Dark Tourism, considered a more deviant form of tourism, is currently making waves in the industry (thank you, David Farrier and Netflix). Burial places, monuments with tragic histories and other dark tourism attractions have a certain allure to many. If anything, they provide a point from which we can entertain our strange curiosities.
ALSO READ: TOUR THE LOCAL CEMETERIES IN TOPEKA
One dark and strange curiosity in Topeka's history is the late State Hospital.
Photo Credit: Bobbi Studstill, CC BY- SA 3.0
The Topeka State Hospital, often referred to as the Topeka Insane Asylum, is considered to be one of the most infamous hospitals in U.S. history. After being closed for over 20 years, the hospital has gone down in history for its extreme maltreatment of its mentally-ill patients. Opening in 1872, a time when the treatment of mental illness was still large and part unregulated and often brutal, the hospital quickly became overcrowded and understaffed. The first whisper of abuse came about in the early 1900s. The community heard rumors of the hospital staff neglecting the patients, even mentally and physically abusing them. Then cases of rape and prolonged, physical confinement began to emerge. It was found that one patient was kept shackled for such a long period of time that his skin began to grow over his restraints.
In 1913, the Kansas Legislature legalized the use of compulsory sterilization. The law, a polarizing issue at the time, originally directed the "treatment" toward "habitual criminals, idiots, epileptics, imbeciles and the insane" (Paul, 1965, pg. 6). Until 1961, the hospital carried out numerous forced sterilizations on its patients.
Another gruesome mark upon the hospital's history is the 1992 murder of Stephanie Uhlrig. At the time of her death, Uhlrig worked as a music and activity therapist, treating various patients at the State Hospital. On February 23, 1992, Uhlrig and another therapist escorted a group of patients, which included Kenneth D. Waddell, a criminally insane patient, off hospital grounds to watch a movie. Upon returning to the hospital and dropping the other patients, Waddell ambushed Uhlrig and strangled her to death. Her body was later found in a bathroom in one of the hospital's secondary buildings.
In the wake of the Mental Health Movement, the State Hospital was forced to close in 1997 due to overcrowding and years of abuse. The best-known building (pictured above) along with several others were torn down in 2010.
Photo Credit: whitneyrangel12 via Instagram
Now, visitors to the hospital's former grounds can view some of the few remaining buildings as well as the Topeka State Hospital Cemetery. The cemetery is dedicated to the many patients that were buried on the grounds from 1879 to 1954. There are few headstones; more than 1,000 of the patients laid to rest in the cemetery were buried in unmarked graves.
Some may ask why certain people seek out places like the Topeka State Hospital. It might be for the sake of the history and its macabre nature. Or perhaps the undeniable eerie feeling attached to these truly tragic places provide a much needed adrenaline rush, a reminder that you're still alive.
Paul, Julius. 1965. “‘Three Generations of Imbeciles Are Enough’: State Eugenic Sterilization Laws in American Thought and Practice.” Unpublished manuscript. Washington, D.C.: Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.