Have you ever wanted inspiration to write? Not all of it comes from within. Sometimes you need to get off your seat-warmer and hunt it down. So when my brother asked if I wanted to tag along to an old psych ward here in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I had to say yes. Actually I said:
“Is it haunted?”
Built in 1859, the asylum opened for business in 1861 and was taking in all the crazy peeps it could. These patients would even write and publish their own newspaper called The Meteor, giving an personal view of what it was like inside mental hospitals. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding—Alabama would rank last in U.S. for mental health funding. In 1970, Alabama ranked last among U.S. states in funding—conditions would start to decline. At the time, it had 5,200 patients living in conditions that a Montgomery Advertiser editor likened to a concentration camp.
I’ll be honest. I had not known any of this before-hand.
I’m not a believer of ghosts, ghouls, or spirit animals. I’m not a fan of buildings falling on me or cesspools of delinquent activity. I had no clue what to expect when going into this place.
So at about 11pm, with it being only fifteen minutes from my casa, we hopped in the truck with nothing but flashlights and curiosity. I also had the knife that I keep in my truck, but I didn’t know what good it would do against a ghost.
On the road that leads to the hospital, there is a gate blocking the way to keep people like me out. I parked the truck just outside the gate. The read of the walk was down a a quarter mile of pothole-ridden dark road, surrounded by tree growth, and as straight as an arrow. This is where my inner writer brain kicks in and imagines this long dirt road, a white UPS-like truck driving down with a patient or two in straightjackets, and angle bracelets. Whether that was the case or not doesn’t change the fact that walking down this road, I pictured myself as Hannibal’s next snack.
When we got to the entrance, I’m looking up at this four story tall building, surrounded by trees that haven’t been cut back, grass that hasn’t seen a mower in years, and the clearest night sky I’ve seen in a long while.
It had a really weird vibe. I was trying to soak up as much creepiness as possible from this place, and doing quite well at that. In the light, I’m sure it doesn’t look scary at all; but in the blackness of light under a star-filled sky and leave-less tree branches, it tends to look straight out of a scene of Ernest Scared Stupid.
Stepping inside had a legitimate eeriness to it. As soon as you walk in, a staircase leads you either up or down. Down was not an option as just a few steps down the rotted out stairs, you turn and see an entire level (or levels?) underwater.
You didn’t want to go for a swim?
Nah. I like my undies to stay dry. Don’t you?
I don’t wear undies.
I did however go upstairs. There are some creepy places out there. This… wasn’t one. I mean it could have been, but years of abandonment and teenagers looking for a place to hide, make-out, do the naughty, or probably cook up meth labs all Breaking Bad style have made this place more of a decaying rave pit than a haunted house.
That doesn’t mean I’d joyfully walk through every room alone and without a flashlight, or even alone with a flashlight… but I don’t expect to see a ghost. Maybe a gang initiation or an Illuminati cult meeting.
Outside was cool. Just because it wasn’t super creepy, it didn’t stop me from getting in some good pics that could be inspiration for any story or scene.
Walking around the building showed a lot of chipping paint, cracked concrete, and more flooded floors. I really tried to take in as much of the detail as possible, and the whole time trying to pick the right words to describe the settings in my head.
This place is full of history and probably has hundreds of more picture opportunities available. I would believe there are so many rooms full of inspiration for any book, not just a horror story.
If you’re a writer, a photographer, or just someone looking for a spooky vibe, I would definitely add Old Bryce Hospital to the list.
But to my fellow writers, you should always be on the look out for inspiration, and finding new ways to describe what you see. Can you paint a visual for your readers? If not, I highly suggest you find something to overload your senses, find ways to put the scene in your head onto paper and into the minds of your readers.
And don’t be afraid to hunt down some ghosts in the process.