Helena Ricketts is a freelance writer currently living in Indiana.
Indiana is not as boring as some people may think when it comes to haunted places and spaces. We do have our fair share of ghost stories, tragedies, and unexplained events. From small bridges on rarely traveled country roads to houses and places in the heart of the downtown capitol of Indianapolis, the state can and does deliver when it comes to rumors and witnesses of hauntings and unexplained events.
The Four Most Haunted Sites in Indiana
- Central State Hospital (Indianapolis)
- Hannah House (Indianapolis)
- Stepp Cemetery (Bloomington)
- Willard Library (Evansville)
There are many more haunted locations in Indiana than what I am discussing here, but these are the ones that I have actually visited. I'm not a ghost hunter and didn't visit the sites with the intention of experiencing anything, but sometimes creepy things happen when you least expect it! I didn't expect to see what I saw at Central State Hospital or Hannah House, even though I knew before going what the reputations were of those two locations. I can say that once you have experienced them, you'll definitely never forget them. At least that is my experience in haunted Indiana.
Brief History of Indiana
Indiana has quite a rich and interesting history that many people do not know. It is the 19th state, acquiring statehood in December of 1816. The first European explorer to set foot on Indiana soil was René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, all the way back in 1679. This led to Indiana's first established trading post in 1715, and things just took off from there. Indiana's history goes back further than a lot of people think in a time that was rough and tragic, to say the least. Bad events can lead to some incredibly scary haunts.
1. Central State Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana
In November of 1848, the doors were officially opened at the Indiana Hospital for the Insane, later renamed Central State Hospital. This 160-acre campus sits on the west side of the City of Indianapolis on the outskirts of the old downtown city limits. The hospital was officially closed in 1994, and the property was sold by the State of Indiana to the City of Indianapolis in 2003.
Horrors of the Past
The rumors of haunted buildings and areas at Central State Hospital should come as no surprise when you look at the history of the place and common treatment practices in the mental health field during the time the hospital was open and operating. The mentally ill in times past were viewed and treated quite a bit differently in the 1800s and early 1900s than they are today.
Many times, these patients experienced horrific treatments and were subject to physical cruelty or neglect. The rumors are always abundant about what happened inside these old "mental health" facilities. What is certain is that it must have been a horrifying experience for the patient that was treated at Central State and in other mental health hospitals during those times.
On the northwest area of the property, there is a cemetery that contains unmarked graves of former patients of the facility. The first burial is recorded to have been done in 1855, and the latest of the estimated 4,000 graves there is recorded as being performed in 1947. The records of who is buried at the site are sketchy and incomplete. No one has a concrete, exact number of how many people are actually buried in the cemetery or other places around the hospital campus.
Touring the Property Today
The majority of the property is currently in limbo. There are plans for development, but nothing has happened recently with those plans. Currently, the Indiana Medical History Museum is located on the property in the former pathology building. Tours are available, and you can see things like the original autopsy room and brain samples that were taken from former patients at the time of their death.
Reports of experiences have included seeing people walking around in different areas of the property wearing hospital gowns and robes from different time periods. Painful, billowing, blood-curdling screams can be heard coming from some areas, occasionally from the tunnels that run underneath a lot of the current and torn-down buildings. People have reported an uneasy feeling of being watched. Doors open and close when there is no one there to open or close them. The experiences that people have had over the years at Central State Hospital can be described as disturbing and common for anyone who visits the property.
My Experience Visiting the Hospital
I had a personal experience on the property years ago. I was working with a non-profit group that was going to be using a few of the old homes where doctors and nurses were allowed to stay. These homes were built sometime in the late 1960s to 1970s on the outskirt of the property. They were in extremely bad shape, some even having areas where the roof had caved in from neglect. My job during the visit was to go in and photograph the inside of the homes so we could have photos of what the houses looked like before being renovated.
