MY TOP 5 ASYLUMS By Madeleine Roux
While writing ASYLUM, I turned to some of the following hospitals and institutions for inspiration, to bring in that real world touch. Some of the stories and histories I stumbled across were almost too intense and gruesome to be believed.
I. Norwich State Hospital for the Insane
Preston, Connecticut 1904 ― 1996
When most people think of an asylum, they probably picture a giant looming mansion that looks something like Norwich State Hospital for the Insane. It has one of those iconic, red brick exteriors with columns and a steep roof. The hospital is also notable for its maze of underground passageways. It’s considered by creep and ghost aficionados to be extremely haunted. Several shows have featured the hospital, including the popular series Ghost Hunters.
II. Whittingham Asylum
Lancashire, England 1869 ― 1995
Whittingham Asylum, charming and even quaint on the outside, makes the list if only for its sheer size. Whittingham was virtually a miniature city, and its expansive grounds included a brewery, post office, and even its own brass band. It was also the sight of some seriously scary allegations, with an inquiry in the 1960s that included reports of cruelty and fraud, complaints that were kept quiet with threats. Reportedly, some wards were infested with vermin, while others were left freezing cold. There were even rumors of a “wet towel treatment” involving a cold, wet towel wrapped around the patient’s neck until they passed out.
III. Waverly Hills Sanatorium
Louisville, Kentucky 1910 ― 1962
The architecturally stunning Waverly Hills was built to house a sudden influx of tuberculosis patients in the county, but closed after only fifty years when medical advances rendered the facility obsolete. Considered to be one of the most haunted hospitals in the eastern United States, it has played host to scores of reality TV shows about the paranormal, including Scariest Places on Earth and Ghost Hunters. It gets creepier―there are currently plans to renovate the hospital into a hotel for those looking to have a spooky spot to stay.
IV. Lier Mental Hospital
Buskerud County, Norway 1926 ― 1986
Perhaps the scariest thing about Lier Mental Hospital is its murky involvement in experimentation linked to pharmaceutical companies from the United States. This postwar hospital was used for experimentation and research into lobotomies, LSD, electroshock therapy and more.
V. Topeka State Hospital
Topeka, Kansas 1872 ― 1997
Topeka State Hospital may look cute and charming on the outside, but on the inside it was home to some unbelievably dark rumors. By far the creepiest allegations leveled against the hospital? (Brace yourself, it’s pretty gross.) There are stories of patients strapped down for so long that their skin began to grow around the straps. Yeesh. Nowadays, you can sometimes hear music playing from inside the abandoned hospital and spot shadows peering out at the windows.
HB: The imagery was so vivid in ASYLUM and the photographs throughout were just gorgeous―was it based on anywhere you’ve visited personally?
MR: The admittedly limited travel I’ve done in Europe included some incredible ruins and castles. There’s a feeling you get in those places, a sort of wonder and terror that you just don’t feel in new buildings. I tried to draw on those memories for Brookline. I also grew up in an old Victorian farmhouse, and . . . I don’t want to say it’s haunted but there were certainly times it felt haunted. To this day, when I visit my parents, I feel eyes on me at night in the hallway. The hairs on the back of your neck go up and you can sense there’s history there present with you. I wanted that same feeling to come through with Brookline.
HB: I felt really connected to Dan Crawford, your main character. What part of your fabulous mind did he come from?
MR: I was kind of a weird kid. I loved school. I wasn’t so much a loner as a gigantic nerd, always with my nose in a book or writing my own scripts and stories. There’s a good bit of my own insecurities and childhood memories in Dan; that same geek pride mixed with a constant fear that maybe life would be easier if I veered more toward the mainstream. Writing a male perspective is intimidating in the sense that I wanted it to feel authentic, so I would stop every once in a while and ask a friend if it was reading correctly to them. Having honest buddies helped, it always does for writing. They weren’t shy about saying, “I’m sorry but no guy would do/think/act that way, try again.”
HB: Has horror always appealed to you? If not, why now, why this story? If so . . . well . . . same question.
MR: The first two novels I did had a certain creep factor, too, since they were about zombies and survival. The irony here is that I’m a huge wuss when it comes to scary movies. I spent most of Cabin In the Woods whimpering in someone else’s lap. I’m not good with scary movies or gore or anything like that, but I find myself drawn to that kind of story again and again. It’s like I know it’s going to keep me up all night but I can’t help myself. I think that’s probably common, though . . . . We all test ourselves now and again, see where our boundaries and limits are. I get a kick out of pushing those limits for myself and exploring the darker parts of my imagination. My life isn’t all that adventurous, so writing darker stories gives me a chance to indulge in the more morbid thoughts that cross my mind.
HB: I know you probably get asked this a lot, but what’s your favorite piece of writing advice for the writers out there?
MR: It comes from Neil Gaiman and is infuriatingly straightforward and simple. “How do you do it? You do it. You write. You finish what you write.” And it’s true. As I’m sure you know, there’s no magic button. Sometimes you can’t write a sentence and other times you can’t stop, but just sitting down and making yourself do it is the key. You have to practice. You have to do the work, over and over. He also has another great piece of advice somewhere (I’m an unabashed Neil fangirl, I can’t help it) about getting out and living life, and not feeling upset or pressured if you don’t have a huge well of experience to draw on. The best inspiration comes from falling in love, falling out of it, getting your heart broken, just being present and showing up, you know? You won’t have anything to draw from if you guard yourself too closely. You have to risk life changing you in order to have something there to write about.
HB: What’s next from the shadowed mind of Madeleine Roux? What are you working on, and when can I have it? :)
MR: I’m notorious for starting new projects and then abandoning them, but I’ve had a gritty YA fantasy series cooking in my head for a while now. I’ve been taking down tons of notes for it and I’ve even started a few chapters, so right now I hope that has wings and takes off. You can have it the second I manage to get it all down!