Paul lives in Spanish Fork with his wife and two children, neither of whom have asked to follow him around on “take your child to work” day.

Let me just say that I was once a skeptic. A non-believer. The supernatural world was as alien as anything in science fiction movies. I probably would have gone on the rest of my life like this, but then I started working at the Utah State Hospital, and everything changed.

The State Hospital is a psychiatric hospital that predates Utah’s statehood. It was originally called the Utah Territorial Insane Asylum. When I started working there, the grounds housed six buildings, including the Hyde, Dodge and Dunn buildings which were massive turn of the century brick and stone fortresses. You know those spooky, Gothic insane asylums you believed existed only in movies? Well, they exist.

For fifteen of my twenty years there, I worked the graveyard shift, myself and a skeleton crew of staff, roaming the wide halls at night, checking on patients. I don’t know a single night shift employee who doesn’t have a story or two. Nobody left employment a skeptic. Here is a random sampling of some of them. Bear in mind that these all happened to me or someone I directly know. None of these stories are third hand nor are they the ones that got passed down through the years, and have no identifiable source.

The Crawler

For a time my unit was housed on the top floor of the Hyde Building. There was a seldom used rec room that was tucked away from the main patient living quarters and the staff offices. It was, for night shift people, a seemingly perfect place to grab a cat nap during break.

Only something didn’t like anyone sleeping in there.

If you laid down on the couch, someone unseen would shake you awake. One time, a nurse came out and thanked us for waking him up, as he forgot to set his alarm on his watch. None of us had entered the room, and it was impossible for patients to access that area. We asked him what he meant. He said, “Well, one of you shook me, then I heard you leave the room before I got up.” He would not believe one of us hadn’t gotten him up, but no one did.

Another time, a friend tried to take a nap in there. He woke up, and noticed someone was in the room with him. He saw a dark figure lying on the floor on the far side of the room. Convinced that it must be another staff member who had sneaked in to play a prank on him, he waited. He watched the figure do a slow, Army G.I. belly crawl towards him on the floor. He waited until the pranking staff member was nearly to him, and he jumped up and turned on the light to surprise them. But there was no one there. He came out visibly shaken, and he never went in the room alone again.

Late Night Ladies

Back when they first started getting computers and a newfangled service called the internet, there was only one computer available to our unit. Unfortunately, it was housed in a separate building—the Dodge building—which was only used as a school house during the day. At night, it remained empty and locked up.

For a few years, I had heard that people felt uneasy in there at night, and one staff member said while using the exercise room, he heard the sound of breathing and footsteps following him as he walked. I had managed to push this out of my mind as I went in alone to send an email at two in the morning. Sitting in the conference room, I heard the unmistakable sound of two ladies talking. I strained to make out what they were saying, but I couldn’t quite do it. One of them had a particularly high-pitched cackle, and she punctuated their conversation with frequent laughter. I could tell they were just on the other side of the door, and after a few minutes of wondering who could possibly be in the building at that hour, I opened the door to see who was there. I was greeted by a sudden silence and the empty, dark hallway. The kicker was that my email was unfinished, so I had to spend several minutes typing before I could get the hell out of Dodge.

The Indian in the Day Room

Day rooms are large social gathering rooms. They usually hold a television and plenty of couches, chairs, and tables for snacking or game playing. One of the adult units had a large day room as the first room you pass by as you walk onto the ward.

A good friend of mine worked in that unit. She came in at 10:30 pm, the start of the night shift. As she passed the day room, on her way to our change of shift meeting, she saw something unexpected. Sitting on a couch, was an Indian. I mean a full-on buckskin loincloth wearing Indian, complete with a feathered headdress. Taken aback, she paused for a moment, and looked more closely at him. He did not return her gaze.

Walking into the meeting she asked what was up with the Indian guy in the day room. The staff said, “What do you mean?” She told them there was a man dressed like an Indian in the next room, but when they went to investigate, nothing. Anyone leaving the day room would have had to walk by everyone in the office.

