By Rick Hinton
Standing on the grounds of the former Central State Hospital for the Insane was a surreal experience as dusk descended on a chilly winter evening. Our tour guide led us into the field across from the former pathology building – now known as the Indiana Medical Museum – through grass and thickets to a parcel of the ground once containing the Victorian castle-like Seven Steeples, which housed women patients. The city rushed by, yet for that moment, time seemed to stand still.
Central State Hospital officially opened in 1848 as a psychiatric treatment facility, treating patients with conditions ranging from very mild to those of the criminally insane. As the years rolled forward, more acreage was needed and acquired, followed by a continual construction of additional buildings. Central State served the mentally ill for over 146 years, but the 1970s were not so kind to the hospital grounds. Many of the ornate era buildings were deemed unsafe and torn down. The state replaced these with institutional genre brick buildings. The years continued to roll past. Patients came and went. Many never did leave. Funding woes and reports of patient abuse contributed to the hospital closing in 1994.
We resumed our hike on the road, heading past the dark and silent former Boiler House and Power Plant, built in 1886, once generating power and heat to the entire complex. Except for the pathology building, it is the only remaining structure from the hospital’s inception. We discussed the tunnels – service pathways that run beneath the grounds connecting various buildings on the property. Some claim there are more than five miles of them. One rumor is there are chains and shackles bolted to the walls in a few of the tunnels. It is also rumored they are very haunted. The tunnels are sealed, for the most part, however many feel they can still be accessed from the power plant’s basement. The tunnels were once a refuge for the homeless and excitement for adventure-hungry urban explorers. Our guide Logan showed us a padlocked metal grating just outside of the former administrative building, which has been renovated into the Central State Mansion, apartments catering to IUPUI students. Logan has an apartment in the building and knows the grounds very well.
“This is one entrance,” he stated, pointing to the thick metal grating. He turns to look at the building. “There are others in the basement, but they are sealed shut.”
The grounds of the former hospital have gained a new lease on life with the transformation of shops, apartments and greenways. Urban exploring is strongly discouraged.
As with any place with the human element (former patients and staff), over a lengthy period, can sometimes leave a mark that seemingly lingers behind; grief, despair, suffering, abuse, death and a multitude of unmarked graves. Central State has many of these; people to this day who remain anonymous or forgotten. Many who passed in the hospital are buried in the Mount Jackson Cemetery just north of the grounds. Talk about the makings of a good ghost story.