First of all, the stain:

This part is true. On December 1, 1978, a female patient named Margaret Schilling disappeared from one of the active wards. On January 12, 1979, they found her body in the abandoned top floor of ward N. 20. This ward had been used for sick, infectious patients, and had been closed down for years. They had searched the hospital for the woman when they realized she was missing but apparently hadn't looked in ward N. 20. When a maintenance man discovered her body lying on the floor in front of a window, she had been dead for several weeks.

The official cause of death was heart failure--probably due to her exposure to the December cold in an unheated section of the hospital. She apparently locked herself in the ward as a game, hiding from hospital employees. Before she died she took off her clothes and folded them neatly nearby.

One has to wonder why she didn't call for help. Part of the legend that has not been confirmed is that she was a deaf mute. It's possible, I suppose, but it's also possible that she was just mentally ill and didn't reason properly. Another bit of Ridges apocrypha is the story that she was locked in accidentally as the final patients were moved out and the hospital was closed down; because she was a deaf mute she couldn't call for attention, and spent her final days wandering the halls alone. Good drama, but not true.

What is true is that her body left a stain. You can still see it today, from what I hear--although we weren't lucky enough to come across it on our illicit trip through the hospital. People sometimes leave flowers and other trinkets around it. I've read that the reason she left such a lasting mark on the concrete had something to do with the sunlight. It certainly doesn't seem like the typical thing to happen. Nevertheless, there is a stain on the top floor of the Athens State Hospital in the shape of a woman who died there nearly thirty years ago.

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Now we get into the ghost stories. Some say that Margaret Schilling wanders the building at night. They say that other patients, especially those who died at the hospital, wander the building at night. Rumors about patients chained in the basement dungeons add fuel to this kind of thing; I once spoke to someone who knew a guy who knew a guy who saw the shackles in the basement and, next to them, a message scrawled on the wall: "I was never crazy." Maintenance workers told us that several of the windowsills do have drawings and carvings left behind by patients, but medieval cellar chainings are probably just stories.

My own internal tour of the Ridges was in the late summer of 2002. My friend Jenn and I went into the main building during school hours and looked through the museum for a while, then sneaked (snuck?) up the stairs past the velvet rope and began poking around on the upper floors--all of which are either still abandoned or in the very early stages of renovation.

Jenn's criminal skills got us into one of the upper floors, where we found a wing with several rooms, closets, fireplaces, tall windows, and balconies. The main room had a psychological chart of the Bell Curve hanging on the wall, but other than that it was pretty barren.

Our next stop was the attic--the long, high-ceilinged room beneath the roof. The tiny dormer windows you can see from outside are actually painted over, which made it very dark in the attic, as well as very hot. When we were up there, lightbulbs had been strung along the ceiling, and there was some sort of a walkie talkie radio transmitter sitting at one end. Every once in a while it would make some noise and scare the shit out of us. But there weren't any ghosts.

We climbed two different ladders--one into the upper chamber in the tower, one to the tiny square of roof at the peak. The photo below is a terrible roof shot I took while trying not to fall down.

So that was our ghost hunt through the Ridges. Not much to tell, except that it was really interesting to see the closed-off portions of the building. Later we wandered into an office and were kicked out by an angry Geology professor.

Above you see the spot where, legend has it, the city of Athens hung criminals more than a century ago. Whether or not the story is true, it is one of the reputedly haunted spots on the grounds. The other haunted place at the Ridges is the asylum cemetery; click here to check it out.