When asylums were “all the rage,” in mental health, Traverse City was home to one of Michigan’s finest. It was first known as The Northern Michigan Asylum, built in 1885. The first superintendent was Dr. James Decker Munson. He had a theory that “beauty” could be a form of therapy. Munson felt that if mentally troubled people could come to a place and be surrounded by beauty and find peace and tranquility, that perhaps some of their troubles would cease to exist. The use of a straitjacket was not even permitted. While “beauty” wasn’t always the solution for many problems that ailed people, it was in fact, a step in the right direction in regards to how many asylums and the people kept in them, were treated and ran. Throughout our world’s history, people with mental problems have been abandoned, locked up and horribly neglected due to a lack of knowledge concerning their condition. Dr. Munson felt differently about how these people were treated and it no doubt helped many people.
The hospital operated for 104 years but after health care reforms in the state, the rise of new medications and the declining use of such massive mental health facilities in general, the Traverse City State Hospital closed its doors for the last time in 1989. And like any old asylum from days past, the reputation of being “haunted” settled inside of its old bones as the buildings were left to deteriorate and fall into ruin — a perfect setting for ghost stories to be born in.
During the time the hospital sat in solitude and disrepair, one could look through the windows and glimpse mint green lead paint, peeling like blistered skin from the walls. Old medical objects and furniture were scattered through its long winding corridors and many rooms. The artwork on walls by former patients just made things even creepier. Throw in graffiti and modern vandalism for an extra creepy bonus.
In the early 2000’s, a developer started to renovate and rejuvenate the beautiful buildings, turning the decaying asylum into gorgeous condos, offices and even restaurants.
The majority of restoration at the time was focused on what used be known as Building 50. Building 50 was the hospital’s first and main building and was designed by architect Gordon W. Lloyd and followed the “Kirkbride Plan” for mental institutions. Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride influenced how mental hospitals were to be built throughout the United States for decades with his book On the Construction, Organization and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane, published in 1854. Building 50 is the last Kirkbride building left standing in Michigan, another important reason for the restoration project.
When we first started to explore the world of paranormal investigation in the early 00’s, Traverse City State Hospital was one of the places to explore. The place just seemed to “ooze” of ghosts and creepy things. On a trip in 2006 to the hospital, we explored some of the grounds away from the buildings and found the hospital’s old water tank back in the woods that had some seriously amazing graffiti artwork on it. We walked up to the tank and my buddy Tom noticed a tree that made it easy to climb to the top of the tank. I was a little weirded out when Tom got onto the roof and seemingly started talking to the air around him. Was there already a friendly ghost up there lounging up there?
No ghosts, but there were three teens on top of the tank just hanging out. They lived in the area so we asked them about the local stories told about the hospital. I expected them to have tons of interesting and unusual stories being locals but they just nonchalantly said the place was known to be “haunted” and that it was “creepy.” They mentioned the area of the woods we were in gave people a strange feeling. So much for cool, local stories.
Since our first days of exploring the old asylum, we’ve had tons of emails about people experiencing strange phenomena when the grounds could be easily explored. Among the many “strange vibes” people got near the buildings, people reported seeing lights in rooms with no power. Strange shadows moved about the dark corridors. Some people got creepy EVP’s (electronic voice phenomena). Psychics claimed they were communicating with patients who had died there or were bound to the place for some reason. Whatever the experiences were, they were numerous for the urban explorers of this once desolate collection of buildings.
Nowadays, things are a little brighter at the old asylum. Gone are the dangers of lead paint and asbestos that made the place dangerous to explore on the inside. It’s now a vibrant place of urban renewal now known as The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. You can dine, shop and even live there! So while it’s really no longer a paranormal stomping ground, the history is still intense and amazing and it is still worth the visit. Who knows, you may still be greeted by a spirit in the most unassuming of places.
One of the first restaurants to open at the renovated hospital was Trattoria Stella’s. From the beginning, stories about spirit activity were talked about. I had even heard when they first opened, they had a hard time keeping some of the staff around because they got too spooked to work there! I have no clue if that is 100% true or not but it was something I was told a long time ago.
If you have interesting stories about jaunts into the unknown territories of the Traverse City State Hospital before (or after) the renovation, send us your story to add to this page. There are already plenty of stories coming in since the renovation. Enjoy those accounts below.
