Sylvia Shults’ new book, Fractured Spirits: Hauntings at the Peoria State Hospital was released this spring by Dark Continents Publishing. The asylum in Bartonville has long been an acknowledged hotspot of paranormal activity, due to what Shults calls “a perfect storm” of circumstances that can lead to supernatural occurrences. Fractured Spirits is a fascinating look at these ghosts. Join us for this Q&A with the author.
Peoria State Hospital is an abandoned asylum, right? So of course it’s got to be haunted…
Hey, hey, not so fast! The PSH is haunted, no doubt about it. You got that part right. But not for the reasons you might think. For one thing, the village of Bartonville, where the asylum was located, is in the center of a perfect storm for paranormal activity. Let’s take a look.
Way back in the early days of Illinois history, the land that’s now Bartonville used to be a Native American settlement. We’re not sure if there was an actual village there, or just a burying ground. But investigators have recorded the sounds of ghostly drumming, and what appears to be fragments of Native speech.
The geology of the hilltop where the asylum was built is set up for paranormal activity. There’s limestone all over the place. In fact, the Bowen Building (the old administration building and world-famous nurses’ college) was built out of limestone from the oldest quarry in the United States. The hilltop is also honeycombed with natural springs, and the ravines encircling the hilltop are sometimes filled with the rush of running water. To add to this powerful psychic attractant, the Illinois River runs just a few hundred yards away from the hilltop. It’s the longest river in the state, and the source of lots of history all on its own.
When the state closed the asylum in 1973, the buildings sat empty for a while, while the village of Bartonville tried to sell them. Not many businesses wanted to buy, because of the lingering stigma of mental illness. So the cottages were eventually bulldozed, and the rubble pushed into the ravines. There are still dishes and plates and all sorts of other rubbish down there to this day. That’s a big reason the spirits still hang out – all their stuff is still here.
So we’ve got a Native American presence, loads of limestone, artifacts, and running water all over the place, any one of which is a great conduit for spirit activity. But what makes the Peoria State Hospital so very haunted is this: a lot of people lived here, and died here. But! The asylum was one of the very best places for psychiatric care in the world for most of its history. This was not a place of fear and pain and abuse, like many asylums. Far from it.