There were seven houses in total. They were all creepy, to say the least, probably because of the condition that they were in more than anything else. There was a strong feeling of being watched inside each house. When I went into the seventh house, that's when the interesting events started happening. My camera worked fine in the hallway, living room, and kitchen areas but would not take any photos inside of the bedrooms. It was as if the batteries had died.
There was a heaviness to the air in that seventh house that I couldn't explain and that I had never felt before or since. Every time I walked into a bedroom to take a photo that I couldn't take anyway because the camera didn't work, I could literally feel anger inside those rooms. I didn't stay in that house for very long because it was obvious that something, or someone, didn't like me being in there. Especially the bedrooms.
The renovations went forward as planned, and I was at the site quite a few times, taking photos as they went. I never stepped foot into that seventh house again. The feeling that it gave me just made me way too uneasy to attempt it.
2. The Historic Hannah House in Indianapolis, Indiana
The Hannah House was built in 1858, just south of what was then the city limits of Indianapolis, Indiana, by Alexander Moore Hannah. Hannah was an abolitionist, believing that slavery was wrong and should not be part of American life. He secretly allowed the basement of his home to be used as a station for the Underground Railroad.
Tragedy in the House
Tragedy struck one evening while the slaves were sleeping in the basement, and somehow one of the oil lamps was knocked over and caused a fire. It is estimated that between three and six slaves died as a result of the fire in the basement that evening. It is said that the spirits of those slaves that perished in the fire are still in the basement, a place where they felt safe.
Mr. and Mrs. Hannah never had any children that survived. Mrs. Hannah gave birth to one stillborn child, who is buried beside them in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. When Mr. Hannah passed away in 1895, the family members that inherited the home sold it to Roman Oehler, and his decedents still own the house today.
Some of the experiences reported in the Hannah House include a stench of death in the upstairs bedrooms, disembodied voices, things moving around rooms on their own, footsteps, apparitions of former slaves and a man dressed in period clothing are sometimes spotted and chandeliers swing on their own. The Hannah House is said to be one of the most haunted sites in the State of Indiana and possibly the country.
My Experience Visiting the Hannah House
My personal experience at the Hannah House happened during a psychic fair that I went to with a friend. It was a large event and quite a few people were there so I can't say with 100% certainty that what I experienced was in fact paranormal or possibly aided in occurrence by an overzealous psychic.
We were in an upstairs bedroom talking to a few of the people that were visiting the home when a candlestick decided to take a trip across the fireplace mantle. It was slowly but surely moving from one side to the other. Slow enough that it wasn't immediately noticed, but once it had started the journey and we noticed it, we stayed in the room and observed it on occasion as it was moved from one place to another. Since I didn't have my eye on it the entire time, I can't say for sure that it didn't have help from the living, but it would have been fantastic if it made the journey on its own.
In another upstairs bedroom, a foul and indescribable smell overtook the room at one point. It was nauseating and heavy. The only thing I have ever smelled before that would even come close is the smell of rotten meat; only this was worse than that. It disappeared as quickly as it came, leaving us wondering what the source was and how it came and went so quickly.
The Hannah House is occasionally open to the public for events, ghost hunts, and tours. It is transformed into a haunted house every year around Halloween. I have yet to visit the house in the month of October because . . . well . . . you just never know.
3. Stepp Cemetery in Bloomington, Indiana
Stepp Cemetery is one of the most mysterious and creepy places next to Central State Hospital that I have ever visited. The history of the area is steeped more in urban legend and folklore than anything that can be proven with concrete evidence. There are tales of many different ghosts inhabiting the area for different reasons. Some stories are more believable than others, but then again, does anything really make 100% sense when you are talking about the paranormal?
The land was originally purchased by Reuben Stepp in 1856. He eventually sold the land in 1884 to Will Peterson, who sold it to the state of Indiana in 1929. The land and cemetery have been under the care of the State of Indiana since then.
A Sorrowful Ghost
The majority of the tombstones have long decayed away. No one really knows for sure how many people are buried in the cemetery or how long ago the first person was laid to rest there, although some reports say burials have taken place there as recently as 2004. Among the few tombstones left standing is an old tree stump that looks remarkably like a chair.