Do you have a story to share about the Traverse City State Hospital from the past or the present? Write or comment below.
The hospital was always high class — best of the best of everything. But when my mother was younger she and many of her friends used to parade into the abandoned parts of the hospital. Ever since I was little, I have been obsessed with all things creepy and wanted to know everything I could about that place in particular because we were so close to it. My mom had a story she didn’t want to share about it. She never went back with her friends again after this one experience and I was dying to know why. Most people think the entirety of the hospital is renovated, but that’s not true. Three smaller buildings still stand, not touched and locked up tighter than Fort Knox. I’ve always wanted inside but my mom refused to let me try and finally I found out why.
My mom was young when patients were still in the last building of the hospital. When the hospital closed, the rumor spread that the families of the patients that didn’t want them back and left them in the hospital. Of course, it was just local folklore and the hospital insisted it was empty and no longer in use or housed any patients. Excited teens wanted to explore the only part of the hospital they hadn’t yet. So one day after school, my mom and her friends eagerly walked to the hospital and around to the back to find a window and a way inside. My mom looked up at the building and a man in a hospital gown had his face pressed to the jail-like bars and started screaming and yelling at them. He was shaking the bars and going crazy. They ran and my mom didn’t go back for a long, long time. Also, I don’t know if the teens told you the lore about the hippie tree, but the story says that two young boys went missing and a while later they found them dead at the hippie tree. It’s said to open the “gates of hell” if walked around in certain directions and if done incorrectly, you’ll die. The boys are said to haunt the tree and many other, “out of the norm” things are said to happen there. I thought that this might be helpful info from a local. – Elle
My family stayed at the Munson Hospitality House when my Dad was very sick. We stayed there about two weeks. My sister and brother saw a man walking a dog outside. They turned away and when they looked back, there was no dog just a man walking by himself. When I was down in the basement heading outside with my brother and sister, my phone that was inside my purse, started playing a song on my playlist, calling one of my girlfriends and then my phone just locked up and I couldn’t turn off the music. We heard noises there all night long. My brother decided to sleep in a Lazy Boy in one of the bedrooms instead of a bed one night and something swung the seat around and started pulling the blanket off him. It was a very creepy stay. – Jennifer
Well, right now my mom, my sisters, and my sister’s boy friend are staying at the hospitality house in the remodeled hospital. We are having some paranormal activity! When my sister and I went into the laundry room in the basement where “Cora the ghost” is known to be, we were waiting for our laundry when all the sudden the door slammed shut! We figured someone opened the front door and the wind made the door close. We waited another 3-5 minutes and my sister and I got goose bumps all over and got freezing cold and felt as if we were not alone, but it did not stop there. When we got on the elevator to go back to room 215 on the second floor, we pressed 2 and the elevator door shut and opened again and it was on the same floor and hadn’t moved. The next day we were on the elevator and the door closed half way and opened all the way again and then closed and we got freezing cold and goose bumps all over. We even had on sweat shirts and jeans with boots. You would think we would be warm but no, not at all. Well, maybe someday you could meet Cora, the ghost. She likes to look at you when you sleep and if you do any needle work you will be sure to meet her. She likes to watch, so beware, you’re in for a scare from Cora the ghost! – Sara
A few years ago my family and I went to the hospitality house and stayed the night. That night, I had a dream about a tall man standing at the end of my bed saying that it wasn’t safe here. He told me to go away and he said, “they don’t want you here.” I was about seven at that time. I just recently stayed the night there again.
I went down to the basement because my four-year-old brother was playing down there, and I went to the bathroom. When I came out of the bathroom I heard my name being called. It was about 10 p.m., so no one was around then the laundry room door slammed shut. I was freezing cold and frightened. To be honest, that is really what happened to me! I don’t care about the people who don’t believe me or the people who think I’m crazy. I know what happened and it will haunt me forever.
A few weeks ago my dad was in the Munson Hospital in Traverse City. We needed somewhere to stay over night so we stayed at the Munson Manor ( Hospitality House). In the middle of the night, I woke up and was just laying there when all of a sudden I felt something tapping on on my calf. It kinda creeped me out!!
