Chicago’s Most Haunted: Manteno State Hospital

Every city has a sordid history lurking behind the scenes. Chicago is no different. The windy city has a lengthy history of disasters, catastrophes and psychopaths — key components of a ghostly mix. If your city burns down (like The Great Chicago Fire of 1871) and you push its smoldering remains into Lake Michigan, you create a compelling case for paranormal activity. The same thing goes with the Chicago River: A passenger ship capsizes and 844 people drown (like the SS Eastland disaster of 1915), and you don’t just get conspiracy theories but ghost stories.

To get to the point, Chicago’s dark past is ripe with stories of undead, and the Manteno state hospital stories are just the first of many more haunted locations in Chicago.

Chicago’s Most Haunted: Manteno Insane Asylum in Manteno, Illinois

Manteno State Mental Hospital opened in December 1930 during the Great Depression, and it was a cutting-edge concept for the time. More of a community than a hospital, Manteno was a massive undertaking that, on the surface, appeared grandiose in both scope and promise. The immense setting was filled with cottages and dedicated staff. Patients raised crops in nearby fields as a way to contribute and gain valuable skills. This was very different from the overcrowded and understaffed hospitals of the day.

Everything seemed to be going well for the first 8 years or so. Then, the Manteno Madness struck in 1939. The Madness was really typhoid fever and the administrators were too slow to respond. It killed 47 patients by the time it was contained. Things got worse from there.

During the 1940s and 1950s, the patient population swelled. It was designed for 3,600 patients and 760 staff. By 1953, the patients numbered 5,300 and the staff was cut in half. Overcrowding and underfunding led to treatable diseases becoming lethal cases. Thousands of patients died during this period. In 1941, 462 patients’ lives were lost due to wrongful experimentation, while nearly 200 more escaped from the Manteno insane asylum.

By the ‘50s, Manteno was a testing ground for government scientists and psychiatrists, and it functioned as a tuberculosis treatment facility with a less-than-stellar treatment record. The government tested the effects of malaria and uncontrolled STDs on Manteno’s patients, while psychiatrists employed electric shock therapy and lobotomies, which they perfected on the patients. To this day, you can find the tubs used as ice baths to break the psychosis of schizophrenic patients.

In 1985, the State of Illinois closed the facility and it was converted into a veterans’ home. The state hospital cemetery, not far from the home, holds the remains of the 4,000 patients who died at the hospital.

Why is Manteno State Hospital on the list?

Manteno State Hospital has many spirits still walking around the old cottages, but the location is at the outskirts of the Chicago metropolitan area. It’s located in Kankakee County and that’s about a 90-minute drive from Downtown Chicago. The locals don’t necessarily want you snooping around the old cottages.

Ghost Hunting Tips

Most of the cottages have converted to business use. Only one, Morgan Cottage, remains in its original state. You can find it at the corner of Juniper Street and West Evergreen Street. Locals will be less than pleased you want to investigate, so you may get a cold shoulder if you try to interview someone.

Morgan Cottage is in very bad shape. This is a place you want to investigate during the day and with a team. It’s very easy to fall through the ceiling, so watch yourself if you go to the second floor of the cottage. It’s also very dark in interior rooms. You want to have an infrared camera because most digital cameras won’t work well in these rooms. EVP should be ripe! It’s very quiet out in the fields of northern Illinois. You can hear a pin drop in the cottage, so you may capture a few ghostly voices.

Don’t bother checking out the main hospital building on the veterans’ home campus. Security will throw you out and call the cops.

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