It is said that this is where a young woman comes to sit at night because her husband and daughter, who both died in tragic accidents, are buried in the cemetery close to the tree stump. Even though she has also passed away, she returns to the stump every evening when the moon is full to speak to her husband and daughter. Sometimes the sound of a sobbing woman can be heard in the cemetery at night, and it is believed to be this woman.
My Experience Visiting the Cemetery
My visit to the cemetery was during the daytime since I'm a bit nervous about going into places that I'm unfamiliar with at night, and I wanted to see it during the day because I find old cemeteries neat for some odd reason. There's a sadness in the air at Stepp Cemetery that is undeniable. The cemetery is full of nature and is well maintained but definitely does not have the park-like feeling of modern-day places of rest.
If you decide to visit the cemetery, look for a stone wall on Highway 37 in the forest. There is a break in the wall with a gate and a path that will lead you back to the cemetery. You have to walk back there; it's not accessible to drive back from the road. I don't advise trying to sneak back there when the park is closed because you will more than likely be caught and can be charged with trespassing. Indiana State Police and Park Rangers patrol the site regularly for vandals and people that are there that shouldn't be.
4. Willard Library in Evansville, Indiana
The Willard Library in Evansville, Indiana is said to be haunted by an unknown ghost that is affectionately referred to as the "Gray Lady." She appears in different areas of the library at different times, but it is said she prefers to frequent the children's library in the basement.
The Willard Library was no easy feat to accomplish. The official groundbreaking at the site was on May 16, 1877, but the library was not completed and opened until March 28, 1885. The library was made possible by the wishes of Willard Carpenter, who had the desire to donate part of the land he owned for the site of a public library.
Not only does the library have a popular resident ghost, but it also contains an extensive collection of artwork. This artwork can be viewed in different places within the library and consists of paintings, drawings, timepieces, and other media. Most of the artwork is tied to the library in some form.
The Gray Lady
The Gray Lady ghost was first seen at the library by a custodian in the late 1930s. Ever since then, the Gray Lady has made her presence known in many different ways. It is said that she will touch your hair or your earrings, there will be a smell of perfume that comes and goes, and she has been seen as an apparition in different areas of the library.
The Willard Library has set up webcams inside the library where you can watch to try to catch a glimpse of the Gray Lady live. Some people have been able to successfully see her on the cameras and take still shots of her doing different things around the library. Those photos are also posted on the website.
My Experience Visiting the Library
My visit to the Willard Library was quite uneventful. It was in the middle of the day while the library was open during regular business hours. The artwork is fantastic, and they have a nice collection of books to browse through, but unfortunately, there wasn't even a glimmer of the Gray Lady on my visit.
The library gives tours in the month of October for those interested in the building's history and for hopefully catching an experience with the ghost at some point along the way. It is also open during its regular posted business hours for visits. You can also visit anytime via the webcams.
gonads on December 10, 2015:
I lived in Indianapolis. My house was haunted. The strong spirit was kind, motherly. The dark shadow figure was negative but not that powerful. All he did was walk heavy during the day. Used to drive me crazy till I screamed stop it one day. He did. Lots of paranormal experiences that my son and I had. Illinois is very haunted also.
Paradise7 from Upstate New York on December 25, 2014:
Terrific hub and very well written. I liked the Stepp Cemetery part the best, though the mental hospital certainly was chilling. I'm not quite sure what I believe when it comes to ghosts or earthbound spirits. I think there's enough substantiated evidence not to dismiss the idea completely. If human spirits do linger, it's entirely possible that they retain the personality characteristics to some extent of what they were like when alive--whether they are a benign, malignant, or just really sad presence may well depend on how they felt when alive. Strong feelings do have lasting resonance, that I believe.
Thank you for yet another interesting and informative hub.
melissakaspshak on September 26, 2014:
Well, you just made Indiana very interesting… I've never been into basketball or the Indy 500, so I just saw as another state in the Midwest….until now. Voted up and interesting!
