I’ve spent the night at a couple of asylums over the years, mostly for photographic and legal reasons (like, you know, avoiding the cops and shit. I suppose “illegal” would have been a more appropriate word choice) but Athens was maybe one of the toughest nights I’ve had, despite being indoors and fairly warm. It was rough because I was trapped in a room with three snoring, farting dudes and I had the wicked road trip shits, which led to one of my most genuinely embarrassing moments. But we’ll get to that later. I just didn’t want to bury the lead. If you want to skip right to it though, go here. Otherwise, wait for the comic at the end.
Athens Lunatic Asylum, also known as The Ridges, was a psychiatric care facility that ran from 1874 to 1993. Located in Athens, Ohio, it was a kirkbride style asylum that took six years to build. Originally, it was built to house 572 patients, but by the 1950’s, the campus had expanded to house 1,800 patients.
Unlike many other asylums built around that time, Athens was not a self-sustaining campus. Asylums that were had their own powerhouse, fire station, hospital, rec hall, church, post office, staff housing and more. However, Athens did have plenty of livestock, farming and orchard land, and even a dairy for many decades.
As for what went on at Athens during its operational years, I’m going to quote Wikipedia for my own amusement and to save time, because I just can’t keep typing this stuff like it’s not something anyone who knows anything about the history of mental illness, or has watched any thematically similar horror movie, doesn’t know. This is information for babies. “The history of the hospital documents some of the now-discredited theories of the causes of mental illness, as well as the practice of harmful treatments, such as the lobotomy… within the employee records are the evidence and documentation of hydrotherapy, electroshock, lobotomy, and psychotropic drugs, some of which have been discredited today as extremely inhumane ways of treating a patient.”
Athens has a couple of unique claims to fame, one being the story of Billy Milligan. Milligan was a robber and rapist who pleaded insanity in court due to the claim of having multiple personalities. It was the first time anyone had used the insanity defense, and consequently, the first time that defense worked. Instead of going to jail, Milligan was committed to a number of asylums, with the main part of his sentence served at Athens. Milligan is still alive, however his whereabouts are unknown.
The second, more popular Athens story is the one of Margaret Shilling’s body stain. Shilling was a patient at Athens when she disappeared on December 1st, 1978. On January 12th, 1979, they found Shilling’s body on the top floor of an abandoned ward. She had supposedly died of heart failure, caused by exposure in the unheated ward. She had removed her clothes prior to lying down near a window, and the severe decomposition of her body left a permanent stain on the concrete floor. The stain is still there today.
I couldn’t ID the photographer of this image, it’s been posted on a few blogs and his or her name buried in the process. As a (pseudo) photographer, that shit drives me nuts, so feel free to email me if you know who to credit this photo to.
The main building at Athens (the kirkbride) is still partially in use today as the Kennedy Art Museum. Half the building is also used by Ohio University, while the other half remains abandoned.
Alright, let’s burn through the rest of these photos and get to the comic.
Typical patient ward hallway shot in the early morning.
Despite being half active, the kirkbride still entertains the occasional animal visitor.
As you’ll see in the impending comic, I briefly address the building’s distinct ornate grates. Each floor has its own grate design, a trait unique to Athens.
Above is a bad photo of the various grates. As you can see, the narrow grates are simply a condensed version of the regular grates on that floor.
Patient doors in the seclusion ward.
You can visit Athens and go inside the active parts of the kirkbride building. The walkways on the property are lined with Athens Block brick and the campus is carefully maintained. It’s a great example of how to save and restore a kirkbride, instead of just tearing it down. ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME, NEW JERSEY???
Okay, enough of that, here is a three page comic about spending the night in Athens. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: If any information on this post is incorrect, if you have more info or would otherwise like to tell me something, feel free to contact me.