My mother was being treated at the hospital and staying at Munson Manor. Being by herself and afraid someone would get into her room as she slept, she pushed a table in front of the door. She got into bed, pulled the covers up then realized a woman was standing next to the bed. Her eyes jumped to the door only to see the table still tight against it. Her eyes went back to the woman who was wearing a long blue dress with a white apron. She had long blonde hair that went to her shoulders and was wearing some sort of hat or scarf. The woman was fiddling with her hands and kept looking down. She acted as if she wanted to say something, but she never spoke. Then she disappeared. (One would think my mother would have been horrified, she wasn’t. She has seen many ghostly visitors in her life time and is more afraid of the living). In the morning she was fixing herself some tea in the kitchen when one of the cleaning ladies asked her what room she had stayed in and if she had seen anything unusual. My mother told her about the woman who was standing by her bed. The cleaning lady felt comforted to have found an ally in seeing the ghostly figure. She said that no one would believe her that the room was haunted and she didn’t like going in there.
My name is D___ and I have a story about the Traverse City State Hospital. I was hired as a painter and general laborer by the construction company contracted to restore the hospital back in 2003 and worked for them until 2007. This is just one of the many stories I have after my four years of working on the old place. I was working in building 50 on the third floor by myself. The third floor was the men’s most disturbed ward. I was up on a ladder scraping the paint off an old door transom on the north end of the ward when I heard a scuffing noise all the way down on the other end. I stopped what I was doing for a minute and looked down to see if I could see what all the commotion was. I kept my eyes fixed on the area where I heard the noise but didn’t hear it anymore so I went back to doing my work. A few minutes went by when I heard it again but this time very loudly. I got down and went to see who was making so much noise but nobody was there so I started back to my ladder and got about half way down the ward when I heard the sound again. I whipped around as fast as I could to see a man peeking out of the last room on the end. I was just down there and I knew I was the only one in that section of the building. I knew immediately what I was looking at and could feel it looking at me if that makes any sense. I bolted out and down the stairs as fast as I could and the whole time I felt it behind me till I made it out the door. Luckily, I coned another worker to come help me for the rest of the day and we didn’t see anything else that day, but I could still feel it looking at me until I left for the day.
First I want to say how much I enjoy your site and I visit often. Last fall I submitted an article I wrote about Pere Cheney Cemetery and you added it to your page (which made me very happy, lol). I have yet another story for you, this time about the TC State Hospital…. More of an anecdote, maybe.
When my daughter was born, she was six weeks premature and I was taken to Traverse City to give birth in a facility that was more equipped to deal with a premature birth. She was in the NICU at Munson Medical Center for two weeks and I stayed at the Munson Manor (Hospitality House) for those two weeks. Doing my laundry at the Manor was very daunting because of how uncomfortable I felt in the laundry room. On two occasions, the door slammed shut (and it had been propped open with a door stopper) and would not open for a couple minutes. I felt as though I were being watched very intently by something that didn’t want me there. I tried to avoid the laundry room at all costs except when necessary.
I had read the other anecdote about the Munson Manor and I had to include my creepy laundry room story. Thank you for reading.
I am a local of Traverse City and have been here for 15 years. I have researched this area and I work for a local news station. I was tapping a policeman doing a story about teen’s destruction of property. Now on to the spooky stuff! When I was recording with a video camera, I got some loud and very spooky voices. When I edited the tape I could hear the following. The voices said, “Get out Now!”,”Leave now or you will be sorry” and “watch out Mike”. The scary thing is the officer’s name was Mike! It was like the spirit was talking to us in real time!. Sadly I tried to find this video in our company’s archives but failed. You should have been there! Me, the policeman and the cam dude were freaking out. I mean, it was not a faint voice, it was a loud one! it was 10:30 pm so NO one was around after the police removed the teens.
We were staying at the Hospitality House at Munson in Traverse City, which is in one of the old state hospital buildings. We were in the laundry room in the basement and the door which had been open, slammed! We tried to get it unstuck and open it but it appeared locked. Seconds later it swung back open. Nobody else was around because it was late in the evening. Needless to say, we didn’t go near the basement again!
**Many of these buildings are now residential, office or merchant space. Be respectful of trespassing, private property, and privacy.