Situated atop a hill in Fairlawn, Virginia, and a one-hour drive from Roanoke, St. Albans Sanatorium is not only one of the five most haunted places in Virginia; it is one of the most haunted places in the eastern United States.
Popular paranormal reality TV shows like Ghost Hunters, Paranormal Encounters, Ghost Asylum, The Haunted Collector, and The Dead Files have all been filmed on location here. And the number of local and regional investigations is too numerous to count. It’s not only haunted by a myriad of departed and troubled souls; its history is haunted by the decades of atrocities committed within the walls of the massive 68,000 square foot structure.
St. Albans Sanatorium: A Brief History
Initially built in 1892 as a boy’s prep school with the intent of turning boys into gentlemen and setting them on a higher education track, St. Albans closed down eight years after the owner’s death from liver cancer.
It was reopened in 1916 as a psychiatric hospital and, at the time, was a shining example of better mental health care during this period, boasting a rooftop garden, bowling alley, and a small farm on the grounds where patients could grow their own food. But, unfortunately, that lofty reputation didn’t last long.
Patients confined to the overcrowded sanatorium suffered inhumane experimental treatments that left some disabled for life. Standard therapies included lobotomies, ice wraps, electroshock therapy, and insulin-induced comas, all performed without anesthesia.
Some patients were left to soak in tubs for days as routine hydrotherapy. In addition, a machine named “Mighty Mouse,” pushed by medical staff through winding hallways like an ice cream cart, provided daily shock therapy to the most vulnerable and psychotic patients. As a result of the cruel treatment, individuals died, and some committed suicide. These therapies, deaths, and suicides are not the stuff of urban legends. They are documented historical facts.
Before its history of tormenting the mentally ill, the land on which St. Albans Sanatorium now rests saw more than its share of bloodshed. Because the land is located near the New River watershed, it attracted both American Indians and Colonial settlers, which resulted in bloody hostilities between the two groups. Culminating in a battle, the Shawnee looted the village, left five dead, decapitated heads, and took hostages as well as scalps.
One of the Civil War’s most violent battles was also fought here: the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain. This conflict was the largest Civil War battle in southeastern Virginia. Union Artillery, perched upon the hill on which St. Albans now sits, bombarded the Confederate soldiers and won the battle but at the cost of 1200 lives.
It’s easy to see how both the bloody history of the land and the unrelenting misery of the sanatorium combine to create an energetic maelstrom of paranormal activity and why St. Albans Sanatorium is considered one of the five most haunted places in Virginia.
Observed and Documented Phenomena
Phenomena experienced at St. Albans Sanatorium by visitors, owners, volunteers, and paranormal investigators include:
- Full-body apparitions
- Scratches on the face, arms, back, and stomach
- Physical assault
- Screams, laughter, crying
- Rapidly fluctuating temperatures
- Paranormal manipulation of light sources such as flashlights and periscopes
- Feelings of physical illness
- Shadow people
- Inappropriate touching of females
- Spirit jumping
- SLS (structured light sensor) figures
- Chairs that rock by themselves
- Sounds of gunshots
- The smell of gunpowder
The better question would be, what type of paranormal activity is NOT experienced here?
As Amy Allan, medium on The Dead Files, said when she first entered the sanatorium during one episode of the show, “There are layers, and layers, and layers, of dead people here.” And it is evident by the amount of activity here that those many ‘layers’ of dead people aren’t shy in making their presence known.
A haunted room-by-room walk-through of some of the most dynamic areas of paranormal activity begins with what would commonly be an innocuous room by most people’s standards: a bathroom. But, like most rooms at St. Albans Sanatorium, this bathroom harbors a history of horror.
The Suicide Bathroom
Four documented suicides occurred here in the female ward. One patient smashed the bathroom mirror and swallowed the shards, causing her to bleed to death internally; another slit her wrists. Two other patients hung themselves on the overhead pipes, one inside the bathroom and outside the hallway.
EVP’s are abundant here.
The spirits are known to grab the ankles and arms of visitors while disembodied screams echo throughout the hallway. In addition, SLS figures have held the hands of investigators as they scan the room.
One Ovilus session performed in the suicide bathroom by a husband and wife team yielded over 100 responses in a short period. Among the words used by this male spirit were: diction, crossover, cannon, form, chest, Norman, cloud, remember, cloister, pulled, hair, once, up, watch, barrel, surprise, gasp, soon, crayon, medicine, fraction, loose, sail, chill, February, divided, within, Sally, clockwise, scratch…the list continues. This garrulous spirit seemed happy to have the opportunity to communicate with the living.
The Basement Bowling Alley
On June 28, 1980, 18-year-old Radford University student Gina Renee Hall was murdered. Her bloodied clothes were discovered under the railroad trestle that spans the New River, which is in view of St. Albans Sanatorium. At the time, her body was never found, but her murderer was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. It was the first murder conviction in Virginia without a body as evidence.
Gina’s ghost is here in the bowling alley, along with “Allie,” who is known to be a patient’s daughter. Both respond to investigators via spirit box, voice recorders, and flashlights. Orbs are also seen darting around the alley, along with shadow figures.
Electroshock Therapy and Hydrotherapy Rooms
The electroshock therapy and hydrotherapy rooms are also active areas for investigators seeking evidence of the paranormal. Disembodied screams can be heard here, along with crying and footsteps. Unfortunately, these two rooms are where the most horrendous patient abuses occurred, and the evidence confirms it.
Other Areas of Paranormal Activity Found in St. Albans Sanatorium
One of those spirits, who identifies herself as Elizabeth, is known to sing to investigators. Another is called the Grumpy Old Man by investigators because he makes loud noises, including heavy footsteps and loud bangs.
Frequent sightings of shadow people darting throughout the building and orbs are common occurrences at St. Albans. All of these combined with the frequency of activity and its regularity make St. Albans Sanatorium one of Virginia’s five most haunted locations. Those seeking the paranormal will not be disappointed.