Weston, West Virginia – May 2019 – Trans Alleghenies Lunatic Asylum

The small town of Weston, West Virginia is the home to the Trans Alleghenies Lunatic Asylum. Completed in 1864, it is often considered the second largest hand cut stone building in the world, behind only the Kremlin in Moscow.





Designed by Richard Andrews, it is nearly 1/4 mile long with wings coming off the main building. It was designed to house 250 people, but by the 1950s nearly 2,400 patients were jammed in.





Weston has seen better days. From a peak population of 9,000 it now is home to about 1/ 3 of that.





Once the hospital closed in the 1990s a group purchased the historic building from the state and has done some partial restoration.





Some of the center sections, including the auditorium, have been restored.





There is also a small museum with a number of items – including original patient art.





Some of the displays show the sad approach to mental health in past days – including a display for a lobotomy.





But we are not here for the museum – we are here for the darker side of the history of the place.





We took the ‘Paranormal Tour’. The building has a reputation of being one of the most haunted places in America.





Perhaps it has something to do with this room – the lobotomy ‘recovery’ room. Not really sure exactly what a recovery from a lobotomy was like, but I doubt it was very pleasant.





Our tour Val entertained us with ghost stories – including one for this room where they did a video shoot and a ‘ghost’ appear in some of the promotional photos.





The stone structure and general decay of most of it definitely adds to the aura.





Some of the wings had inspirational paintings remaining on the walls from the 1990s when the building closed.





Abstract art? Nope – seriously peeling paint on a ceiling with the bars on the stairway.





Numerous TV ‘ghost hunter’ type shows have stayed here overnight and filmed.





When I asked why a few of the rooms had this orange tile – Val demonstrated that they were the ‘restraint rooms’ – note the small round patches on the tile on the right side of the photos – it is where the restraints were secured to the wall.





Why is this door only to be use by ghosts? We are 3 floors up with nothing on the other side but air – and a 30′ drop to the ground.





The wings last were painted to different the mens wings, from womens, from childrens (yes, children), and the criminally insane.




At a few places in the facility you find offerings to the ghosts, such as candy and cigarettes.





The children’s section has to be the saddest. Some children had the misfortune of being born there and end up being raised there since their mother was a patient and they had no other family.





The staff believes if you leave other ‘offerings’ such as the baby carriage that it will attract the children ghosts.





Having been in a few buildings like this (Mansfield, Moundsville, etc) this one was in much better shape un-restored than those.





In this room Val was summoning a ghost named Larry to turn the flashlight on and off. Some on the tour were hardcore believers and were really into it (which added to the overall amusement of the afternoon) while others hmm – looked up the story of ghosts and magnetic flashlights on the internet (not going to give a spoiler here).

Val did a great job sharing the stories of the Trans Alleghenies Lunatic Asylum. Unfortunately I did not see or feel any ghosts.







September 2018 – Auf Wiedersehen to the Audi

Over the last couple of years the cars have become frequent subjects in my photos. After 4 years of loyal service, and fantastic adventures, the Audi S5 was traded in.

This posting highlights the Audi’s trips it took us on.

First trip was to Western Ohio – and a giant fiberglass bull.

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Most of the time the birthplace of Presidents are honored locales, but not for Rutherford B Hayes – his is a BP station in Delaware, Ohio.

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A covered bridge in Fairfield County, Ohio – The car was not allowed to cross it, but we were.

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Utopia has been found (along the Ohio River).

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The settling of America – on the right is a famed S bridge of the original National Road. Overhead is US Route 40 – the main route west from the 1910s through the 1960s. A 1/2 mile to the left (not shown) is Interstate 70.

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A riverboat in Cincinnati.

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867 feet above the Audi the New River Gorge Bridge. They offer tours where they connect you to the beams underneath and you cross – I passed.

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Polo anyone. 3 horses in the field and 340 under the hood.

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After Utopia, come Paradise – in the Northern Peninsula of Michigan. I find it ironic that somewhere that gets 200 inches of snow a year is considered Paradise…

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The Audi is not on a runway – it is an abandoned air force base in Michigan – with some random Jets parked around town.

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Welcome to Minnesota doncha ya know.

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Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area Montana/Wyoming.

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Yellowstone. That is not the radiator overheating ūüôā

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One of the funniest moments in our travels was the day we ran into a cattle drive on a road in Idaho – this cow spent 5 minutes licking the bugs off the front of the Audi.

