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Mysterious Places: The Institution of the Damned

Cindy is an author and paranormal enthusiast who has published numerous books and articles on the subject of true unexplained phenomena.

Colin Anderson Center, West Virginia

Colin Anderson Center, West Virginia

The Best of Intentions

In the latter part of the 1970s, an expose appeared in a Mid-Ohio Valley newspaper that would shed light on the horrors believed to be taking place behind the walls of a mental health facility that had been a mainstay of the community for decades. In time, it would become apparent that what was revealed in the article had barely scratched the surface of what would turn out to be a far more disturbing story.

Located in the town of St. Marys, the West Virginia Training School, as it was then known, was established around 1930. According to its charter, the institution's goal was to nourish the minds of children suffering from a vast array of mental and emotional challenges. Although the original intention offered a promise of normalcy for those who, up till then, had few options in life, staff members charged with their care were soon overwhelmed by the monumental task they had undertaken.

The school housed upwards of five hundred residents at any given time, most of whom lived on site while undergoing treatment. With more students entering than exiting, overcrowding was a problem from the very beginning. Before long, the facility that was meant to cater to children was taking in people of all ages, from newborns to adults.

Many of those who took refuge at the institution were classified as "severely mentally retarded" and, for all intents and purposes, were unable to learn on even the most basic level. Woefully ill-equipped to deal with these unfortunate souls, those in charge relegated the cases they deemed hopeless to cribs where they would go on to spend the majority of their time.

Understaffed and overworked, it wasn't long before resident care fell to the wayside. In a facility in which many of the charges suffered from schizophrenia and other disorders that can manifest in violent outbursts, the staff had their hands full. As a result, those who made their presence known by lashing out were given priority over the ones who kept to themselves.

In 1965, the training school, which had long since abandoned its lofty ideals towards teaching, was renamed the Colin Anderson Center, better known locally as simply 'Colin Anderson.' By that time, the institution had become one of the area's largest employers. During its heyday, one would have been hard-put to find anyone in the community who had not either worked there or known someone who had. Even then, its reputation preceded it.

As a teenager, I babysat for the son of a woman who was employed as a nurse at the facility. She made no secret of the fact that she did not like her job.

As a teenager, I babysat for the son of a woman who was employed as a nurse at the facility. She made no secret of the fact that she did not like her job.

Something Sinister

As a teenager, I babysat for the son of a woman employed as a nurse at the facility. She made no secret of the fact that she did not like her job. Let's just say that the stories she told did not paint a pretty picture.

She frequently complained about the conditions in which she was forced to work. She would repeatedly express her fears of being physically assaulted while performing her duties. I don't remember her ever actually being harmed, but she did say that she had witnessed some of her coworkers being hit with food trays, among other things. One woman had been so severely injured that she had required surgery after being struck in the back by a patient.

My sister used to work with a lady who had been an aide at the center for several months in the 1980s. She had a slew of stories to tell, most of which recounted instances of her hair being pulled or her having been spat at by irate residents. Once in a while, however, she would relate events that were downright spooky.

One such incident allegedly occurred while she was working the night shift. As she was performing a routine bed check, the woman recalled that she heard a strange noise coming from the ward in which older girls were housed. Upon entering the area to make sure that everything was all right, she noted that all of the residents were tucked in and sleeping soundly. All, that is, except for one.

The space was arranged so that the beds were lined up in a row. In one of them, she saw a figure sitting straight up. She had recognized the girl as being among those who had to be restrained due to her propensity for getting into trouble if allowed to roam. The woman explained that, although restraints were technically forbidden to be used on patients, in some cases, they were a necessity.

Knowing this, she was at a loss to explain how the girl had managed to lift herself into a sitting position. What was even more alarming for her was the fact that when she shone her flashlight on the patient, it was obvious that she was not herself.

The young woman in question suffered from a number of disorders, both physical and mental, but none of them could have accounted for what the former aide claimed to have witnessed that night. She said that, as she watched, the girl had proceeded to contort her limbs into positions that were decidedly unnatural. To make matters worse, as she was twisting her body into what amounted to a human pretzel, she had worn a smile that bordered on the sinister.

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The woman recalled that, upon seeing the disturbing display, she had immediately fled the room in search of help. When she returned a few moments later with another worker in tow, they found the girl strapped securely in her bed, seemingly in a deep sleep. The incident had left the aide so shaken that she had quit at the end of her shift and never looked back. Years later, she remembered it as having been the single most disturbing thing she had ever witnessed.


The Truth Untold

Due to staff shortages and a lack of financial support, resident care was often sorely lacking. One area in particular, known as the 'Crib Ward' was a vast sea of adult-sized cribs, some holding up to seven children at a time. The space was said to reek of urine and excrement, making it thoroughly unpleasant for workers and patients alike.

