Two Nights in St. Albans Sanatorium (part 1)

It has been just over a year since my last post, and now seems like a better time than any to start blogging again, as I just completed a two-night investigation of an infamous former sanatorium.

A lot has happened in the past year, most notably that I joined a local paranormal research team called Pee Dee Region Paranormal Group.  Along with getting to investigate purportedly haunted locations with proper equipment, I have also been tasked with building and maintaining the group's website.  Overall it has been an amazing opportunity filled with incredible experiences, and I've met lots of great people along the way.  But all of this was just in preparation for what awaited us at St. Albans Sanatorium.

St. Albans is a large, looming complex at the top of a hill in Radford, Virginia, overlooking the New River.  It is a maze of old, decrepit buildings connected by additions and other changes throughout its 126-year history.  The facility began as a Lutheran boys' school in 1892, which developed a reputation for abusing and mistreating its students.  After the school closed in 1911, it was converted into a hospital for the mentally ill, addicts and other undesirables in 1916 and operated as St. Albans Sanatorium until 1996.  It became notorious for experimental treatments such as hydrotherapy and electroshock therapy, contributing to many patient deaths.  The site also experienced numerous murders and suicides over the years.

So why would anyone want to visit such a dark and macabre location, you might ask?  Tales of ghostly activity throughout St. Albans have run abound since the abandoned property was reaquired in the early 2000s, and perhaps even longer.  With so much spooky history, it's no wonder the new owners decided to open the doors to ghost hunters and thrill seekers alike who are brave enough to enter.  St. Albans now regularly hosts paranormal investigations and events, both public and private, with all proceeds going to restoring the property to its original grandeur. 

Pee Dee Region Paranormal Group's founding members Rob Humphries and Brian Horton, along with Brian's father Rick "Pops" Horton, had already investigated St. Albans on multiple occasions.  Those investigations yielded some fascinating evidence and incredible stories about their experiences, so they were understandably eager to get back up there with the new team.  And after months of planning we finally made it happen.

On Friday, May 4, 2018, seven of us ventured up to Radford, VA for a weekend-long investigation of St. Albans Sanitorium.  The ragtag team included myself, Rob, Brian and Pops, investigator Andy McInville, case manager Stephanie Barnes and sensitive Jenny Marshall.  We arrived around 6 PM to find the eerie brick structure waiting for us under a cloudy, ominous sky, signalling the unsettled weather that awaited us over the next two nights.  Once we came upon the building, the first thing that stood out to me was how deceivingly modern it appeared, but this was just the most recently constructed wing of St. Albans known as the King Center.  It wasn't until I walked around to the front of the building that it really started to show its age, as in the image above.

We were greeted by a volunteer named Tracy who let us in through the King Center, and I was immediately struck by the old, musty smell that filled the air inside.  A few steps further found us in an eclectic gift shop full of St. Albans merchandise and pop culture items for sale.  There was also a collection of various historic objects on display, presumably the remnants of St. Albans' past.  This room connected to a common area with a coffee/tea station, mini-fridge, microwave and vending machine.  The security office was also accessed from here, where volunteers monitor 24/7 for vandalism and unlawful entry.  Taking a left through the common area lead down a hallway past two bathrooms and into a very large conference room, where we would set up camp.  

Upon checking in, the rules were explained to us and we were asked to sign a few legal documents.  Another volunteer named Dean then offered a tour of the facility to anyone who hadn't been there before.  Andy, Jenny and I happily accepted, at which time Dean asked if we all had flashlights, as there were no lights or windows where we were going.  Once we all had our flashlights ready, we proceeded to follow Dean down into the dark depths of St. Albans' basement level.  As we descended the stairs, Dean stopped mid-sentence and asked if we heard a voice, like that of a little girl.  I did not, but apparently that is one of the frequent claims down there.  