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We drove 9 miles out a dirt road at the Golden Spike National Historic Site (where the transcontinental railroad met in the 1800s). Wondering who was dumb enough take an Audi out this dirt road, until a Tesla pulled up.

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Devils Rocks Utah

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Pagosa Springs, Colorado. The hotel was filled with a Corvette Club and us.

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Bonjour from Paris – Texas

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We went down to the Crossroads….Clarksdale, Mississippi.

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We have seen Utopia and Paradise, and now the Center of the World

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The original Model T factory in Detroit. They let my German car go along with all the classic American cars on the Woodward Dream Cruise all the way through the city to the burbs where the other 100,000 cool cars were cruising.

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Plymouth, Massachusetts – National Monument to the Fore Fathers.

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The Marine Atlantic Ferry to Newfoundland. A 600 car ferry and a 18 hour ride!

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Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, Canada

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The Audi and a large basket – but there are larger basket buildings in Ohio.

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The historic Cincinnati Observatory and the Audi.

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Watkins Glen Race Track. They were having club racing with little Mazdas, etc – if I had the safety equipment to go on the track I could’ve taken them – I think.

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Age of Steam Roundhouse in Sugarcreek, Ohio.

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The Auburn/Cord/Dusenberg Festival in Indiana. That car is sooo much cooler than mine.

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The final road trip for the Audi – Downtown Chicago with the El in the background. While the Audi is gone – the adventures continue…..

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Moundsville, WV – July 2017 – West Virginia State Prison

When West Virginia split from Virginia during the Civil War it instantly found itself needing many institutional venues that were previously served by those now located in Virginia.

One of those venues was a prison, so in the late 1860s they started building a prison in Moundsville, just south of what was then the state capital of Wheeling.

The Moundsville Prison was generally regarded as one of the most violent prisons in America, with numerous murders and other acts of aggression regularly occurring. Eventually in the 1990s it was closed, and now serves as a tourist spot and training facility.

 

Visitation Area

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Gallows ¬†– There were over 90 executions at the prison, initially by hanging. It is thought this was the first location for the gallows, they were later moved to the ‘Death House’, which is no longer standing.

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A cell block.

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The exterior wall.

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New Vrinabad, WV – July 2017 – Palace of Gold

In the extremely unlikely locale of the West Virginia Northern Panhandle is the Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold. Built in the 1970s it is a magnificently ornate building that is showing it’s age, with a multi year restoration effort ongoing.

Despite this, it continues to attract thousands of tourists a year to seek it out (my navigation system took me down a dirt road that wanted me to cross a creek with 2′ of water running through it.)

Once we did arrive we were fascinated with the thought of a Hare Krishna temple just up the hill from numerous fracking wells and their associated tanker trucks, and the oil workers and their giant 4 wheel drive pickups.

While not something I want to do often, it was worth the adventure of finding it and spending an hour or two.

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Washington, DC – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip ‚Äď Day 2

Our morning in Cumberland started out a crisp 34oF. The day would find us eventually in Washington, DC, but with a few stops on the way, starting with a drive along the Potomac River south from Cumberland, until we reached the Paw Paw Tunnel. This  3,118-foot long canal tunnel is located on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal located near Paw Paw, West Virginia.

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The tunnel was built to bypass the Paw Paw Bends, a 6-mile stretch of the Potomac River containing five horseshoe-shaped bends. The town, the bends, and the tunnel take their name from the pawpaw trees that grow abundantly along nearby ridges.

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Building the tunnel was underestimated as to the difficulty of the job by the construction company.  The tunnel project created financial problems and nearly bankrupted the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. The lengthy construction and high cost forced the company to end canal construction at Cumberland, Maryland, in 1850, rather than continue to Pittsburgh as originally planned.

The tunnel was used by canal boats until the C&O closed in 1924.  The tunnel was badly deteriorated until the National Park Service made major repairs to the tunnel, including replacing fallen bricks, filling cavities along the towpath, stabilizing rock slides, and repairing the facade.  Today the Paw Paw Tunnel is part of the C & O Towpath which is part of a major bike trail connecting Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.

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We hiked the half-mile path from the parking lot through the woods to reach the tunnel sheathed in fog.  The colorful autumn leaves brightened the surroundings as we entered into the tunnel feeling a cool breeze within it.   As we walked on the bumpy dirt towpath where mules once pulled canal boats on this trail, the tunnel turned darker the farther we hiked.  Our flashlights and the railing helped to guide our way to the other end of the tunnel.