One only has to view the haunting pictures of those who were confined to this sector to know that any quest for mental progression had been abandoned long ago. If anything, the once hopeful place of learning had become a warehouse of misery.

By the late 1980s, much of the center had begun to close down. The questionable level of care, which by that time had been laid out in black and white by the Marietta Times, had not exactly been good for business. With the advent of group homes, many families decided to move their loved ones from Colin Anderson to other, less crowded, facilities.

In 1998, the institution ceased operations for good. Former residents who wished to live in the community underwent a process known as 'deinstitutionalization' before setting out on their new paths in life. Those who were considered lower functioning were either taken in by relatives or sent to other long-term care facilities. Today, the buildings they used to call home are the site of the St. Marys Correctional Center, a medium security prison.

During the course of researching this story, I spoke with several people who had been connected in one way or another to Colin Anderson. While some were adamant that they had never experienced anything out of the ordinary on the premises, others claimed that unsettling occurrences were commonplace.


The Patient

One former staff member spoke of seeing a dark shadow moving independently down one of the corridors. She also recalled hearing what sounded like doors slamming on numerous occasions, despite the fact that those utilized by the facility were designed to close slowly and quietly.

A woman who was employed as a practical nurse at the center, whom we will call "Judy," recounted that she witnessed a patient exhibit behaviors that led her to believe that something evil was at play in the halls of Colin Anderson.

She explained that many of the residents suffered from seizure disorders, some more severe than others. She remembered one patient in particular who would be racked by dozens of seizures during any given shift. After having him under her care for an extended period of time, the nurse had begun to think that at least some of his "fits" were not actually seizures at all, but something far more frightening.

Judy said that she had been front and center for what she described as the patient's "performances" on countless occasions. According to her, they would almost always begin with him staring off into space for a brief period, which was a common precursor for many sufferers. He would then start to convulse so violently that staff members were forced to hold him down for his own protection. She recalled these attacks as having been the worst she had seen in her career.

As upsetting as these incidents were, Judy said that it was what happened to the man when he was coming out of the seizures that set him apart from other patients. She claimed that he would go from thrashing about wildly on the floor or bed to being completely lucid in a split second. It appeared to the nursing staff that he could turn the attacks on and off at will. She also found it odd that no matter who else was present in the room, he would always lock eyes with her and hold her gaze for the duration of the seizure.

Although it is not uncommon for patients to grimace while in the throes of a seizure, this man's expressions were said to border on menacing. His physical transformation was so profound as to render him unrecognizable.

After several months of being tasked with his care, Judy became convinced that he had been faking most, if not all, of his seizures. She had come to that conclusion after learning that his malady only manifested on her watch. The stress of the job eventually became more than she could handle, prompting her to tender her resignation.

The former nurse, who has always held tightly to her Christian faith, now says that being in the presence of this single patient had been the closest she had ever come to true evil. She can't explain why she felt that way; it was simply a visceral reaction over which she had no control.


Trapped in the Past

Rumors have circulated for decades that the grounds of the former mental health center are alive with activity even though the last of its residents moved on years ago. The presence of a graveyard on the property only served to bolster these claims.

Lamp Cemetery is situated on a small section of the nearly seven hundred acres of land that once played host to Colin Anderson. The graveyard contains the remains of many a local family, including the Lamps for whom it is named. It is unclear whether any of the patients who once resided in the institution are interred in the cemetery, but the general consensus is that the land was leased from the institution for private use. Even so, having a burial ground onsite has only added to the area's eerie mystique.

As with most places in which unimaginable suffering has occurred, the buildings are said to harbor the spirits of the past. One man who worked at a local chemical plant recounted that he had driven by the site on a regular basis during the time that it sat vacant. On more occasions that he cared to remember, he recalled seeing lights glowing in the windows in the dead of night.

He thought at first that maintenance workers, or some other authorized personnel, were inside performing routine inspections. After witnessing the phenomena dozens of times, he concluded that such a scenario was unlikely. He was also fairly certain that what he had seen had not been anything powered by electricity. The illuminations had appeared to him to be the soft glow of candlelight.

Nothing out of the ordinary has been reported since the site was transformed into the regional jail. If anything unusual has taken place since the property changed hands, the details have not yet trickled out into the community.

It is possible that the dark energies believed to have laid claim to Colin Anderson, if they did indeed exist, departed when it became clear to them that wrongs committed in the past can never be made right. Freed from the confines of the institution, perhaps they were finally able to find peace at last.


  • The West Virginia Encyclopedia
  • My Special Needs Classroom
  • Personal Interviews Conducted Under Conditions of Anonymity

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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