The Ridges is a former “insane asylum” that sits to the Southwest of Ohio University’s campus. The mental institution – originally named the Athens Lunatic Asylum in 1874 – was one of many in Ohio at the time. The asylum largely treated a large number of Civil War veterans who suffered from PTSD. Patient population was at a manageable level and treatments were humane until the early 1900s.
In the 1900s, the number of patients increased tenfold (200 to 2000). Teenagers labeled as rebellious and women suffering from hysteria – usually women crazy enough to enjoy sex – were sent to the asylum in addition to people who actually did have mental problems. A Complex Magazine article, listing America’s craziest insane asylums (The Ridges made number one), claimed that a women named Margaret Shilling was one of these women suffering from “hysteria”.
Shilling attempted to escape the asylum by hiding in the attic. But she never did leave that attic. She died of starvation before she could even reach the Hocking River. A stain on the floor of the asylum has been credited as Shilling’s decomposing corpse’s imprint.
The growing population become harder to handle. Despite the fact that the patient intake was growing, the number of staff had remained relatively unchanged. Patients thought to be uncontrollable were put through tortuous acts and mutilation. “Water treatment” – being confined to an ice-cold bath or being immobilized by being wrapped in freezing-cold sheets – was common. Shock therapy was frequently used. Doctors preformed lobotomies on who they termed the most violent and uncontrollable patients. A new type of lobotomy – the trans-orbital lobotomy – was developed by Dr. Walter J. Freeman in the early 1950s. His procedure was used at the Athens Asylum.
“This simpler lobotomy became something of a craze in mental health circles up through the 60s. Dr. Freeman’s method involved knocking the patient unconscious with electric shocks, then rolling an eyelid back and inserting a thin metal icepick-like instrument called a leucotome through a tear duct. A mallet was used to tap the instrument to the proper depth into the brain. Next it was sawed back and forth to sever the neural receptors. Sometimes this was done in both eyes.” – Forgottenohio
In the decades to follow, previous methods of treatment were phased out in favor of anti-psychotic drugs, such as Thorazine. Dosages and the drugs themselves were refined over the years. Medication was obviously a more humane way of controlling patients. During this time and up until the mental health center was given to Ohio University in the 1990s, overall treatment of patients was massively improved. Treatments formally expanded into drug rehabilitation and geriatrics.
But The Ridges’ sorted past has inspired many legends. Many people still claim that the asylum is haunted by its former patients. It is rumored that the most haunted part of the grounds is the cemetery where there are many unnamed graves. Many former patients had neither family nor someone who cared enough to pay for a tombstone. The graves are marked simply by numbers.
The final patients were moved in 1993. Renovations were made to most of the buildings by Ohio University once it gained ownership. Many offices are now at the ridges and the main building, Lin Hall, houses the Kennedy Museum of Art. Few of these “mental institutions” still stand today. Even fewer are in the condition that The Ridges is in. Its buildings are a haunting reminder of the worst days in America’s effort to “treat” the mentally unstable and patients termed as being “hysterical”.