After reaching the end, we turned around to walk back through the tunnel again.  We did not climb the steep and strenuous looking two-mile long Tunnel Hill Trail over top the mountain to see where the tunnel builders lived during construction but I enjoyed our short trek into the tunnel to see a bit of history and engineering marvel.

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The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM)’s annex at Washington Dulles International Airport.¬† The 760,000-square-foot facility was made possible by a $65 million gift to the Smithsonian Institution by Steven F. Udvar-H√°zy, an immigrant from Hungary and co-founder of an aircraft leasing corporation.¬† The main building, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C, had always contained more artifacts than could be displayed, and most of the collection had been stored, unavailable to visitors.

The exhibition areas at the Udvar-Hazy facility have two large hangars, the Boeing Aviation Hangar and the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar.  The museum is connected by a taxiway to the Washington Dulles International Airport.  The observation tower at the museum provided a view of landing operations at the airport for us to see some large jets land while we were there.

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Entering the lobby of the museum offers a visitor a direct view of the space shuttle at center stage.  It was like walking through a timeline with so many historic aircrafts in one building.

In addition to the space shuttle, other crafts on display were: The Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; the Gemini VII space capsule; the SR-71 Blackbird Reconnaissance aircraft; the Air France Concorde; the Gossamer Albatross, which was the first man-powered aircraft to fly across the English Channel; the special-effects miniature of the “Mothership” used in the filming of Close Encounters of the Third Kind; the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer piloted by Steve Fossett for the first solo nonstop and nonrefueled circumnavigation of Earth; and a piece of fabric from the Hindenburg disaster.

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We also saw gliders, satellites, military and commercial planes, flying platforms, missiles, boat planes, and farm duster crop planes.  A mobile NASA quarantine facility for the astronauts return was there.

The catwalk elevated us to a perch overlooking the planes and crafts on the floor and a view at eye-level of the aircrafts hovering from the ceiling.  We were able to peer inside the small suspended crafts to see the controls and sometimes personal items of the pilots in the congested airspace of the hangar.  There was a plethora of aircraft and spacecrafts to see but clearly the surprise of the initial look into the hangar to see the space shuttle and the close up of its tiles and many components is most impressive.

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Gravelly Point Park near National Airport was our next stop.  The park at the edge of the airport runway was filled with people enjoying the nice weather.  A maintenance crew was replacing bulbs in the landing lights as we looked on.  We stood at the edge beyond the landing lights while jets flew a hundred feet directly above us roaring noisily. The park also provided a good spot for us to photograph the D.C. buildings from across the river.

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We made our way to the Embassy Suites downtown, receiving an upgrade to the top floor.  It was a nice walk from the hotel to the National Building Museum.  The museum is all about building and construction obviously and so showcased different aspects of this theme.

The museum had paper models of famous castles and other famous buildings and homes.  There was a display of dollhouses.  Another room presented a technique of building tall structures and high rises from wood instead of steel.  The technique is a new trend of incorporating renewable resources in modern construction.  Stumps of wood and panels of engineered wood filled the room for us to learn how wood could be as strong as steel, lessens the impact on the environment, and reduces waste.   Miniature wooden models of multi-leveled structures were displayed for us to see examples of the early projects.

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The National Building Museum itself was very interesting with colossal 75-foot Corinthian columns reaching to the vaulted arches above in the great hall.  Outside a frieze depicting a parade of Civil War military units 3 feet high wrapped the building.  President Grover Cleveland hosted his inaugural ball in this building in 1885; since then this building has been the grand space for Washington’s social and political functions.

The design of the building was inspired by two Roman palaces, the Palazzo Farnese, and the church of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs in Rome built by Michelangelo in the mid-sixteenth century.  Arched windows and arched niches reached fifteen stories high from floor to ceiling with a row of 234 white busts of men representing the building trades held in niches in the center court.

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Our view from the second story looking down into the great hall offered a geometric pattern similar to the Spirograph art that I made when I was a kid.  The table arrangement below was for an event and resembled colorful gears with cogs from high above.  The tables dressed in bright blue tablecloths and blue chairs against a terra cotta floor with stemware, silverware, and napkins had such an interesting look that I sent the photo out as the picture of the day asking his followers to guess what the photo was other than the blue shaped pattern.  The view from our elevated position did not easily reveal its true image.

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From the National Building Museum, we walked to the National Mall to see the Washington Monument, the midpoint between the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol.  I was so stunned to see the unsightly overabundance of food trucks catering to the tourist that lined the street perimeter of the National Mall.  We opted to go to SEI Restaurant with a modern Asian cuisine and sushi bar.  The menu featured small plates for us to try California rolls, kimchi fried egg rice bowl, Kobe beef roll and short ribs.

