The Southeast Ohio History Center held five walking tours of the historic Athens Asylum during the month of October, allowing guests to learn numerous stories, rumors and legends that occurred throughout the asylum's lifetime.
The October tours were led by tour guide George Eberts, who is an Athens Asylum advocate and a longtime Appalachian Behavioral Health employee.
The tours lasted around two hours and covered the perimeter of the asylum grounds at The Ridges, 118 Ridges Circle. The tours also allowed guests to get up close to different cottages and even a cemetery on the asylum grounds.
Tom O’Grady, director of development and outreach at the Southeast Ohio History Center, has given many asylum tours in the past and even once lived at the asylum as a resident volunteer.
“It was great. I had never lived in such a cool place,” O’Grady said. “When I lived up there, the deal was if you put in 15 hours a week, volunteer with the clients or patients ... then you got free room and board.”
O’Grady enjoys focusing on the architecture of the building along with the various architects who previously worked on the complex.
When Eberts gives tours, he focuses more on the evolution of mental health treatment, sharing stories of patients who once resided at the asylum.
“After working for 40 years in mental illness and mental health, he can tell some of the stories about it,” O’Grady said. “He's done a lot of research on the evolution of mental health treatment.”
The Southeast Ohio History Center requests guests pre-register for tours due to high demand. Tickets are $15 for history center members and $18 for non-members. However, Ohio University students can purchase tickets for only $10. Children under 12 get in for free.
The tours start right outside the Kennedy Museum of Art, 100 Ridges Circle, then circle around the entire perimeter of the asylum. Along the route, many picture opportunities were available, as the tour allowed all to get up close to the historic asylum and the cottages and structures surrounding it.
During the October tours, Eberts shared stories from his time working at the asylum and explained how mental health treatment has evolved significantly since the opening of the asylum.
He also shared stories of former patients and incidents, including the famous story of Margret Schilling.
“She went missing one night. She didn't come to dinner,” Eberts said during the Oct. 30 tour. “They looked around for her, and they could not find her. So, they went to dinner and, after dinner, they organized what I call a ‘whole nine yards,’ police-driven grid search.”
Eberts went on to share that after intensive searching, the disappearance of Schilling was practically written off, even though she remained missing for over two months.
When Schilling was finally found on the fourth floor of the east wing, her dead body had created a stain on the ground that remains there to this day.
In addition to the chilling story of Schilling, Eberts showed many fascinating things on tour, including the no-name tombstones in the asylum cemeteries and the secret places where patients used to hide and “hang out.”
“I think that the most interesting part about the whole tour was when we went behind one of the cottages, where the secret hideout was,” Kortney White, a guest on the Oct. 30 tour, said. “It just kind of shows that they are kind of like normal people, and you're just wanting to have fun.”
Although the October tours have come and gone, the Southeast Ohio History Center will offer one final tour for the year in November, with the date to be determined. You can find more information here.