... the most unsettling aspect of this place was the sense that in one brief and chaotic moment, everyone employed or interned here just... up and left. 

Which is not far from the truth - rising death tolls at the hospital lead to crushing lawsuits. when the funding abruptly ceased it was only a matter of weeks before the hospital emptied out and closed its doors - leaving behind a body of evidence and a legion of nightmares. here, in these halls of madness, the memories remain. and, if one is open to it, these nightmares will find a way to reach you. 

My first encounter was in the death records room. this vault-like box holds countless stacks of vividly colored folders - each bursting with patient history. each file is a life ended within these walls. 

As i stood, alone and in awe of the melancholy beauty of my surroundings, i suddenly felt cold - freezing cold. the hairs on my arms and neck raised in alarm. at that moment a file and its contents came pouring from a shelf onto the floor. my heightened awareness made me immediately jump to the floor and examine the pages. assuming this was a sign, i searched for a patient name and any relevant information; but, as soon as I found a name another file - from across the room - fell to the floor. I rushed to the scene only to have yet another, immediately behind me, spill it’s history onto the cold hard floor. 

Then, it stopped. The chill, the movement, the feeling - it all stopped as abruptly as a carnival ride. i knew, then, the files individually meant nothing, but the experience - the show - was meant for me.

What filled me with dread was this simple fact: it was only mid-afternoon, and I had an entire night ahead of me... aperi oculos tuos

Friday, July 22, 2011

green and submarine


Following on the heels of my spooky adventure with the spirits of West Virginia State Penitentiary, the next location on my US tour of places that might kill me was Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. it was here where state sponsored psycho-engineering was implemented to dizzying effects. it doesn’t take a genius to figure out their attempt to calm the masses was not only futile, but misguided - even disastrous. 

Even though it is the second largest hand-cut stone building in the world, (topped only by the Kremlin); when it opened in the early 1860’s, TALA was meant to hold only 250 patients. but, over the course of a century, the treatment of mental illness dramatically changed and by 1950 the institution was bursting with nearly 3,000 inmates - many of whom were severely disturbed and violent. the caretakers could not handle the volume so a unique community developed out of the power vacuum. the stronger patients eventually began to govern the rest of the population - complete with police force, judges, juries and, of course, executioners. there was also an elaborate black market for goods and services of all kinds, particularly for vices. this kind of system obviously prayed on the weaker inmates, so those who were truly the most in need of treatment only got worse.

As a result of the overcrowding of prisons and asylums across the country, research into crowd-calming techniques was conducted, and the (short sighted) discovery of using color as an opiate for the masses was embraced throughout the institutions. we have since learned that most of the colors used for this experiment actually made the inmates more stressed and more violent, making an already volatile situation much more dangerous. 

After only a few minutes of exploration, the eye-bludgeoning color palate nearly drove me insane enough to be committed. even the cold, hard tile of solitary confinement was painted in pastels. 

After two days, I became hypnotized by the environment - in a completely negative form. I found myself to be more aggressive towards those around me. I would get frequent, and sometimes blindingly painful headaches. and then, when the sun disappeared behind the trees and darkness consumed the air, the colors and their effects would fade, only to make room for a new horror... 

At night, alone in the vast emptiness of black, shadows would appear where there was no light. i would hear footsteps down one of the seemingly endless hallways - and if i walked to investigate the sounds, the footsteps would move behind me. doors would close as I approached them. I was never touched or assaulted. instead, i felt as if I was being watched... constantly. 

TALA turned me into a believer. with still another three locations remaining in my journey, one thought alone haunts me as i beg for sleep: Now that I am aware, what next?

Monday, June 13, 2011

lead to death


Two things stand out about West Virginia State Penitentiary, even before i arrive, based on a sort of common knowledge amongst the morbid set: it’s the home of our nation’s crowning achievement in punishment, “Old Sparky”; and, Charles Manson made very public (and very unsuccessful) attempts to get himself transferred to this, his hometown, prison. When faced with the physical presence of the institution i cannot fathom the latter. but as the birthplace of Old Sparky, it seemed absolutely perfect. 

The foreboding stature of the stone walls and turreted watchtowers were cold and intimidating on a grand scale. once inside the cell blocks, the oppressive theme continued with seemingly endless rows of cages on top of cages - surrounded by razor wire. I had never witnessed such a spectacle before this. the original cell block, rising three stories, had all the bars any other prison of its time enjoyed, but here they covered the bars with cage wire. then they wrapped the walkways below with layers of more cage wire, then they tied it all together with miles of razor wire... you know, just in case.


