Traverse City State Hospital
When asylums were “all the rage,” in mental health, Traverse City was home to one of Michigan’s finest. It was first known as The Northern Michigan Asylum, built in 1885. The first superintendent was Dr. James Decker Munson. He had a theory that “beauty” could be a form of therapy. Munson felt that if mentally troubled people could come to a place and be surrounded by beautiful things and find peace and tranquility, that perhaps some of their troubles would cease to exist. The use of straightjackets were not even permitted. While “beauty” wasn’t always the solution for many problems that ailed people, it was in fact, a step in the right direction in regards to how many asylums and the people kept in them, were ran. Throughout our world’s history, people with mental problems have been abandoned, locked up and horribly neglected due to a lack of knowledge concerning their condition. Dr. Munson felt differently about how these people were treated and it no doubt helped many.
The hospital operated for 104 years but after health care reforms in the state, the rise of new medications and the declining use of such massive mental health facilities in general, the Traverse City State Hospital closed its doors for the last time in 1989. Like any old asylum from days past, it earned a reputation for being "haunted." Add to the fact that deterioration set in quickly after the buildings were closed left to decay. It was a perfect setting for ghost stories to grow in.
During the time the hospital sat in solitude and disrepair, one could look through the windows and glimpse mint green lead paint, pealing like blistered skin from the walls. Old medical objects and furniture were scattered through its long corridors and many rooms. Occasional artwork on walls by former patients just made things even creepier. Also, throw in graffiti and modern vandalism as well for an extra bonus effect.
In the early 2000’s, a developer started to renovate and rejuvenate the beautiful buildings, turning the decaying asylum into gorgeous condos, offices and even restaurants. The majority of restoration at the time was focused on what used be be known as Building 50. Building 50 was the hospital's first and main building and was designed by architect Gordon W. Lloyd and followed the "Kirkbride Plan” for mental institutions. Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride influenced how mental hospitals were to be built throughout the United States for decades with his book On the Construction, Organization and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane, published in 1854. Building 50 is the last Kirkbride structure left standing in Michigan, another important reason for the restoration project.
When we first started to explore the world of paranormal investigation in the early 00’s, Traverse City State Hospital was one of our favorite jaunts. The place just seemed to “ooze” of ghosts and creepy things. On a trip there in 2006, we explored some of the grounds away from the buildings and found the hospital’s old water tank back in the woods that had some seriously amazing graffiti artwork on it. We walked up to the tank and my buddy Tom noticed a tree that made it easy to climb to the top of the tank. I was a little weirded out when Tom got onto the roof and started talking to the air around him. He hadn't been greeted immediatly by ghosts, but there were three teens on top of the tank hanging out. They lived in the area so we asked them about any local stories being told about the place. I expected them to have tons of interesting and unusual tales being locals and all, but they just nonchalantly said the place was known to be “haunted” and that it was “creepy.” They noted the area of the woods we were in gave people a strange feeling. So much for cool, local stories.
Photo credit: Amberrose HammondSince our first days of exploring the old asylum, we’ve had tons of emails about people experiencing strange phenomena there when the grounds could be easily explored. Among the many “strange vibes” people got near the buildings, people reported seeing lights in rooms with no power. Strange shadows moved about the dark corridors. Some people got creepy EVP’s. Psychics claimed they were communicating with patients who had died there or were bound to the place for some reason. Whatever the experiences may have been, they were numerous for the urban explorers of this once desolate collection of buildings. I even felt it was cool enough that it had to go into my first book, Ghosts and Legends of Michigan's West Coast (shameless plug).
Nowadays, things are a little brighter over there. Gone are the dangers of lead paint and asbestos that made the place dangerous to explore on the inside. It’s turned into a vibrant place of urban renewal now known as The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. You can dine, shop and even live there! So while it’s really no longer a paranormal stomping ground, the history is still intense and amazing and it is still worth the visit. Who knows, you may be greeted by a spirit still in the most unassuming of places.
