Haunts & Jaunts: Central State Hospital

Central State Hospital will always be there.

The former Pathology building now housing the Indiana Medical Museum. This is worth the price of admission, and not for the squeamish. Photo by Rick Hinton.

   Standing on the grounds of the former Central State Hospital for the Insane is a surreal experience as dusk descended on a chilly January evening. Our tour guide had led us into the field across from the Pathology Building, now known as The Indiana Medical Museum. We strolled through the grass and thickets on a parcel of ground where the once Victorian castle like Seven Steeples once stood. A car’s horn sounded on Washington Street to the south while a procession of headlights made their way along Vermont Avenue to the north. The world rushed by, yet, for that moment, time had stood still.

    Central State officially opened in 1848 as a psychiatric treatment facility, housing patients with conditions ranging from very mild, to those of the criminally insane. As years rolled by more acreage was acquired, with a continued stream of building. Central State served the mentally ill for more than 146 years, however, the early 1970s was not so kind. Many of the ornate era buildings were declared unsafe and torn down. The state replaced these with institutional genre brick buildings. Years rolled on. Patients came and went. Some…never did leave.  Funding woes and reports of patient abuse contributed to the hospitals closing in 1994. 

One of many tunnel entrances on the grounds of Central State Hospital. Photo by Laura Hinton.

   We moved back to the road, heading past the dark and silent Powerhouse, built in 1886. Besides the Pathology Building, it’s the last remaining structure from the 1800s. We discussed the “tunnels.” They  were/are service tunnels connecting various buildings on the grounds. Some say there are more than 5 miles of them; some say less. It’s rumored there are chains and shackles bolted to the wall in a few. It’s also rumored they’re haunted. The tunnels are sealed up, however many feel you can still access them from the Power Plant. They were once a refuge for the homeless, and excitement for adventuresome urban explorers. Our guide showed us a locked metal grading on the ground outside the former Administration Building (now Central State Mansion, housing apartments for IUPUI students). “This is one entrance,” he states, and then points to the apartment building. “There are others in the basement, but they’re sealed up.”

   Currently Central State has gained a new lease on life with a transformation of shops, apartments and green ways.

   The human element (patients and staff) over a lengthy period of time can produce things that linger behind. As can a multitude of unmarked graves. Central State is full of both! Screams, groans, footsteps, apparitions and shadows darting about the physical grounds seem to point to a past that was not so nice.