A charming and compelling book; Fractured Spirits, A Haunting at the Peoria State Hospital by Sylvia Shults is a collection of ghost stories centered around the now defunct insane asylum in Bartonville, Illinois. More than that, it’s a wonderful guided tour of the history and haunting of what was once the pinnacle of mental health care in the United States.
Shults, a long time paranormal investigator herself, and an accomplished author, pulls the reader in with a well researched telling of the laudable history of the hospital, which was, for a time, a small village of doctors, nurses and patients suffering from all manner of mental health issues. Led by Dr. George Zeller, the Peoria State Hospital was revolutionary in its approach to caring for the insane, a field that used to simply lock people away, creating an environment that was ripe for abuse and violence. Shults skilfully illustrates the sanctuary that was called an asylum, a place that contrasted the typical idea of an insane asylum, where patients were treated with dignity and compassion.
Shults characterises herself as a die-hard sceptic, but her love of the paranormal shines through in her telling of the many ghostly stories shared with her (and the reader) by locals, other paranormal investigators and ghost hunters, and general curiosity seekers over the years.
To my personal chagrin, Shults clearly buys into the idea that ghosts are the product of an afterlife, many times speculating on the identity and history of certain characters that are thought to haunt the many buildings and cemeteries that make up the hospital. Much as I’d enjoy it this is neither the time nor the place to start such a theological discussion, however.
For the casual reader, Fractured Spirits is just enough to whet the appetite, and I’m not too proud to admit that a few of the featured stories gave me goose bumps. In addition to the rich history and the anecdotal evidence, Shults also offers a multimedia experience in the accompanying website, where you can find many of the EVP’s, photographs and videos mentioned in the book. A wonderful enhancement to the book, the webpage serves to draw the reader into the story, giving them a genuine experience of the haunting of the asylum.
Perhaps the only thing that exceeds Shults’ knowledge of the hospital, its history and its haunting is her passion for the preservation of the remaining grounds, and her interest in promoting the site for further paranormal investigation. The site has hosted hundreds of fright-seekers, investigators and the generally curious through both planned events and independent (and often illegal) excursions into the darkness over the years. The reputations of the Bowen Building and the Pollack Hospital (a former tuberculosis ward) have travelled around the world and the Peoria State Hospital is considered to be one of the most haunted locations in North America.
Whatever your particular bent regarding the nature of ghosts, Fractured Spirits is a journey worth taking, and I give it four out of five stars.
For those curious, you can get more information and experience some of the haunting at the book’s Fan Page: www.facebook.com/fracturedspirits. You can also interact with the author and get information on her other titles via www.sylviashults.com.
Sylvia Shults. Fractured Spirits, A Haunting at the Peoria State Hospital. Dark Continents Publishing. ISBN-10 0984893113