Its doors haven’t been open since 1992, parts of the walls are coming down and the linoleum is cracked and shattered. Windows are boarded up but you can still see a little of the institution it once was. Originally called the State Sanatorium for tuberculosis patients, today we’re exploring the San Haven Sanatorium in North Dakota, a place with more than a few skeletons in its closet.
The sanatorium first opened its doors in 1912, when an epidemic of tuberculosis was ravaging the states and a hospital out of the way in the Turtle Mountains was necessary for the growing local population. The first year it was open, it housed 12 patients. In 1922, it was reported that they housed 140 patients in the same facilities. The population constantly grew throughout its life as a tuberculosis hospital until nearly 400 patients were crammed into the halls.
After a vaccine for tuberculosis was discovered, the hospital shifted its purpose to one of caring for the mentally ill. The new psychiatric hospital opened its doors in the 1960s, servicing thousands of patients considered “disturbed” during its tenure. Rumors were that this was a very unhappy time behind the doors of the hospital. Due to low staffing, high population, and the nearly barbaric methods used on mental patients, the sanitarium struggled to keep on top of the mounting chaos. The population eventually got as high as 1500, the primary focus of the hospital was treating developmentally disabled adults and children alike. With reports of many deaths in the hospital while it was open, it’s no surprise that the location is considered one of the most haunted places in North Dakota.
Closed in 1987 for good, the San Haven Sanitarium now sits abandoned, the land beneath it being owned by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. The foundation is crumbling and it’s ill advised to actually visit the hospital, due to many safety hazards inside the abandoned building.
A particularly tragic event happened in 2001, when a young boy spent his halloween ghost hunting in the sanitarium. The boy tripped and fell into an open elevator shaft, dying immediately on impact. Some say the boy who searched for ghosts found them in the halls and he joined them as another spirit of the sanitarium. Brave visitors have left flowers and other mementos at the entrance of the elevator shaft, remembering him and the tragedy that took place while exploring the sprawling buildings.
Legends from the locals say that the abandoned building takes on its own activity at night, the laughter of children being heard near the child wing, shadow figures following you through the wreckage, and even a full bodied apparition reported by two teenagers. They said they saw a nurse, walking around as if checking on patients that are long gone. Again, it’s not advisable to visit by any means without permission or proper safety gear. Urban exploring can be dangerous if not taken seriously. But if you want to meet the ghosts of the former sanatorium, be sure to bring a gift to keep the spirits happy and keep note of parts of the building that are unsafe to enter.
From 1912 to 1987, this building housed thousands of patients, and a few that stuck around after their passing. Many people were treated here with whatever science was available at the time, and very few checked out of the mental institution when it was at its peak. Today, all that’s left is crumbling remains and a few ghost stories.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.