An abandoned asylum nestled inside a state park. Scared yet?
Despite closing permanently last year, Lakeshore Mental Institute still stands in the midst of Lakeshore Park, located at 6410 South Northshore Drive. Most of its buildings have decayed into shambles and ruin.
With a history of dark, mysterious procedures and happier practices in equal measure, the complex first opened in 1886 as the East Tennessee Hospital for the Insane.
Blake Roller, junior in journalism and political science, first encountered the mental hospital as a freshman while visiting a friend. After the complex closed, Roller researched and explored the facility.
In the institution's early days, Roller explained, patients came from families who could not or would not provide care. These patients would spend the bulk of their lives on this plot of approximately 100 acres.
"Throughout history, people with mental disabilities have always been frowned upon," Roller said. "They were considered a threat to society and someone that you disposed of, you locked up, and there was no treatment for them."
Psychological testing was conducted, much of which would be considered unethical by today's standards. Roller said the institute was basicalyl a prison for the mentally disabled, whether sentenced, admitted or sent away.
"It was a place you went and you stayed and you didn't want to be there," Roller said.
In 1927, the center was renamed the Eastern State Psychiatric Hospital.
Following the 1955 invention of the tranquilizer, the hospital adopted a new form of treatment. In 1960, they introduced the $2 million Therapeutic Village, which included cottages, a store, a clinic, a coffee bar, a chapel and a pool.
Roller said he believes this lifestyle greatly improved the happiness of the patients.
"People were a lot happier coming out of Lakeshore," he said. "Lakeshore was a model institution for other facilities. From what I've read, people would just come there to see how Lakeshore treated its patients in this new way of treatment."
For Roller, Lakeshore's evolution embodies the development of the mental health care system in America, from dark, experimental days to more effective, humane treatments.
"You see the times where we kept them in dark rooms and brick walls, and then you see the times where we let them roam around free and it was encouraged that they actually get out and do things," Roller said. "It was encouraged that they learn things—that they learn a trade."
In 1977, the hospital's name was changed to Lakeshore Mental Institute. Shortly thereafter, in 1980, the state began their plan to shift the patients at Lakeshore to community sustained help until the hospital closed in 2012. Not much later, in the spring of 2013, a former employee found patients' records laying in one the buildings, which contained case numbers, dates of birth and Social Security numbers.
In Knoxville lore, the asylum is considered haunted, with reports of screams, apparitions and disembodied voices. It is also rumored that employees physically abused patients in the 1960s, although this has not been verified as fact.
Stephen Hannah, an aspiring artist who moved to Knoxville four years ago, once filmed his exploration of one of the buildings with some friends.
"I think the creepiest thing I saw was in the basement," Hannah said. "It was pitch black, so we had to use our phones as flashlights. There were old paintings, most likely reprints, and frames along with an old disassembled upright piano. It was damp, chilly and it was very eerie."
Hannah, however, was doubtful of any paranormal activity in the buildings.
"I have not heard of any hauntings at the asylum, unless you count the medical records they found unsecured a few months back," Hannah said. "I bet that is haunting someone. I am not 100 percent convinced that the place is haunted. I'm not saying I don't believe in ghosts or the supernatural, but I didn't encounter anything except an old decrepit building."
With conversion into a city park being the ultimate goal, the city plans to tear down all but one of the facility's buildings, which may be declared a historical site.
A former employee of the asylum, who requested to be nameless, heard of hauntings during their time at Lakeshore, but "never believed them." The employee, who worked in the medical records department 22 years ago, lamented the loss of the facility.
"It is sad that it closed, especially for the long-term patients. It was their home."
Hannah supports the plans to convert the area into a city park, believing the transformation will put the vacated buildings to use.
"As far as the plans to tear it down, I think the space could be used for something productive," Hannah said. "I think it would be neat if they converted part of it into a haunted house for Halloween. That would probably generate some chatter and a lot of revenue if they market it properly."