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100-Year-Old Haunted Insane Asylum Reopens to the Public

A former mental hospital in Illinois, long on the list of “America’s Most Haunted Places,” has reopened to the public and to paranormal investigators.

First opened in 1902, the Peoria State Hospital, originally named the “Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane,” has started welcoming the public back for tours on Saturdays from 7-10 p.m. now through Sat Sep. 3, 2022. Paranormal investigations will also be invited to resume their investigation of the “haunted” facility on Aug. 6 and Aug. 20.

The guided tours include three Peoria State Hospital buildings, the monument area, four cemeteries, and the Old State Mine Haunted Trail, according to the museum.

Tickets are $50 per person.

On the dates set aside for paranormal investigators, on those walk-throughs, guides take their “professional” guests to paranormal hotspots inside the building, and the team is then left alone to explore the property for the remainder of the tour.

Dr. George Zeller, who founded the asylum, was an area surgeon known as the “father” of the institution. According to the museum, Zeller believed in a new kind of institution where people with mental illness could be treated more humanely.

Zeller notably took all bars off the windows, removed all forms of restraint, and began a new, holistic approach to therapy, which made others consider him “mad.

In 1973, the hospital closed due to a lack of funding and staffing, according to the website, though employees protested the termination. When the hospital closed its doors, 63 buildings stood on the grounds. But because of a “taboo” surrounding the property, most were torn down, with only 12 left standing.

Though doctors and nurses stopped treating patients in the 1970s, visitors continued to return to the grounds after paranormal activity was reported.

According to the book “Illinois Haunted Houses,” the property could be haunted by Manual A. Bookbinder. “Old Book, as he was known, was reportedly a patient at the hospital who worked with the burial crew. It is said that following burial services for deceased patients, he would lean against an old elm tree and weep for the dead.

At the time of Bookbinder’s funeral, Zeller allegedly said 400 staff and patients saw his ghost. As workers were attempting to lower what should have been a heavy casket, they discovered that it instead felt empty. Suddenly, a crying sound echoed from the Graveyard Elm, and everyone in attendance turned and looked, including Dr. Zeller, who later detailed Bookbinder and the surrounding events in his diary. They all claimed to have seen Old Book standing by the tree.

The website said they even opened the coffin to confirm his body was still inside, which it was. 

But in the days that passed, the tree began to die. Several of the grounds crew tried to remove the Graveyard Elm or the “crying tree,” as it was also known. None were successful, citing the weeping emanating from the tree. One man even tried to cut it down with an ax, but when striking the side, terrible wailing would sound as if Old Book himself was being chopped. 

The mental hospital has been featured on episodes of “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Asylum.”