Old Haunted Western State Hospital
Old Western State Mental Hospital is one of the eeriest places in all of Washington State. It was originally Fort Steilacoom Asylum in 1871, but the building dates back to 1849 when it was part of the Fort Steilacoom Army post.
The history of the hospital tells stories of frontal lobotomies, mental wards that were secretly open for prostitution by the orderlies and brutal attacks on patients. The grounds are creepy indeed and many paranormal groups will ghost hunt at night after the park closes. Be careful and watch your step.
The hospital catered to the insane and stories from the high security wards of beatings and crazed outbreaks are plentiful.
How to get to the Old Western State Hospital
The ruins of the old mental hospital are inside Fort Steilacoom County Park in Lakewood. The address is located on the map tab above. There is a path at the end of the parking lot that takes you through the woods. You’ll walk a little bit and find the old hospital in ruins and graffiti. The grounds have deteriorated with time.
The ruins of the hospital are slowly disappearing. The cemetery is ominous and paranormal researchers have captured orbs and strong signals suggesting ghostly inhabitants. A walk around the grounds during the day can be spooky, but at night things get even more interesting.
Nirvana and Western State Hospital’s most famous patient
Frances Farmer was an up and coming Hollywood actress in the 1930s, starring in films with Bing Crosby and Cary Grant. Unfortunately she struggled with alcoholism and was arrested for drunk driving with her car’s headlights on during a war time blackout. You read that right. While awaiting trial she was very violent and had to be regularly subdued. At her sentencing, her family urged the judge to move her to a psychiatric hospital, believing that she needed treatment. She spent a short time in a California hospital but eventually made her way to Western State Hospital where she spent almost 5 years.
This time of her life was documented in the 1978 book Shadowland by William Arnold. As popular as this book was, it wasn’t very factual. Arnold admitted in 1983 to making up the story that Frances was given a lobotomy during her stay at the hospital. But 1983 was a bit too late and Hollywood made their film Frances, starring Jessica Lang, where she indeed get’s a lobotomy. Oops!
This isn’t to say that her stay at Western State wasn’t a horrible experience. In her biography, Will There Really Be A Morning? she states that she was “raped by orderlies, gnawed on by rats and poisoned by tainted food…chained in padded cells, strapped into strait jackets and half drowned in ice baths.”
Frances was released from the hospital for good in 1950. She made a small comeback in Hollywood but never regained her much desired stardom. She died in 1970 of esophageal cancer at the young age of 57.
Being from Seattle and all, super group Nirvana took a shine to the story of Frances. In 1993, Nirvana released the song Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle off of their album In Utero. Nirvana’s singer Kurt Cobain said of the song, “I guess that’s my way of letting the world know that bureaucracy is everywhere and it can happen to anybody and it’s a really evil thing,.” He went on to say “The story of Frances Farmer is so sad and it can happen to anybody and it almost felt at a time that it was happening to us.”
The old remains are gone. They have been replaced by a memorial to the patients. There is also a graveyard nearby and an organization is working to put markers with patient names instead of numbers.
My grandmother, worked there and lived in the nurcess ward. Would pick her up on the weekend to spend time at our house in tumwater wa.. been there. Through the gates in a 56 mecury. Would have been scary to most~ waving and putting face up to rear side window🙃 I was real young. Walked some of the wards. Ate lunch in the cafeteria ect. Know about the garden across the road by way of a tunnel by way of the front gate.
I want to visit this building when is the best time that I could
I lived in Lakewood growing up and we played in the ruins of this old hospital. It was super creepy with the stairs crumbling and old rusted bed frames still in heaps on the wards. We didn’t think much of it, we were kids and liked creepy. When I told my mother years later about playing there, she was horrified. I thought she knew!
May 1, 2020. For some reason, I thought about the hospital today. Typed in a search and read a post by Susan R. How “crazy”. I liked it. Some of the patients were allowed to walk freely. They put there faces right up to the car window. I am 65 now and still remember quite well.
I spent SO much time there. The park itself is a really nice one. But that was my place. I have hundreds of pictures from when the building was still partially up. Was kinda sad when they tore it all down.
I grew up in this park. We used to get high inside the old building and tell stories. It was sad to see it removed. It was a big part of of childhood.
I still tell a 42 year old story of my friend and I took a 2 in the morning stroll on the grounds in 1978….chickened out on going in the main building….it was still standing at the time and was very scary….the pond behind the building and the small dirt road in front was where all of our action was!! I had no idea this place is semi famous for oddities!
I remember going there, nice walk to get there (talking 1983 I think). I was fascinated by the ruins but at the same time I could feel things I couldn’t explain.
My friends wanted to actually explore the ruins, and I just couldn’t bring myself to enter it. I was having feelings surrounding the ruins and it was later in the day so I made sure I was not hanging around as it would get darker. The building and experience periodically creeps up in my thoughts.
I wish Id had a chance to see it before it was torn down. Odd but true, my birth certificate shows I was born there. Not many can say that! My mother attempted suicide when she wad three months pregnant. They wouldn’t allow her to be released until I was born and they wouldn’t release her unless she agreed to put me up for adoption which she did. Later she committed suicide. I would like to go back there and see it but I don’t want to go alone is there anyone who would go with me?
I worked one summer in 1957 Steilacoom between my junior and senior year of high school. I worked most of the time in the kitchen with the staff cooks. There were also some minimum security patients who worked in the kitchen. Many of the meals were prepared in large steam heated pods that must’ve held 50 gallons or more of various types of food. For some meals especially at breakfast time there were any number of cases of eggs to be cracked. I learned to crack four eggs at a time, which impressed me at the time. When I wasn’t helping in the kitchen I had the job of organizing storage rooms that had a tremendous amount of very interesting and very old items in them. I was sorry to learn that the building has been torn down. It would’ve been fun to revisit it.
Yeah I remember growing up with me and my friends used to go up there to always in state and party and have a good time while the rubble was still around why we crawled through the hallways and underground and broken rebels and you know like things kids shouldn’t do but didn’t stop us I was looking for ghosts trying to find any little ghostly thing I could find in tell you what it’s not inside the building you have to worry about it’s the outside and all around the woods and the water the lake
Hey Susan R. I grew up around there as well. Me and my friends frequented this place. Anyway I was just throwing this out there to see if anyone remembers the old ward hill building as it was. I specifically remember the stairs going down to the basement and the tunnel that went towards the new western state. I only got so far as a kid, but I have meet someone who was a guard at the new western and he knows of the tunnel on the other side.
Have they torn the ruins down as of December 2022? I can’t find them on Google Earth
Colin B., hope this helps
To Brandon B.
Tom Ross here, I do remember something about a stairway leading down to ??? They were wide and maybe of marble?? Iam 68 now so not sure but Iam kinda visualizing them.