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OLD ROOSEVELT ASYLUM

Location: Eighty miles northwest of Chicago in northern Illinois beyond Interstate 90, Rockford is the county seat of Winnebago County. The former Roosevelt Asylum is in the small community of Forest Hills; the property is posted, gated and trespassing is strictly prohibited. 

Description of Place: Forest Hills has been a farming community in decline since the ugly rumors coming from the fire at Roosevelt Asylum. Sitting on enclosed property, the hundred and fifty room structure is in a derelict and decrepit state crowded with outdated files, deserted beds, downgraded medicine and abandoned relics. Contrary to belief, the police keep the idly curious and the odd vandal out because the place is condemned and potentially unsafe, not because it is haunted.

Ghostly Manifestations: On April 23, 1972, as their peers talked of spring dances, dates with expensive cars and runs for beer amidst juvenile delinquency, Matt Wilson, Trey Cooley and Jay Sadler, three boys with otherwise more promising futures, saw the Old Roosevelt Asylum as a good place for a private party of liquor stolen from their father's private stashes. Interested in a night of ghost-prospecting, they scaled the front gate, broke in through a basement window and traced their path through the location into the south wing. Rumors of the ghosts in the deserted location had been passed down by their parents, by relatives of neighbors and by customers at the gas station who had heard things. Whether Wilson, Cooley and Sadler experienced anything is unrevealed, but they added to the tales of the old asylum that night by trying to burn the location to the ground in trying to get the ghosts to appear. Succumbing to flames or smoke inhalation, none of the boys lived to tell their tale, but later teenage urban legends don't bother with trivialities such as cause of death..

Traditions of youths coming from nearby Pickford and Butler to break in and look for ghosts are common for the hospital. Officers drive by often looking for parked cars and flashlights in the place. Every once in a while, they catch something else. A shadow glides past an open window, or the sound of a slamming door from inside the location supposed to be empty alerts the senses of an officer catching up on paper work in his parked patrol car. In a routine November 2007 inspection of the location, Lt. Daniel Gunderson and Lt. Walter Kelly were on a routine "cleaning out" of Rockford youths out of the place, but then Kelly caught a glimpse of another figure at the top of some stairs. Less than a minute later, he was running out "so fast it took his hair a minute to catch up with his feet." Kelly was the butt of many jokes for weeks and months afterward.  

Over the years, reputed stories of ghosts in the location have ranged from the mild to grandiose. Random tales occur of would-be trespassers running out after being scared by ghosts or odd noises. Whether these claims are true is unrevealed, but the location itself does have a presence. The size of the place, the signs of habitation, intimate belongings amongst the limited weathering and fire damage and the looming shadows and echoes prey on the imaginations of security guards and visitors. Whispering voices have been described by high school students from the location. Despite the high fence and police patrols, the location is a magnet for sex-starved teens and juvenile film-makers as well as the odd vandal or would-be Satanist trying to stir something up. During their 2007 visit, amateur ghost-hunters Sam and Dean Winchester found a variety of spray cans in the front lobby, several of them still full, and commented that something must have scared away the future graffiti artists from finishing their illegal artwork.

In October 2008, writer and paranormal researcher William Collins passed through the area on a promotion tour for his new novel and stopped over at Forest Hills High School for a student assembly on the merits of a good education and a drug-free life. His stay over lead to speculation that his Collinsport Ghost Society was in the area to investigate the deserted asylum as countless students kept him detained to share their experiences in or near Roosevelt. One teen reported being watched by a disfigured person hiding in shadows. Another testified that he took home a relic from the hospital and had nightmares until he got rid of it. Another girl claimed she went up there with her boyfriend, but he got scared of something and left her behind to be found by police on their routine inspection. More often than not, the stories are all the same, kids ranging from 13 to 18 years in ages going up there and getting scared out by either voices, anomalous sounds, shadows, images or even poltergeist activity.

As a favor to the CGS, the Dearborn Ghosthunters Club out of Chicago received legal permission from Dr. James Ellicott, the owner of the property to do an examination of the location. Headed by Adam Hyneman and Tony Imahara, legal assistants by trade used to plying through historical census records, they were joined by lady contractor Reese Carpenter,  corrections officer Neal Salvatore and Crystal Bennett, a local restaurateur with limited psychic awareness. Although without the extent of scientific tools on the level of the CGS or TAPS, the team of paranormal explorers accompanied by Officer Walter Kelly spent eight hours in the location with camera and audio equipment exploring one end of the location from the other. Photos of the night caught signs of orbs, and their tapes caught rapping noises that turned up from inaccessible areas. Six feet-tall and an avid body-builder, Salvatore confessed he did not like being in the basement, claiming that he was becoming claustrophobic down there. Crystal felt she could sense spirits watching from a distance, but the location was so oppressive she developed a headache and had to stay outside most of the night. Their film footage was something else; despite a clear March night, an odd swirling haze of mist was imprinted on the footage enveloping the team during their walk of the basement.  

History: Built in 1953, Roosevelt Asylum was originally built as a tuberculosis hospital but gradually converted into a hospital for the mentally handicapped and deranged. Its most notorious history begins in the 1950s when Dr. Sanford Ellicott, father of Dr. James Ellicott, took over as Chief of Staff and began having secret surgeries trying to find a cure for dementia. (Reportedly, he had developed the idea after visiting the former Vannacutt Sanitarium in California.) Doctors and nurses later reported that Ellicott was drilling holes into the heads of patients without relatives in order to solve the pressure causing mental instability. In an odd turn of events reflecting Vannacutt Sanitarium, the few coherent patients lashed out instigating a riot that provoked the more violent and criminally insane patients. It took thirty-eight hours for local and state police to take over the siege that killed over fifty-two patients and staff and critically injured almost thirty more. Some bodies were never located; among them, Sanford Ellicott, his remains turning up years later in November 2007 when amateur ghost-hunters Sam and Dean Winchester investigated the ghost stories of the location.

As recent as February 2008, rumors were that Roosevelt Asylum had been sold and was going to be converted to a convalescent home, but as if this writing, that has yet to happen. In confirming the location as haunted, the word through the juvenile community is that the company hired to restore the location was frightened off the job by the hauntings there. There is no known verification to this. 

Although a brief fire took part of the south wing in 1972, the rest of the hospital was burned down on purpose by the Rockford Fire Department Station #11 and #18 in September 2010 as part of a fire-fighting training exercise. The remains were demolished by October, deterring further invasions by teenagers but not false rumors about more bodies being found on the location. The area is now part of a planned housing development.  

Identity of Ghosts: Fifty-two patients and staff reportedly died in the 1958 riot in the location. Compared against patient files and employee records, at least eighteen people were never recovered, possibly having died in hiding places or having been concealed after death. The spirits are a frightening lot, but no one has actually been injured as part of the activity here, mostly out of insinuating circumstances, such as getting scared and stumbling down the staircase. Whether they are surviving consciousnesses (ghosts) or recurring place memories or even a combination of both has not been determined.

Source/Comments: Supernatural (Episode: Asylum). Activity loosely based on the locations of the Hot Springs Hotel in Byron, California, Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, and Danvers Mental Hospital near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which served as inspiration for the episode.


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