As a bizarre juxtaposition to it all, WVSP employed a unique (for the time) device to promote a sense of calm amongst the inmates - something that I would see much more of in the asylums to come: Color. In the infirmary and psychiatric wings of the prison, the walls were decorated with soft pastels of pink (commonly known later as “drunk-tank pink”), rose and blue. even the whites were more creamy in tone than a stark hospital white.

WVSP went even further with the idea of color-calming techniques, and commissioned “soothing” paintings for the walls. not only were the paintings garish and strange for a prison, but they were also painted on the walls. the reason being, i assume, was due to safety concerns. i can imagine inmates taking framed paintings of pheasants-in-flight from the prison walls and smashing them over the guards -  the canvas tearing over their heads, the frames confining their arms like a cartoon character as the inmates seize the opportunity to snatch the keys to the kingdom and make their art-inspired escape...

The interesting thing about this model of prison color is that while the color pink does bring a sense of calmness and peace to inmates - it is only during initial exposure. in fact, after prolonged exposure to drunk-tank pink humans actually become more agitated and more aggressive. possible because of this effect, WVSP has a rich history of riots and murder. from vigilante inmate justice (locking cell doors and burning child-molesters with fire bombs) to state-sponsored executions via hanging and electric chair, this house of correction has seen it all. one such example i learned about took place in the psych ward.

it was around 2am and my team of paranormal investigators staged themselves in the large common room/dorm. adjacent to this room was a nurses station, a small medical facility and two “holding rooms” each equipped with two small solid steel cells for those in need of a time-out. the investigative team place a Mel Meter on the floor in front of them and started talking into the stale air. after a few moments, we made contact. remarkably, this team used some clever techniques to communicate with the beyond and were even able to get a name from one particular spirit. the communique lasted for quite some time, during which a great deal of information was given by the spirit. for a time, i truly believed we were in a natural conversation with this entity. and then, abruptly, the mood shifted. the air in the room got heavy and the tone of the responses from the Mel Meter became dark. we decided to move on to another part of the prison, but the Mel Meter was going crazy - something didn’t want us to go. we started walking away, and it followed - the meter still peaking off the charts when asked a direct and relevant question. there was no denying the urgency of the signal. the team had a choice: walk away now, or take this through to the end... we decided to follow it.

The spirit, the entity, the ghost, the wind, the electrical charge, the whatever you want to believe it was took the lead. we walked back through the large hall of the psych ward, past the procedure room and past the nurses station. the METER lead us to a small room, painted pink and blue and white like a saccharine-sweet grocery cake. within this room was a terrifyingly claustrophobic cell, no bigger than a broom closet, behind a solid steel door. we were then lead into the cell - all the while the meter was telling us where to go, achingly desperate to tell us one thing:  it was in this grotesque room where our guide had died.


The next day, it was revealed to me that one particularly damaged inmate had cut off his own scrotum and bled to death - in that very cell.

After my experiences at WVSP i was eager to explore not only more of West Virginia, but also the theory of color psychology on institutional inmates. luckily (?) for me, our next location took these practices to a surreal level - with horrifying results.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

signs of death and (after)life

location: WAVERLY HILLS SANATORIUM / Louisville, KY

At first glance, I was hardly intimidated by the Waverly Hills Sanatorium. during daylight hours, and from the parking lot entrance, the exterior resembled a state college - uniform brick in routinely square structures. none of the flair i expected from a hospital built in the 1920s. the inside, too, was a letdown. it appeared more as a sign of suburban decay where bored teens went to drink and screw than a place rich in paranormal activity. 

However, its history and mind-bending architectural layout made for an eerie experience, heightened to a frenzy of sound and shadows once the sun disappeared over the Kentucky hills.

WHS opened its doors as a tuberculosis hospital in 1926 and closed in 1961. It then reopened as Woodhaven Mental Facility from ’61 - ’81, after which it was abandoned.  during its run as Waverly Hills, it made its mark as the TB hospital with the highest mortality rate in the country. at its height there were so many deaths that patient morale was terribly low - mostly due to the sight of the hearse driving in and out all day. In an attempt to rectify this, orders were given to have bodies sent to the freight chute - a 500ft long, steeply pitched underground tunnel used for loading heavy supplies into the main building. the bodies of the recently deceased were sent down this chute to the opening below where, if they were lucky, they were picked up by the hearse or a nearby train. however, due to widespread fear of the TB contagion, many unfortunate souls were deserted by their loved ones, leaving them to be dumped into a mass grave across the tracks. this “body chute” is a dark abyss with only a small door at the bottom. the absence of light combined with the folding resonance of deep echos makes this a highly unsettling place to spend any amount time. of course, I was rigging cameras and microphones in there for hours.

