Learning the History
One of the activities that occupies my time is learning the history of the area where I pastor. Believe me, there’s more than enough to keep one learning for a long, long time.
But learning local history is vitally important for getting to know the people one’s called to shepherd. And being that I’m not a local, not even close, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to go on some adventures in order to get a “lay of the land.”
That is why, after learning of the existence of an abandoned mental hospital, I had to learn more, and if possible, in person.
The Unofficial History
The place that I’m talking about is Central State Hospital, founded in 1842 as the Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum. At one time this was the largest mental hospital/asylum in the world, “serving” up to 13,000 people.
Central State has a long and sorted history with a mixed reputation for healing and horror. From what I have been told by locals (you know, the kind that sit around in the barber shop even when it’s not time for a trim), strange and unexplained things have happened since the “residents” of that place were “let loose.” And when you read the stories that hit the news in the years leading up to the hospital’s closing, you’ll understand.
This hospital was HUGE. We’re talking a self-supporting town! There were a couple of hundred buildings, including a power plant and a cemetery with 25,000 graves! And really, what more needs to be said?
Sadly, even though the hospital was founded as a place to help people, the help they offered for generations was nothing short of horrific. At one point there were 100 patients to every 1 doctor – and NO psychiatrists or psychologists! Common treatments of the confined, those who suffered from anything from depression to schizophrenia, were things like electro-shock, surgeries, and straight jackets.
What’s worse, parent’s in Georgia used to use this place as a threat to make their children behave. They would threaten their unruly children with, “I’ll send you to Milledgeville!” Horrifically, it was a threat with weight, for it’s been said that Central State Hospital was a place “where you sent people away to be forgotten.”
The Unofficial Tour
If you look up Central State Hospital on YouTube, you will inevitably find videos of people exploring the abandoned ruins of this facility. And what’s more, many of those are focused on the creepy and “haunted” aspects of the property. As a matter of fact, Central State is considered one of the most haunted places in America.
However, if you go to MY YouTube channel, what you will find is the video I’ve attached to this post. It is a video of what an unnamed friend and I saw when he offered to give me an unofficial tour.
The only thing is that what started off as a drive around the place ended up with me deciding to get out of the car for a closer look. And once we did that, and once I saw that there were no locks and no signs saying “KEEP OUT!”, I went in.
WARNING: Don’t do this!
“Break’n the Law”
After about an hour of walking around in an abandoned prison essentially meant to house handicapped and elderly prisoners until they died … and after several times of mimicking TV ghost hunters by calling to the unseen down black, unlit hallways, “Is anybody there?” … we retraced our steps and found our way out into the sunlight.
Before we made it to the car, a female security officer in a van came down a weedy, overgrown single-lane drive and rolled up beside us. “You are not allowed to be here…you need to leave now,” she said with all the seriousness of somebody being paid to guard Area 51. “Oh, OK. We were just looking around and about to leave,” we replied.
“Just so you know, we’re not giving warnings anymore – we’re just calling the police and they’re taking people like you to jail,” the security officer then informed us. But then she let us go with a warning.
Back in the car, my friend, also a preacher, asked, “Would your church had fired you if you’d gotten arrested?”
“Probably not,” I said. At least I hoped.
“We literally could have gone to jail,” my friend said. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” I replied. “But it feels a little adventurous knowing we broke the law and got away with it.” I couldn’t help but remember MTV’s Beavis and Butthead from back in my younger, stupid years: they’d do something moronic, then act like would-be renegades while singing, “Break’n the law! Break’n the law!”
This, however, was pastoral research.