By Bob M. Canada.
This story is going to be a little different than my others. Usually I tell a little history of the area and then tell my story of my experiences. This time I will tell you my experiences first, because I did not fully know the history of this place before I experienced my encounter with the spirit/spirits of the Asylum.
As a very young child in grade school I joined Cubs (the younger version of Scouts) as a Cub Scout we would often go camping or have sleepovers at public buildings. This particular time we stayed at the old Amherstburg Asylum. At the time we were told it was an old orphanage… Which is also true. (The building has been many things over the years. It has been part of the Fort Malden buildings for many, many years. It was properly known as the Fort Malden Lunatic Asylum.)
So we stayed there the night and all slept on the floor of the main level. The building resembles a very large colonial house of the pioneer times. It is a two and a half story brick house with old wood floors, many wooden windows and a steep old grand staircase. The house is broken up into many rooms. As an old house it seemed harmless. So there were 20 of us Cub Scouts with a few leaders staying over the night. As a young boy I did not have many nightmares. (I guess I was a happy kid.) But this particular night I did.
The night was not a good sleeping night. The house was filled with strange noises (creeks and clunks). I guess this is typical of an old house but the sound of running footsteps upstairs seemed to bother all of us (even the leaders). Several boys had trouble sleeping and I can remember a few of them saying that boys were out of bed and running around. The leaders would do a head count with a flash light and all would be accounted for.
I can remember it wasn’t until really early in the morning that I actually got to fall asleep. Between the noises and the leaders getting up to check the reports of kids out of bed, sleep finally came. But so did a disturbing nightmare. I dreamt that the house was full of kids that were wondering around confused, angry and crying. They would walk around as if trapped and stop to look at us (the Cubs) sleeping. Many of them had bleeding eyes, vicious bruises on the sides of their heads or black tongues. It was a really creepy dream.
The next day I slept all day once I got home. The visions of the kids in the Asylum stayed with me for a few days and then I eventually forgot about it.
Many years passed and I was now in high school. This is when I learned that the building was once an Asylum. I wanted to check it out, but the building was closed to the public, and only open to tours on special occasions. I did not dwell on it since there were many other things to investigate in the area.
Well, more years passed and I eventually got a job, wife and kids. Fifteen years passed and I found myself back in Cub Scouts as a volunteer leader. My son was now a Cub and, like the good ol’ days, we did a lot of sleepovers. I was excited to hear that we were sleeping over at the Fort. I thought the kids would love sleeping in the army barracks and the whole trip would be good.
Little did I know that we were not sleeping in the barracks. We were, indeed, sleeping in the Asylum. This was mildly disturbing… Actually, quite the mind grinder… (to keep the vernacular clean). Instantly a warning flag popped up in the back of my head, but the years had placed a thick layer of cobwebs between my memories and my mind. (I had forgotten the impact of the whole experience I had as a youth). The minute I walked into the building it all came back to me. The place was set out of time. It seemed time had not passed in here and it was identical to what it was when I was a kid. Knowing more about the building this time, I was a bit freaked by the still air and the feeling of a presence sensing that I had returned. Being an adult, I quickly swept away those thoughts and focused on the time at hand.
So, I had returned to the Asylum. Now I was the leader and we had about 12 kids sleeping on the floor. Of course the kids did not sleep. They heard the noises and were scared. (Someone must have let it slip that they were in an Asylum…hum…I wonder who it was…) Well, the running footsteps were back and other leaders started to comment on them. We did a head count and all the kids were in their sleeping bags. Some of the kids said they saw other kids out of bed and running around in the halls. So as leaders, we took turns checking on the kids through the night. I have to admit, I was really unnerved when I found myself walking through the Asylum halls and rooms at night with a little pocket flashlight. With every turn I took, I half believed I would see a horrified ghost child. But I did not see anything. (Thank God, because my wife would have left me if a returned home without the kid.)