The main WHS building was equally disquieting. Four floors of askew hallways, each exactly the same - so much so that everyone at some point was found wandering around the corridors, lost. furthermore, there was only one main hallway on each level, flanked by rooms with wide open windows. this caused endless shadows criss-crossing each other across the hospital floor - an effect that added to one’s disorientation.

The top three floors were designed specifically for TB treatment. Back in the early/mid 1900s, no one knew the proper way to handle the disease, so their methods seem cruel and ill-advised by todays standards. at WHS, these floors have huge open-air terraces running the length of the building. it was believed that fresh air was good for diseased lungs, so nurses would wheel the gurney-bound patients out on to the terraces and leave them there all day - regardless of the weather. There are a few archive photos showing patients outside, covered in snow, while nurses watched from indoors. I wonder who was making use of the shuffleboard court.

Another example of malpractice came from the radical surgeries used to to treat the worst cases. At that time measures went to far as to purposefully collapse the patient’s lungs in an effort to smother the infection. It was here, in this operating room, where i experienced an unexplainable phenomena.

One of the key instruments used by paranormal investigators is a “Mel Meter” - a handheld device which generates a small elecro-magnetic force field around its antenna. If anything breaks the field, the Mel Meter will make a beeping sound. the closer something gets to the antenna itself, the more frantic the meter will beep. If the antenna is touched or grabbed, the meter goes crazy with lights and sounds. Normally, the best use of this is to place it in the middle of the floor and step away, insuring that no one in your party is contaminating the evidence. Then, you start asking questions into the void. If you’re “lucky” the Mel Meter will register a disturbance in the air around it, indicating a presence very very close by. in my eyes, this was modern day snake oil and was immediately skeptical of this machine. but, in the operating room in the middle of the night, that Mel Meter started beeping and flashing. okay, it kinda had me spooked, but still i dismissed it as junk science... that is, until it talked. when used properly, the meter can be a means to communicate with spirits, who can respond to our questions by touching the meter to a series of yes/no questions - like a supernatural morse code.  on this night, i had a complete conversation with the spirit of a patient who died on the operating table at Waverly Hills Sanatorium, gathering information about his life and death through a series of beeps and flashes emanating from an electro-magnet in a pitch-black empty room.

For the remainder of the week, i wandered around the halls of Waverly Hills with an intensified sense of awareness and curiosity. i wanted to speak to every spirit in every room. i wanted to know the secrets of life and death. i wanted to learn from those who have experienced things we can only have nightmares about. i was hoping the investigators i would be working with here felt the same. if you were given the unique opportunity to speak to the dead, would you not seek real answers? instead, most amateur ghost hunters seek only evidence so their line of questioning is superficial at best, and downright mortifying at its worst. in places where the mentally disturbed were abandoned by humanity, it makes no sense to talk to the spirits about YouTube, when more logical interests would be apples or soup.

I began to get very morose in that place. i took to wandering the MC Escher corridors, taking in the simple beauty of decay - whether caused by Mother Nature breaking through the windows to reclaim her children; or from a 15yr old me, a six-pack of Milwalkees Beast and an isolated outlet for solitude and aggression.

Even though the first floor is now an annual haunted house and is painted and propped as such, and the top floors are all dizzingly alike, i was able to uncover otherwise unseen places with their own bizarre history... for instance, there was homeless man and his dog that lived, unnoticed for some time, behind the elevator on the 3rd floor. even after his was discovered, the staff was lenient towards this wayward soul. that is, until he was pushed to his death down the elevator shaft.

I was not the only one to let this place have a depressing effect one me: two nurses committed suicide from the higher floors - the weight of sickness, death and sorrow too much to bare.

At Waverly Hills Sanatorium, I would not find the answers i now sought; nor would i ever return to the peace of ignorant bliss which had previously blinded me. my only choice now is to press on anew in the hopes that my senses, now attuned to a unique frequency, will guide me towards the harmony of insight.

Possibly i will find it at our next location - but, judging by the stories i’ve heard about the upcoming prison, i might not want to be so in tune with another realm...