Get Back to Bed

Sometimes, a patient is on what we call DOS. It stands for Direct Observation Status. It means that for whatever reason, they need to be observed by staff at all times, even in the bathroom or while sleeping. There are many reasons someone might be on DOS. They might be violent, or maybe suicidal, or they may have a medical issue that needs attention.

One night, friend was on a DOS watch of a patient on the geriatric unit. She was sitting outside the patient’s room, in a rocking chair, where she could keep an eye on him while he slept. She broke a cardinal rule of DOS watches: DON’T FALL ASLEEP. I don’t know how long she was out, but she says she woke up and was startled to see the patient standing at her side, looming over her and staring at her, his face just inches away. She asked him what he was doing, and he didn’t answer. She told him that he needed to go back to sleep and that it was still the middle of the night. No response. Out of the corner of her eye, she detected movement. In the patient’s room was a swirling mist. It lasted just a couple of seconds, and then disappeared. But in the room was something that shook her to the core; there in the bed, asleep, was the patient.

She quickly looked back to where he was just standing beside her, and he was gone. He never was standing there, even though she had attempted to interact with him. Stranger still is the ending to this story. A few hours later, the patient abruptly died of natural causes. I saw the ambulance the next morning as I was leaving work, and got all the details they didn’t write on his chart.

Anyone Lose Their Marbles?

For a time, after they had built modern, new buildings, we were the sole occupants of the largest building, the Dunn building. We were in the bottom level, and the top two floors had been vacated by the adults for their shiny new digs.

Frequently at night, we could hear coming from upstairs, the sound of people playing marbles. You’d hear what sounded like a big marble or steel ball drop and hit the tiled floor of the abandoned unit upstairs. You’d then hear the ball roll around on the floor, making lazy patterns. Sometimes rolling around and around in a circular pattern, sometimes in a straight line, and sometimes zig-zagging. The sounds would abruptly stop and then a minutes or hours later, it would start up again. Thunk! The ball would hit and then roll and roll. The sounds could go on for hours, with us wondering what could be making them, and never being able to find out because the upper floors had been locked up and were completely inaccessible.

I could go on and on. Dozens of smaller stories, that don’t warrant larger entries. Like the beefy security guard who, while using the restroom in a locked off area one night, heard the door open and heard footsteps walking around, even walking into the next stall, but no one was there. I saw him immediately after this happened, white as a sheet, and believed him when he said he needed to be around people for a while. He sat with us for a couple of hours before he worked up the nerve to venture out into the dark back to his patrol car. Or the cabinet in what at one time served as the hospital morgue that rattled violently on its own. Or the hallway that while sitting it, you’d see out of the corner of your eye, shadows dart quickly across from room to room. Or the new psychiatric technician who took a wrong turn and managed to lock himself in an administrative wing. The sun was going down, and he couldn’t get the office phone system to dial out for help. He was discovered by security a couple of hours later, and was so shaken by the feeling that someone was staring at him from down the hall, that he didn’t show up for work the next day and he never returned.

All those strange wonderful buildings are gone now, replaced by cheery, well-lit, modern structures devoid of all character. I’ve often wondered what happened to those unseen occupants now that their homes are gone. I keep waiting for new stories to emerge, but they don’t. I guess they don’t like the new digs.

I thought the ghost stories were long dead and gone until just a few weeks ago. A co-worker, who wasn’t around in the old days, made an interesting statement. She said the Hyde parking lot creeps her out. She didn’t even know anything about the Hyde building that once proudly stood where the lot now is.

She said, “None of the other parking lots at night make me feel unsafe, but in the Hyde lot it feels like someone is watching you. Even the deer (which live year round on the hospital grounds in the orchards, and are used to all humans and cars, roaming safe and unafraid) act skittish out there. I think they’re bugged too.”

So perhaps the old friends are there still. Watching.