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Michigan’s Haunted Traverse City Hospital

Fewer places seem more ripe for a haunting than former insane asylums. And while Michigan’s Traverse City Hospital certainly has its share of ghosts, its resident spirits aren’t what you might think.

The Traverse City State Hospital, also known as the Northern Michigan Asylum, opened its doors in 1881. At first, it was strictly a facility for the mentally ill, but it eventually expanded to include rehabilitation for drug addiction and wards for diseases like typhoid and tuberculosis.

Life at the State Hospital wasn’t what you might expect, given the usual horror movie treatment of asylums. In fact, many of the stories about the State Hospital ghosts suggest they aren’t tortured souls trapped in a place they hated, but the spirits of people returning to a place they felt valued. See, there were no straitjackets or electroshock sessions at the State Hospital. The doctors believed that beauty and work were therapeutic. The grounds of the hospital included gardens and farmland, and patients were encouraged to care for the plants and animals. In a time when people with mental illnesses weren’t considered fit for regular jobs, the State Hospital took the “radical” step of treating them like people.

But even as progressive as the State Hospital was, it couldn’t keep up with changing times. By the 1950s, asylum-style hospitals were falling out of favor. The farm was closed; buildings were shut down and demolished. The remaining patients were sent to other facilities or released to find their own way, and in 1989, the State Hospital closed for good.

Well, not quite.

The historic buildings sat vacant for decades, gathering graffiti and legends of hauntings, until a development company stepped in, turning the facility into a mixed-use space filled with shops, restaurants, and apartments. And when people started living at the State Hospital, now known as the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, they also started living with the dead.

Legend has it there’s a host of shadowy children at the old hospital. These shadowy beings could be easily mistaken for local kids, except they appear and disappear despite locked doors and barred windows. And they’re not alone. In one of the newly developed shopping areas, workers report seeing a woman in contemporary business attire who steps up to the front register only to disappear when they come around the counter to greet her. This particular apparition is an eerie reminder that the State Hospital’s history isn’t quite as far removed as we might think.

The most famous of the haunted places at the State Hospital is the Hippie Tree. Legend has it that the great tree was struck by lightning and fell, breaking into three pieces. It’s still there today and serves as a canvas for local artists who have covered it with graffiti and artwork. One of the local stories says that two boys were found murdered at the tree, though there’s no record of the crime. Whether or not any deaths have occurred there, the legend holds that walking a certain pattern around the tree will open a gateway to Hell. No one knows what that pattern might be, though, or if they do, they haven’t been able to tell.

You can check out the State Hospital yourself, either by browsing the public spaces or by signing up for a Twilight tour. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even encounter a former resident or two.



Ghost and Ghouls

by cnkguy
Michigan’s Haunted Traverse City Hospital

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