I did manage enough courage to go upstairs to seek out the source of the footsteps. The second floor had several small rooms with the dim moonlight flooding into each of them, casting shadows across the floors. The rooms were mostly empty but all had a few items in them, a single chair or table. They all had old wooden floors that showed the markings where a table once was, or the legs of a bed. The second floor was eerily still… Actually that’s when I noticed that the running footsteps had stopped. I had a very cold chill and the strong feeling that I was the focus of attention. So I backed out slowly and returned to downstairs. The other leaders asked me what I saw. I told them the truth… Nothing. But none of them were willing to go upstairs on their turns to patrol the area.
Needless to say it was a long night and I did fall asleep early in the morning and I did again have the nightmares of the wondering kids with bleeding eyes and black tongues.
When I woke in the morning, the daylight made the building feel peaceful. I quickly swept away the nightmare as a lingering fear from the nightmare I had as a kid. I actually felt silly that I had gotten all worked up. Well, the Cub Scouts were in rough shape from the sleepless night and the kids were very groggy. Breakfast was being served outside at a picnic table. The conversation around the table was, of course, the creepy noises. I was barely paying attention to the kids’ conversations when I overheard one of the Cubs complain about dreaming about kids with bleeding eyes. (I think I nearly dropped the pancake I was flipping.) More kids talked about having the same dreams… Not all the kids but 5 or 6 (about half the group) …Even one of the leaders said he too dreamed of zombie like kids… So this set my freak level quite high and I was very glad once the day was over and parents were picking up their kids.
Of course… I was one of the last leaders to leave and on the way out I stopped and had a brief conversation with the groundskeeper? (I actually did not know who he was or why he was there, he just appeared and started talking to us about the Asylum.) He asked if I stayed in there overnight. I said yes. He said, “I’d never sleep in there.” Of course I asked why… He said, “Too many bad spirits… I hear them running around sometimes when I am here late in the afternoon. So I asked him, “Do you believe it is haunted?” He told me, “Yes.”
He was about 80 years old. He said his great aunt was committed to this Asylum as a child and that is what brought his family to Amherstburg. He said when she came out of that place she was never the same. His father (the aunt’s brother) said she was like a zombie and often cried when she looked at the place (being that they had moved only a few houses away across the street). He also told me that this Asylum was one of the first to use shock therapy and lobotomies in Canada. He said the doctor was a forerunner of science and would perfect his practice on new patients. The doctor talked his grandparents into moving to Amherstburg to help their daughter with the promise of a cure through new science. The conversation continued as my awe in his words deepened with every syllable. He continued… He said that the whole asylum was shut down only after about 10 years of use because the town was so upset over the treatment of the troubled kids that they chased the doctor out of town. The asylum was later converted into an orphanage and eventually surrendered to the town. Well, needless to say, the information from this nameless old man left me speechless and very troubled.
A couple of more years passed and I had forgotten again of the disturbing memories of the Asylum. It was movie night and I was watching Sucker Punch… The scene came up where they punched a steel spike into the brain of people through their eye socket… That’s when I realized that, that is what a lobotomy was. And finally that is when it all came together for me… (ok I am slow). The kids with the bloody eyes were victims of a lobotomy. The bruises on the heads were the shock therapy… The black tongues… Well, I still don’t know. But it all became a lot more real to me once it all added up.
So I did some research. The Asylum operated in the mid 1800s for only a decade. There were about 240 patients there at one time. They were worked as a free labor force. The patients ranged in age from 13 to 55, even mix of male and females. They used hydro therapy (cold/hot water submersions) shock therapy, lobotomies and drug therapy to treat all kinds of mental illnesses.
In my research I will have to say not much factual data is actually out there but I was surprised to find conditions that they considered treatable mental illnesses (especially in women). Many women that were locked up as patients were people that were perfectly sane (normal). Examples are women who had gotten pregnant before marriage or overly active, irregular menstrual conditions, women that were attracted to other women, people who had medical problems like fainting or seizures. Talking disorders or twitches and ticks. Many people who were imprisoned for dept or crimes were able to get an insanity plea so that they could be treated and possibly released. Apparently there is a list out there of all the inmates and their dispositions (released or deceased) and there is very few that make the released list.
I find this period of history the most disturbing as the instruments and infirmaries were very sanitary and wholesome appearing in intent… But the shady basements and reality was quite different in a horror film sort of way.
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