Anoka, Minnesota is the Halloween capitol of the world and home to the Anoka State Hospital. The old Anoka State Hospital (or the Anoka State Asylum) operated for 100 years and is full of terrifying haunts.
There are a lot of factors that add to the hauntings of the asylum. Located next to the Rum River, there is a lot of water activity for spirits to pull from. And the Anoka State Hospital served “incurables” by using experimental treatments (yes, lobotomies). The icing on the cake is the underground tunnel system, winding to connect a dozen cottages and service buildings.
Continue reading to learn more about the Anoka Asylum and its haunts!
History of the Anoka State Hospital & Asylum
The Anoka State Hospital was built in the late 1800s, with the first patients arriving in spring of 1900. The first set of patients came from St. Peter, about 100 male patients who were considered “chronic incurables.” The patients weren’t to be given any treatment, they were simply transferred here to live out the rest of their days in peace.
The living conditions started out great, it was the first mental hospital to use “cottages” instead of a hospital-style building for the patients to live. Each cottage could house 50 patients, and the cottages were connected by a series of underground tunnels. The patients were treated well and most were allowed to walk the grounds – nearly 400 acres of wooded beauty next to the Rum River.
Then in 1905, 115 women joined the scene – in separate housing of course. There was still room for everyone and the staff was able to take care of the patients. Then everything took a turn.
The 1920s were the height of commitment. Family members could commit other family members for nearly any reason, and for an indefinite period of time! The worst part? That patient could only be released if a family member came to claim them. Yikes.
By the 1920s the Anoka State Hospital (otherwise called the Anoka State Asylum) had over 1,000 patients. The hospital was overcrowded, the staff just couldn’t keep up.
This meant the conditions were horrendous for the patients. Many were left in straightjackets for days, strapped in to beds without someone to change their soiled sheets, and others left to fend for themselves.
People report still finding restraints on the property today, over 20 years since the hospital closed down.
The conditions were so bad that people tried to escape, through the tunnel system that connected all the buildings and by swimming in the nearby river. Unfortunately, many people’s escapes turned out to be their last living quest as they died or committed suicide.
Tuberculosis & Lobotomies: Treatments at Anoka State Hospital
The period between 1948 and 1967 at the Anoka State Asylum is what created a stir. The hospital became the tuberculosis treatment center for the mentally ill and insane.
But the hospital population was already overcrowded. With this new batch of patients, the staff really couldn’t keep up and the conditions continued to worsen.
In the 1950s the Anoka State Hospital was conducting lobotomies. Not just one or two, they conducted 100 lobotomies in 10 years. And that’s just the reported ones.
Lobotomies weren’t the only experimental treatments going on…hydrotherapy and electroshock therapy were regular treatments.
Anoka State Hospital Cemetery
When they built the Anoka State Hospital, they planned ahead and built the Anoka State Hospital Cemetery nearby. About a quarter-mile from the main grounds, the cemetery sits across the street from the Anoka High School.
There are about 400 patients buried here. Remember the first 100 patients that transferred from St. Peter? 86 of those men are buried here.
The cemetery has a dark past. While the asylum was operating they buried patients with only number as a plaque. People were forgotten, unmarked and unable to leave.
Fortunately, a team got together and researched the graves. The group was able to put named headstones in place of the patient number to help put the patients to rest.
You can still visit the cemetery, there are no headstones just plaques. When I visited in January it has just snowed 8 inches the day before, so I couldn’t see anything other than the gate! Summer is probably a better time to visit.
Hauntings at Anoka State Asylum
First off, the asylum has never been investigated by paranormal investigators–which I find crazy. They need the city and state’s permission to enter and so far no one has been allowed in to formally conduct an investigation.
But workers have told a lot of tales. Before the cemetery was updated to the patient’s names, orbs could be seen floating nearby the cemetery and the surrounding woods.
Inside the cottages workers report feeling cold on hot days and hearing manic laughter in the hallways. There have also been reports of faces in the windows of boarded up buildings. Employees often report that they feel like they are trespassing.
And the nearby Rum River is filled with haunts. The first person who was buried in the cemetery is connected to this river. Just five months after opening the asylum, William Raesall, a 42-year-old German immigrant, escaped from the hospital. He walked into the Rum River to his death. Some articles report that he committed suicide, but we obviously can’t know that for certain.
Mr. Raesall isn’t the only patient whose life ended in the Rum River. There were dozens of escapees every year from the asylum, and many of them went to the river. Sadly, many of them also died in the whipping water of the Rum River.
It is said that people can hear screams from the river and see figures walking into the water who then disappear into thin air.
The Anoka State Hospital Tunnels
The most haunted part of the hospital, though, is the tunnel system. When patients tried to escape they had two ways: through the grounds toward the Rum River, with hardly any coverage to hide from on the grounds, or the tunnel system. Often, people chose the tunnels.
Unfortunately, the tunnel system was dark, twisted, and daunting. Patients, even sane patients, couldn’t find their way out. They would get lost in the never ending maze of tunnels and ultimately give up.
After a long struggle in the dark tunnels, patients would be disoriented and defeated. More than once staff found a patient in the tunnel who hung themselves from large pipes on the tunnel ceiling.
Employees who dare to enter the tunnels here indistinct and incoherent whispering, often frantic whispering. Cold spots move through the tunnels and live a shiver down employee’s arms. Sometimes a manic laugh will billow from the walls.
Employees also hear footsteps running up to them, suddenly stopping, and running the other way. As if a patient was lost and trying to find their way out.
Most employees and residents refuse to enter the tunnels. Today they are typically used by maintenance workers and security. The tunnels are not open to the public.
In the 1970s the Anoka State Hospital population went down from over 1300 patients to about 400. And the numbers continued to decrease.
The asylum closed in 1999. In the 2000s, the city considered how to revamp it and put the gorgeous architecture to use.
Today, the Anoka State Hospital has multiple uses. Some of the cottages have been rehabbed into housing for homeless veterans. Several other cottages are offices for human services and treatment, as well as mental health clinics for teenagers and adults. There are still some abandoned cottages and buildings that are in the works.
The grounds are gorgeous. Surrounded by woods and the Rum River, it is a beautiful lot of land. The nearby downtown Anoka is a great spot to visit for antiques.
If you visit the asylum grounds, be respectful. People live and work here. The abandoned buildings are dangerous to enter, so do not enter without permission. You can visit the spirits outside the buildings – trust me, it will feel different the closer you get to the building. The cemetery is easily accessible for the public.
If you have an in and get to tour the tunnels, drop me an email on my contact page. I’d love to hear about it!
I hope you liked my post on haunted asylum in Anoka. I highly recommend a (respectful) visit to see the architecture and feel the auras. Check out these other top haunted places: