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HomeAdventureAdventure Michigan™Walking with the Paranormal at Eloise Asylum

Walking with the Paranormal at Eloise Asylum

As we approached Eloise Asylum on September 18, little did I know that my expectations were about to be challenged. I didn’t expect an abandoned asylum to be located right on the edge of Michigan Avenue. It defied the stereotypical image I had in mind. Instead of a dilapidated building decaying in isolation, it stood surrounded by human activity and concrete. The uneasy anticipation that I carried of the adventure we were about to embark on subsided with the visual reality of the building. At first glance, it didn’t seem ominous, but, as they say, first impressions can be deceiving.

I intentionally avoided delving deep into the paranormal history of Eloise before this night. I wanted my experience to be as authentic as possible, free from the burdens of other people’s horror tales and encounters. My limited research amounted to a conversation with Mike Delavan from Detroit Rock City Paranormal (DRCP), a brief chat with my mother, and a quick read through Wikipedia. I wasn’t even schooled on paranormal activity and investigations up to this point. Call me silly, but playing with ghosts is not a favorite pastime of mine.

My initial draw to Eloise for our Haunted Michigan issue was due to my mother. When I was contemplating the direction for this issue, I asked her what she knew about haunted and spooky places in Michigan. Without hesitation, she mentioned Eloise. It turns out that one of her childhood friends, Susie, had completed her psychiatric training there as part of her nursing program back in the late 60s. Susie’s experience was so unsettling that she nearly had a nervous breakdown. She told my mother that if she had to endure one more minute at Eloise, she would have quit nursing altogether. I could only imagine the horrors she witnessed while training as a nurse in a psychiatric ward during the late 60s.

The phrase “tortured souls” came to mind.

I couldn’t reach Susie for more details; she and my mother had lost touch long ago, but her unsettling experience intrigued me enough to dig deeper into Eloise’s history. That’s when I discovered more about its past, the fact that it had closed down for good in the 1980s and had recently transformed into a horror attraction. Eloise made it to the top of my list.

As we waited in the parking lot of Eloise for all members of our party to arrive, the sun began to tuck into the shadows of the trees, casting long shadows and adding a layer of darkness to the building’s facade. During my conversations with my fellow investigators, my eyes couldn’t help but scan the building’s windows, looking for any signs of activity or ghostly apparitions. The initial lack of ominousness was fading with the daylight.  

At one point, I separated from my group and ventured towards the back of the building alone, where the staff parking was located.  I thought I might find an entrance to meet up with Eloise’s operations manager, Jim.  I quickly discovered that the parking lot was located at the back end of the abandoned power plant and had no entrance.  

This part of the property gave me an uneasy feeling. The power plant showed clear signs of abandonment, its windows shattered, and its structure decaying in various stages. Having watched too many episodes of “The Walking Dead,” my imagination began to toy with me. I played out the scenario of the undead lunging out at me at any moment to tear away at my flesh.  

As I made my way back to the group, I noticed an alley squeezed between the power plant and the towering facade of Building D, the building where we would perform our investigation. I noticed cars parked toward that side of the building also, so I started walking in that direction.   I immediately felt a heaviness walking between the two abandoned buildings. The history behind those shattered windows had a story to tell and it felt like someone wanted to tell it.

That heaviness stopped me, and as I stood there trying to will myself to walk through the alley, I told myself, “Come on, Tam, don’t be a chicken shit.” But I was and I started walking back toward my group.  That unease of intentionally entering a known haunted building, on purpose, took hold of me again. I blame my mom for allowing me to watch movies like “The Entity” and “The Exorcist,” while my age was still in single digits.

I called Jim as I walked back to my group, and as we waited outside for him to come and retrieve us, I struck up a conversation with Ace from DRCP. He said he could sense my uneasiness. We started talking about the photo that Annelise – our Creative Director – found online of a shadow man sitting at a table in the old dining area of the building (photo included in this profile). Turns out, Ace was the one who shot the photo and had the encounter with the spirit.

Our conversation with Ace revealed his long history with Eloise and his strong connection with the spirits that resided within, particularly a young girl named Sophia, who was said to inhabit the second floor. As we prepared to enter the building, Ace handed me a small blue rectangular box that was to be left as a gift for Sophia. I accepted the box hesitantly, its contents unknown, and my inner skeptic whispering, “Is this even real?” Nevertheless, I carried the box into the haunted asylum trying not to think about the fact that I was carrying a gift into a haunted asylum to leave with a dead little ghost girl.

Turns out that the second floor was closed off to us due to a staff meeting and we were not able to investigate it as originally planned. The gift would have to be left another day.

Upon entering Eloise, we were greeted by display cases showcasing intriguing artifacts from back in the day, showcasing a few of the more disturbing practices of the time (see photos). One case held instruments used for frontal lobotomies, including a photo of a patient on the operating table receiving one.

For those unfamiliar with frontal lobotomies, they were a type of neurosurgical treatment for psychiatric and neurological disorders. This invasive procedure involved severing connections in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, responsible for speech, motor skills, and intellectual behavioral functions. It was a brutal and horrifying practice, often performed with crude methods that involved drilling holes in the skull or accessing the brain through the eye sockets. Lobotomies were common practice throughout the 1940s and 1950s, used as a treatment for conditions such as epilepsy, depression, schizophrenia, and even on gay men. The procedure resulted in many deaths, suicides, and severe brain damage.

When I think of a lobotomy, the 2001 movie “Hannibal” comes to mind and the scene where Hannibal slices away a piece of gray matter from Krendler’s brain and fries it up in a pan to eat. Krendler’s behavior and speech immediately starts to change as Hannibal slices away. 

Another display case housed a dilapidated leather chair and photo of somone’s feet shackled by steel chains. There wasn’t any other information provided.

Viewing these artifacts made me uneasy.  All I could think about was the immense suffering that must have taken place within these walls. These were not the relics of a hospital that promoted healing, but rather a grim reminder of the darker chapters of early mental health treatment.

Our paranormal investigation officially began on the fifth floor, where the darkness was thick and our only sources of light came from our flashlights, cellphone, and the various devices that ghost hunters are known for:  motion-activated lights, cat balls, REM pods (Radiating Electromagnetic Field) devices, and spirit boxes.

Our first investigation took place at the end of what was an old operating room on the Southeast side of the fifth floor. The DRCP team set up their equipment and our investigation began. Spirits, if they were present, would hopefully interact with these devices letting us know that they were with us. I stood in the dimly lit room with the others, eyes and ears open, listening and observing intently for any sign of the supernatural.

At one point, Ace handed me a pair of headphones that would amplify sounds in the room, making every creak and groan all the more eerie. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of unease wearing them. My heart raced as I considered the possibility of encountering something beyond my understanding.

Cat balls, REM pods, and spirit boxes seemed to come alive around this room. Desiree, a paranormal investigator with Eloise, was just outside the room interacting with whatever was making the cat ball in the hallway light up. At the end of our session and before we moved down to the fourth floor, she offered for me to touch her nose and her right arm. They were stone cold to the touch. She told me it was a spirit that was present that she was interacting with that caused it. What else could it be? There was absolutely nothing available to any of us that would create such a chill.

From the fifth floor, we descended to the fourth floor, where we explored various rooms, each with its own unique energy. The hydrotherapy room, once used for forced water treatments on shackled patients, had a haunting aura. I was told the story of a young girl who drowned in one of the hydrotherapy tubs when she was only 10 years old. I looked her up. She was institutionalized at Eloise by her poor parents for epilepsy. At the point of her death, she had been there a year.

We slowly made our way down to what used to be solitary confinement. It was this location that things truly started to get interesting. The cat balls, REM pods, and spirit boxes seemed to come alive in this area. I experienced a cold spot that gave me goosebumps and made the hair on my body stand on end.

We continued our investigation on the third floor where things truly took an interesting turn.

One of the standout moments occurred when we used the SLS camera on the third floor. This device, which had already provided us with intriguing evidence on the fifth floor, detected stick figures once more. This time, a stick figure appeared to approach one of our group members, its movements deliberate and eerie.

This stick figure moved with purpose, seemingly approaching Rilee, one of the members of DRCP. It was an intriguing moment as the others in the team instructed the ‘ghost’ not to touch her. Shortly after, the stick figure faded away.

After this encounter, an experiment was suggested that involved standing in pitch-black doorways with our eyes closed, attempting to sense any presence nearby. I personally opted out and chose to film the group performing it instead. With my senses heightened by the darkness and silence and what I just experienced with the SLS camera, it was an eerie experience. Brooke, the woman who suggested the experiment, stood in a dark doorway with her hands grasping either side of the door frame as if she was trying to prevent being sucked back into the room.

As all that happened throughout the evening weren’t enough, our investigation on the third floor also yielded photographic and physical evidence. A photo taken during our investigation showed a mysterious orb near the face of one of our group members. This orb was believed to be the “kissing nurse,” a spirit said to be present in the building.

Another in our group was “marked” while sitting in a chair in the same room where the orb was captured. She felt as if someone was standing behind her and then felt a burning sensation on her back. When she pulled up her shirt and jacket, visible claw marks could be seen going in two different directions across the small of her back.

In addition to visual evidence, we captured audio recordings that sent chills down my spine. During our investigation, I had my cellphone recording nearly the whole time. My purpose was not to specifically capture disembodied voices, but to record the experience. To my astonishment, I captured just that. A disembodied voice and a strange moan was captured on video, adding to the growing body of evidence that something otherworldly might be at play within Eloise Asylum.

I entered Eloise as a healthy skeptic, a woman and editor with a curious mind but a rational outlook.  I walked out with more questions than answers, with the main questions being:

Could it be that spirits linger and walk among us?

Science has proven that are all made up of energy, that everything is made up of energy. So, it’s not farfetched to say that ‘ghosts’ are residual energy left behind from the living. We did walk away with evidence that we indeed were not alone in that building. I cannot deny some of the experiences and what was captured.

I also say this with absolute certainty: the team from DRCP and Eloise who guided us on our paranormal adventure into a world beyond our own wholeheartedly believe in what they do. Their passion and conviction are palpable, and their collective experiences seem to defy rational explanation.

For those who dare to explore the paranormal, you are offered an opportunity to glimpse the unknown and challenge our understanding of the world.  Whether you begin to believe in the paranormal or remain a skeptic, one thing is certain: we as humans to do not have all the answers. And if you open yourself to the possibility that there are forces beyond our comprehension, and those that even science cannot yet explain, you may come to realize that the universe holds secrets far grander than we can currently fathom.

A Bit of History

Eloise Asylum was founded as a poorhouse in 1839. Over the years it became one of the largest public healthcare facilities in the United States. In its prime during the Great Depression, Eloise became its own city with its own zip code.

The grounds of Eloise consisted of 78 buildings on 902 acres with 10,000 patients and over 2,000 staff. There is also a cemetery on the grounds with over 7,000 past residents buried who died at the facility between the years 1910 and 1948. These lost souls had no known relatives or relatives who were unable or even more sadly – unwilling – to bury them. Their graves are marked with numbered blocks vs their names, and most of the records of burial have been lost over the years. It is a cemetery of the unknown and forgotten.

The building we performed our investigation in, Building D, also known as the Kay Beard Building, was built in 1931. At its peak it housed 409 patients. We do know that within the walls of Building D patients were treated with forced hydrotherapy, electric shock, and frontal lobotomies, and there was solitary confinement – just like in prisons.

In 1973, some of the larger psychiatric buildings on the site were vacated, with the last psychiatric patient leaving Eloise in 1979. The general hospital closed in 1984. Building D was used by Wayne County as an administrative building as late as 2016. Eloise became the horror attraction that it is today in 2021.

I feel like it’s important to make a comment about our paranormal investigation at Eloise Asylum. 

Eloise Asylum was a place where thousands of people over the years had some pretty extraordinary experiences. 

Despite a lot of darkness and tragedy within the walls of Eloise, it’s important to note that the psychiatric hospital pioneered many treatments that were believed at the time to help those struggling with mental illness, including therapies such as electroshock, insulin shock, television, recreational, music, and occupationalm. Eloise was also the first facility in Michigan to use x-rays to locate a bullet in the foot of a patient.

Despite being a cutting-edge psychiatric hospital for its time, reports of patient abuse, neglect, and overcrowding plagued the facility. With caring for such a massive number of patients coupled with the fact that humanity didn’t possess a high level of empathy or compassion for people back in the day – something we still struggle with today – the institution witnessed horrific, horrific practices. Think of lobotomies where parts of the frontal lobe were literally sliced away. Or hydrotherapy, where patients were shackled in hot baths. I think of how many families who simply wanted to rid themselves of the inconvenient burdens of family, abandoned their loved ones at Eloise’s doorstep over the years. 

A notorious aspect of Eloise’s history is that of an underground tunnel system that connected the various buildings, apparently remnants of these tunnels still in existence today – though all of the connecting buildings have long since disappeared. These tunnels were used for transporting supplies and patients discreetly, but they also provided the perfect dark setting for alleged acts of mistreatment and neglect..

Over the years, Eloise was filled with a motley crew – patients and staff alike – each  with their own unique stories. She was also filled with innocent victims. The decaying walls of Building D stand as a memorial – a tomb of secrets, if you will – of untold toil and torture for thousands of the innocent. The spirits who linger here are a haunting reminder of the egregious acts of humanity and the darkest aspects of human behavior. Perhaps the spirits here embody residual energy, serving as a testament to the complexity of the human condition. And paranormal investigations at Eloise and locations like her, are a way to learn and share the stories of those who were trapped within her walls. 

I wonder, is it possible that in death, just as in life, that the deepest desire of these lost souls is to simply be acknowledged and heard?  

The haunting legacy of Eloise Asylum is a stark reminder of the human condition, with all its shades of darkness and light. 

Tamara Graham
Tamara Graham
With an adventurous spirit and a burning desire to make the world work for all of us, Tamara encourages others to embrace self-love, compassion, empathy, understanding, and an ever important sense of humor. With over 30 years of diverse marketing experience, including a decade in publishing, she brings a fresh and innovative perspective to the industry. Her concept revolves around experiential magazines that captivate both online and in print. Tamara's visionary project, LIVE. LOVE. LOCAL. MICHIGAN™, unveils the wonders of our breathtaking home state, igniting love and admiration among Michiganders for where they live. By fostering this deep connection, she inspires a genuine appreciation and love for where we live!
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