CORRECTION: The video version of this story contained an incorrect name for George Zeller, the hospital’s first superintendent. The error has been corrected in the web story.
An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect spelling for Joe Smith. The error has been corrected.
BARTONVILLE, Ill. (WMBD) — Up the hill and over the mines sits the Peoria State Hospital Museum and what’s left of the original hospital.
The Peoria State Hospital was in operation from 1902 to 1973, and the museum opened in 2013. The museum re-opened to the public on July 12 after conducting extensive renovations.
“Peoria State Hospital was a forever care institution. You had to be deemed insane for the rest of your life to end up living here on the hilltop,” said Christina Morris, who owns and runs the museum with her husband Jeff Pirnell.
Morris said the hospital’s first superintendent, George Zeller, was a man ahead of the times.
“We were a cutting-edge institution. So many things are still used today in therapy that were done right here on the hilltop in Bartonville,” she said.
Zeller introduced color therapy, water therapy and work therapy at the hospital. He also let patients wear their own clothes instead institutional duds.
“He said if you take away a man’s clothes, you take away his dignity,” said Morris.
Morris said Zeller was all about the institution being a home for the patient, rather than a prison. Patients were allowed to work and could be found weaving, looming and painting all the time. Zeller banished all forms of restraints at Peoria State Hospital, which were common in mental institutions at the time.
“The history is good here. It’s not what you see at most other institutions. We get a lot of footsteps, a lot of hellos from the down the hallway,” she said.
The site is one of the most haunted locations in Illinois, but Morris said they are not angry ghosts.
“The reason we’re one of the most haunted is due to the fact that the patients simply don’t want to leave,” said Morris.
The hospital closed in 1973 following a decade of government divestment from mental hospitals. The hospital became overcrowded, patients weren’t allowed to work anymore and psychotropic medications became prevalent.
Morris’ husband Jeff Pirnell said he’s had many paranormal encouters.
“I have had quite a few things happen that you can’t explain it any other way that it’s paranormal. You see things out of the corner of your eye… The other day, I was in our cottage, we were working, and I literally saw the top half of a torso walk by,” he said.
The couple hopes to transform the hospital’s former gymnasium into a community center.
“Be able to have something that people can come do stuff here… and do it for the community, so the community can thrive from it,” said Pirnell.
“We’re changing it into something for the community. We’re hoping to open like a community center and start having ballroom dancing classes, line dancing… classes of different kinds,” added Morris.
Morris said the gymnasium is called “the laughing place” due to all the paranormal activity.
The Peoria State Hospital Museum will host two public paranormal investigations on July 23 and August 6 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. The three-hour tour includes three hospital buildings, four cemeteries, monument area and the Old State Mine Trail, an outdoor haunted trail leading from the woods to the mine.