We resumed our walk to the Smithsonian American Art Museum for a quick tour before the hockey game we planned to attend.  The art was inspiring to see objects made of bottle caps, buttons, mixed media and other uncommon materials.

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The Verizon Center is the home of the Washington Capitals, a rival of the Pittsburgh Penguins, although on this day they were playing the Florida Panthers . We sat in the upper level among loud drunks to watch the hockey game, obnoxious enough you would’ve thought we were in Philadelphia. We left after the end of the second period and ambled in to a sports bar on 8th street for a bite to eat, and watch the Ohio State football game. Ohio State destroyed Nebraska 62-3, completing a really good day.

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Cumberland, Maryland – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 1

With the Veterans Day holiday I figured out I had enough vacation time for a week long road trip, deciding to take a road trip visiting Washington, D.C., the Eastern Shore, the Outer Banks, and back through North Carolina, Tennessee and eastern Kentucky.  We were able to leave home mid afternoon, making it to Cumberland, Maryland by 7 PM. As we were checking in the Fairfield Inn we asked the desk clerk for a restaurant recommend; his was the Ristorante Ottavianni on Center Street

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After a nice walk along the canal trail to the restaurant we enjoyed scallop pesto linguine with the best scallops ever, along with a chicken parm meal. After dinner we returned along the canal trail seeing an old canal boat docked behind our hotel.

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Historically, Cumberland was known as the “Queen City,” as it was once the second largest city in the state.¬† Due to its strategic location on what became known as the Cumberland Road through the Appalachians, it served as a staging point for westward migrations after the American Revolution into the settlement of Ohio Country.

For us it meant it was a good place to stop for the night just a couple of hours from DC.

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Green Bank, WV – July 2015 – Listening to Outer Space

Monday morning, as we were headed to our next destination we found ourselves at the birthplace and childhood home of Pearl S Buck. This small house is a picturesque valley with the fog rising in the background was memorable.

Further along we had a noteworthy drive along the Highlands Scenic Highway, a National Forest Scenic Byway, is the highest major roadway in West Virginia and extends 43 miles with rises from an elevation of 2,300 feet to over 4,500 feet.

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Four scenic overlooks located along the Parkway portion of the Highway provide spectacular views of the Allegheny Highlands. It was a beautiful drive, interrupted only by a brief stop in a high country bog for a hike across the boardwalk.

Our destination that morning was the town of Green Bank, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. NRAO is the operator of the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, the Robert C. Byrd (of course) Green Bank Telescope, The observatory contains several other telescopes, among them the 140-foot telescope that utilizes an equatorial mount uncommon for radio telescopes, three 85-foot telescopes forming the Green Bank Interferometer¬†and others.

Green Bank is in the United States National Radio Quiet Zone, which is coordinated by NRAO for protection of the Green Bank. The zone consists of a 13,000-square-mile piece of land where fixed transmitters must coordinate their emissions before a license is granted. The land was set aside by the FCC in 1958.

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After visiting the onsite museum, we went on a tour of the telescopes. Because of the sensitivity of the telescopes to radio signals, and all digital cameras put off RF, they were prohibited. You were however allowed to talk film cameras, but of course, nobody has those. The Byrd telescope is amazing in its complexity and size. To think something the size of a football field can pivot like it does is a great engineering feat.

Our tour consisted of a man and his college age daughter, as well as about 20 elderly people who were members of a RV club. These people asked some of the dumbest questions imaginable. For example, when the docent explained they had leased out time on one of the telescopes to someone from Russia, someone asked ‚Äėis it because them Russians are too dumb to make their own‚Äô. The tour, which should‚Äôve taken 45 minutes, took an hour and a half

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After our tour was completed we started for home, with a stop in Helvetia, a very small town back in the mountains that was settled by Swiss in the late 1800s. Since some of my ancestors settled there when arriving from Switzerland, I always like to pay a visit when I am anywhere remotely close.

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Today there are a few business and other buildings that retain the Swiss feel, primarily for the tourist trade. Since this trip was on a weekday, the local general store/post office was open. The two ladies working there were great to talk to, and they had a display of the Fastnacht masks. Fastnacht is the one day they let loose, drink beer, hide behind the mask, be someone else, and forget about the consequences; party and dance until late into the night, before the Lent observances begin.

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Lunch at the Hutte Restaurant provided some more good Swiss/German food, and set us up for our long drive home.