The tour began in the file room, the only one with a light which was coming from a single dim bulb.  Leaving the file room it became clear why we each needed our own flashlight, as it was so dark I couldn't see my hand in front of my face.  With my flashlight once again trained down the hallway toward Dean, he showed us the salon and barber shop, neither of which we could have identified on our own.  We then returned to the common area where Dean took us through a large door that accessed the rest of the building, and we found ourselves in darkness again.  He lead us down another flight of stairs and into a two-lane bowling alley, where claims of voices were common, as well as balls rolling down the lanes on their own.  The little girl whose voice Dean heard at the start of the tour is said to reside here.  Various toys used as trigger objects for the girl to manipulate, such as a porcelain doll, could also be seen around the room.

Moving on, I followed Dean and Andy down the hall to the boiler room, when suddenly I heard a scream coming from the bowling alley.  It was Jenny, who had not yet mastered the flashlight feature on her new iPhone, and she was apparently left behind in the dark.  I went back to retrieve her and Dean continued to tell us about the boiler room.  It seems man who used to operate this room was an avid smoker, as a long row of cigarettes had been left for him as gifts along the top of the boiler.  The most striking claims in this room, however, were those relating to females in particular being touched inappropriately or otherwise harmed.  For this reason, Dean advised us not to allow our female team members to investigate this room alone.  Personally I thought this room had a different energy than others we had entered thus far, and I even felt a tingling in my arms and legs that dissipated once we left.

The tour continued through various medical procedure rooms, such as an electroshock therapy room and an x-ray room, where upon entering I could feel a slight tightness in my chest.  Other rooms did not have the same effect on me, though I occasionally felt the tingling in my arms and legs again in certain areas.  The rest of the tour brought us through the main and upper floors of the building, and the light of dusk still peered through the windows so we were finally able to put our flashlights away.  Seeing the rest of the facility in the light revealed just how much of a state of disrepair it was in, with chipping/peeling paint, missing fixtures and ceiling panels, and broken glass throughout.  These elements added to the creepiness of the building despite not being in darkness anymore.  

Eventually we arrived at the women's ward, otherwise known as the "suicide room", where at least four people are known to have taken their lives in the attached bathroom (left). The most notable suicide was that of a nurse who is said to have hung herself, most likely from the pipe across the back wall.  And although we did not hear any stories tied to the hydrotherapy tubs (right), they also added to the eeriness of this area.  But another tragic incident that happened here involved a female patient who, according to Dean, was impregnated by an orderly and tried to conceal it.  She ended up giving birth in secret, then panicked and stuffed the baby in a jar, which she hid in a closet until being discovered some time later.

The most notoriously haunted location of our tour, though, was found on the second floor near the grand staircase (left).  Turning right from the top of the stairs brought us to "Donald's room" (right), where the windows were almost completely blacked out except for a few tears and pinholes in the material.  Donald is claimed to have been an orderly in the 1970's who was also a cruel and violent individual.  Dean cautioned us not to provoke him during our investigation, and to address him as respectfully as possible.  He continued by telling us of one volunteer in particular, a former police officer not easily spooked, who tried provoking Donald to elicit a response.  As a result, this man was attacked by an unseen force and held up against a wall in the very same room.  Once the man was able to break away he immediately ran from the building.

If that wasn't spooky enough, we also visited "Jacob's room" (right) on the other side of the grand staircase, where a young boy named Jacob was reportedly found one morning bleeding out.  According to Dean, the boy was subject to severe bullying throughout his life in St. Albans, and this eventually contributed to his death.  However, further research revealed that Jacob may have also been a victim of repeated rape by the infamous Donald, whose room was just a few doors away.  Regardless of how Jacob died, though, his room is a well known hotspot for paranormal activity.  We found a variety of toys strewn about the room, including a number of balls for Jacob to play with.  Some spots in the room were even marked with tape, so that a specific toy could be placed there and any trace of movement measured over time.  It's unclear whether the silhouette on the floor is a true depiction of how Jacob's body appeared when he died, or just added to enhance the story, but it certainly made for a disturbing site.

Once we completed the tour, night was falling on St. Albans and it was time to begin investigating.  There were a number of other fascinating and creepy locations that Dean showed us around the facility, but I tried to highlight the ones that would be more relevant during our investigation.  What happened over the next 30 hours or so will be the subject of my next entry.


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