One of the first restaurants to open at the renovated hospital was Trattoria Stella. From the beginning, stories about spirit activity were talked about. I had even heard when they first opened, they had a hard time keeping some of the staff around because they got too spooked to work there! I have no clue if that is 100% true or not but it was something I was told a long time ago.
If you have interesting stories about jaunts into the unknown territories of the Traverse City State Hospital before the renovation, send us your story to add to this page. Have you heard new stories about the renovated buildings? Send us those as well!
-Written by Amberrose Hammond
Want to learn more about the history of the Traverse City State Hospital? Check out these books.
Enjoy some photos that were taken before the huge renovation project began.
Reader Submission -
My name is D___ and I have a story about the Traverse City State Hospital. I was hired as a painter and general laborer by the construction company contracted to restore the hospital back in 2003 and worked for them until 2007. This is just one of the many stories I have after my four years of working on the old place. I was working in building 50 on the third floor by myself. The third floor was the men's most disturbed ward. I was up on a ladder scraping the paint off an old door transom on the north end of the ward when I heard a scuffing noise all the way down on the other end. I stopped what I was doing for a minute and looked down to see if I could see what all the commotion was. I kept my eyes fixed on the area were I heard the noise but didn't hear it anymore so I went back to doing my work. A few minutes went by when I heard it again but this time very loudly. I got down and went to see who was making so much noise but nobody was there so I started back to my ladder and got about half way down the ward when I heard the sound again. I whipped around as fast as I could to see a man peeking out of the last room on the end. I was just down there and I knew I was the only one in that section of the building. I knew immediately what I was looking at and could feel it looking at me, if that makes any sense. I bolted out and down the stairs as fast as I could and the whole time I felt it behind me till I made it out the door. Luckily, I coned another worker to come help me for the rest of the day and we didn't see anything else that day, but I could still feel it looking at me until I left for the day.
Reader Submission - First I want to say how much I enjoy your site and I visit often. Last fall I submitted an article I wrote about Pere Cheney Cemetery and you added it to your page (which made me very happy, lol). I have yet another story for you, this time about the TC State Hospital.... More of an anecdote, maybe.
When my daughter was born, she was six weeks premature and I was taken to Traverse City to give birth in a facility that was more equipped to deal with a premature birth. She was in the NICU at Munson Medical Center for two weeks and I stayed at the Munson Manor (Hospitality House) for those two weeks. Doing my laundry at the Manor was very daunting because of how uncomfortable I felt in the laundry room. On two occasions, the door slammed shut (and it had been propped open with a door stopper) and would not open for a couple minutes. I felt as though I were being watched very intently by something that didn't want me there. I tried to avoid the laundry room at all costs except when necessary.
I had read the other anecdote about the Munson Manor and I had to include my creepy laundry room story. Thank you for reading :-)
Reader Submission - I am a local of Traverse City and have been here for 15 years. I have researched this area and I work for a local news station. I was tapping a policeman doing a story about teen’s destruction of property. Now on to the spooky stuff! When I was recording with a video camera, I got some loud and very spooky voices. When I edited the tape I could hear the following. The voices said, "Get out Now!”,"Leave now or you will be sorry" and “watch out Mike". The scary thing is the officer’s name was Mike! It was like the sprit was talking to us in real time!. Sadly I tried to find this video in our company's archives but failed. You should have been there! Me, the policeman and the cam dude were freaking out. I mean, it was not a faint voice, it was a loud one! it was 10:30pm so NO one was around after the police removed the teens.
Reader Submission - We were staying at the Hospitality House at Munson in Traverse City, which is in one of the old state hospital buildings. We were in the laundry room in the basement and the door which had been open, slammed! We tried to get it unstuck and open it but it appeared locked. Seconds later it swung back open. Nobody else was around because it was late in the evening. Needless to say we didn't go near the basement again!