Ex-W.Va. psychiatric hospital becoming tourist attraction

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WESTON, W.Va. — Normally, Rebecca Jordan will take all the free TV exposure she can get for the psychiatric hospital she has turned into a tourist attraction known as the trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.

SyFy’s “Ghost Hunters.” Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures” and “Ghost Stories.” Discovery’s “Forgotten Planet.” She even hosted an episode of CMT’s “My Big Redneck Wedding” on the 307-acre grounds.

But she drew the line when producers for A&E’s “Paranormal State” called. They didn’t want to meet the ghosts behind the 2 1/2-foot-thick walls, she said. They wanted to get rid of them.

“And I was like, ‘Well, maybe you’re not the right fit for me. We do not want to get rid of our spirits! We want them to stay in the building!’

“Unless they want to go home,” she added with a laugh. “And then they can go home. I’m not trying to keep anybody here who doesn’t want to be here.”

Spirits, after all, make money. And the property Ms. Jordan’s father bought three years ago for $1.5 million is generating enough revenue from overnight public ghost hunts at $100 a person and other types of tours to pay a staff of 33 and fund a never-ending list of maintenance and repair projects.

The main Gothic Revival building is one of the world’s largest hand-cut-sandstone structures and a National Historic Landmark. Virginia legislators authorized its construction in 1858, but it wasn’t until 1864 that the first patients were admitted.

The hospital repeatedly changed hands during the Civil War, ending up with West Virginia when it became a separate state. Originally intended for 250 patients, it housed nearly 10 times that many during the 1950s.

Known in later years as Weston Hospital, it closed in 1994, when the state moved patients to a more modern facility. It stood empty for nearly 15 years, inhabited only by rats, security guards and the occasional paintball-playing trespasser.

In 2008, Mrs. Jordan’s father, Joe Jordan, an asbestos-abatement and demolition contractor in Morgantown, bought it at auction for $1.5 million. He since has sunk at least another $1 million into the place, hiring crew after crew to repair the showpiece clock tower, the disintegrating floors and the forever-leaking roofs.

Running the asylum is a family affair.

Ms. Jordan handles marketing and sales. Her historian husband applies for grants. Her brother handles advertising and maintains the website. Her 13-year-old daughter, Breonna Childress, is a full-time volunteer who hosts overnight birthday-party ghost hunts with her friends and talks about the day she’ll inherit the business.

Mainly by capitalizing on public interest in the paranormal, the Jordans have lured more than 115,000 visitors to the property since they bought it.

Chris Richards, director of the Lewis County Convention and Visitors Bureau, calls the following “phenomenal,” noting that people are traveling from all over the world to visit Weston.

The Jordans and local hotels co-sponsor each other, and the operators of gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants all tell Ms. Richards that business is up.

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