It's more like Minnesota's Haunted Capital. And for good reason: the old, yet still standing Anoka State Hospital, an encampment of brick structures that once housed as many as 1,000 people suffering from various mental illnesses. The grounds situated just off the the Rum River are arguably the state's most spiritually unsettled piece of real estate.
The Anoka facility forged its reputation in suffering over 99 years. In March 1900, the Anoka Asylum received its first 100 male patients. Six years later, 115 women arrived. Over the next 90-plus years, it would house thousands. In 1960 nearly 1,100 wards of the state lived there.
Leather restraints, straitjackets, and baby cribs that resembled cages were standard issue. So was torture in the form of electroshock therapy and other medieval treatments.
The state finally shuttered the facility in 1999. While the boarded-up "cottages" where the residents lived still remain, it's what's below that lives on as a peculiar fascination. A network of tunnels exists beneath the grounds.
The cement hallways were once used to transport patients from one place to another without requiring staff to move them out into the open. It's also said that untold patients ended their own lives in the catacombs. The rumors say that patients trying to escape would get lost in the tunnels only to hang themselves when they realized finding their way out was futile.
The tunnels house poorly guarded secrets. Although perusing them is illegal, first-person accounts exist online. Urban explorers and ghost hunters report fingernail marks etched in walls and the word "No" repeatedly scribbled as well. Others say there are old wheelchairs, restraint apparatus, and what look like torture devices in rooms abutting the tunnels.
Thrill seekers and the curious routinely ask Ross Beard, owner of Anoka Paranormal Investigations, to bring them to the old asylum or the Anoka State Hospital Cemetery, where approximately 400 patients are buried in simple graves.
"I tell them to stay the hell out of there," Beard says. "It's not a safe place to be. There's a lot of unsettled things in there."
Things such as?
Unrested souls populate the cemetery and asylum grounds, according to Beard, who says those who suffered the unspeakable at the hands of their fellow humans stir to this day in a sort of purgatory.
Beard offers other advice. Respect the place, he urges. If you want to look around the grounds, go ahead, but please, don't even attempt to go in the tunnels. Otherwise, you might get something on you that might not come off. And, if you're thinking about taking a photo of the buildings, Beard insists, ask permission first.
"If you ask out loud to take pictures of the buildings, I'm telling you, you will get an answer," he says. "You will not believe how many things that appear in the windows."
"I think because there was so much wrong done there ... you have these unsettled emotions and activity. This place isn't for the faint of heart, for some people who think they want to go chase some ghosts. If you don't watch it, you'll go out there, and one of these things will follow you home. That's why I steer people away from there. Don't go there. You're not wanted. There's rest that needs to happen there for those that need it, and anyone trespassing is probably going to get more than they bargained for."
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