Helena Ricketts (author) from Indiana on August 24, 2014:
I LOVE Savannah! That house is creepy. It was on one of the tours that we took while we were there.
carolscash on August 20, 2014:
I will have to tell my daughter about the Stepp Cemetery as we don't live far from Bloomington and she loves the paranormal. If you ever go to Savannah Georgia make sure you visit the Sorrell- Weed house. She said it was haunted for sure.
BlissfulWriter on September 23, 2012:
Wow. That is scary.
Helena Ricketts (author) from Indiana on August 28, 2012:
@Seeker7- Thanks! The hospital IS extremely creepy. There are buildings there that are completely falling apart from neglect and combine that with some of the things that happened there and well, you know.
I've always heard that you are in death as you were in life so the ones who were mentally ill in life would also be mentally ill as a spirit, if it is an intelligent haunt and not residual like you mentioned. They may be staying because it may be the only place they ever knew. Back then, people tossed relatives into those kind of places so they wouldn't embarrass the family. It was horrible and inhumane but how things were done back then.
I actually live pretty close to Hannah House and drive by it a few times a week! It really is a neat old house. They let people spend the night there for a small fee. I may do it one of these days if I could talk a few friends into doing it with me but by myself? No way.
Stepp Cemetery is a really neat place too. The air there is so sad but it's a physically beautiful cemetery. You are probably right. Indiana was settled in the 1700's and there were originally American Indians living here before that whole disaster took place so there's no telling what the history of the area is before it became a cemetery. I imagine something awful happened there and that's why they chose to make it into a cemetery.
The ghost cam for the library is awesome. I sat for hours a few years ago when I first heard about it and tried to see if I could see anything. Nope. She wasn't around while I was watching but the anticipation was fun!
@moonlake- Thank you so much!
Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on August 28, 2012:
Helena this is awesome!! It's always great to hear of new paranormal events that are new and fresh!
The state hospital! What is it about hospitals, they seem to always be crammed with various kinds of paranormal events. It's really odd to hear researchers say that they find the lack of paranormal activity in hospitals odd due to the amount of people who die there. But it's not odd at all. Hospitals are active, very active, but because of the nature of the places - healing, intensive care and so on, professionalism prevents nurses in particular from disscusing anything to do with spirits etc. I know when I worked with the NHS in the UK, it was absolutely forbidden to talk about anything involving the paranormal. So it's only when hospitals are shut down that the stories start to emerge and the state hospital you describe is a good case in point. But what a creepy place to visit! There would seem to be a lot of residual energy as well as spirits in the hospital - not surprising, as you say, the treatment of the mentally ill all over the world in this period of time was appalling and many of the patients weren't mentally ill at all. I'm not a great believer in spirits always staying around where they die or where their body is, if that was the case then the cemeteries would be absolutely buzzing but they're not. But when you get places like state mental hospitals the emotions, thoughts and heaven knows what else that would have built up over the years must remain there. I also wonder if the poor souls in there whose mental states were not good also attract other 'undesirables'?
Hannah House and Stepp Cemetery sound awesome! That is a very sad story about the slaves that died in the fire - no wonder they are still around, what a horrible death. It's also interesting about the very bad smell. Some researchers and psychics feel that bad odours can mean a negative presence or energy in the area. Not necessarily evil, but not of a positive nature. As to Stepp Cemetery, I wonder if this place goes back a lot longer than the cemetery itself? From what you describe of your feelings when there, it sounds like other natural places that may have a high spirit energy level and might even have been seen as sacred to some peoples.
The library is great. Since libraries are one of my favourite places, I think when they have a resident ghost it makes them even more inviting and fascinating.
This was fascinating and a thoroughly absorbing and enjoyable hub! Loved it! Voted up + shared!
moonlake from America on August 27, 2012:
Very interesting. Enjoyed reading your hub about all the haunted places. Voted up.