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Anoka State Asylum

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In Anoka County, Minnesota, there's an old mental asylum that borders the high school. I'm talking right up next to it - sharing a fence and everything.

My mom had said that when she went to school there in the 1970s, she'd see patients walking around the grounds - sometimes they'd come right up to the fence edge and watch while mom's tennis team practiced. I guess there are old graves in one of the courtyard corners too, which makes sense as it's been a running hospital since 1898.

It no longer serves as a mental hospital, but is now a recovery center for troubled teens and addicts. The underground tunnels are non-functioning and for all intents and purposes closed, but it is still patrolled. I can't imagine recovering from substance abuse or being in juvenile detention in a place with that history. With this kind of reputation, obviously it's been victim to a number of stupid teens vandalizing, sneaking onto the property to ghost hunt or whatever. Also, obviously I have been one of them.

In 2005, I was in high school and dating this guy named Max, who volunteered for the fire department (his dad was fire chief). All the "minor volunteers" were given a rotation of duties. Now, normally a "minor volunteer" wouldn't be asked to patrol at the asylum, but since Max's dad was chief, and Max had been volunteering for three years now, and they were understaffed because of a massive storm (knocked down trees, flooding, power outages) he had asked if Max could patrol the tunnels for a week to help out.

This was our chance.

I was in the middle of finals but was done with school for the year that Thursday. I thought a cool end-of-school-year exploration of the building would be an epic summer-starter. He said he'd let me know after his first night what it was like and if I'd even be able to sneak down there.

On Tuesday morning, I heard from him before I went to class saying that the tunnels were cool and creepy. He said he patrolled alone, so I should be able to sneak down there with him for that bit, but might not be able to patrol with him on the actual grounds perimeter - which was fine, all I really cared about were the tunnels. He also said to bring a flashlight because there was a short period of time where he had to turn off the light before turning on another and the wiring was all wonky.

On Wednesday morning, he said there was a smell down there and I should bring water shoes - some of the flooding had backed up into the tunnels and the smell was likely a sewage break or drowned rats. The water wasn't very deep, but it was gross to him.

On Thursday morning, he told me to meet him on the path behind the asylum at 10 PM - it ran along the river. I was a little creeped out by the idea of walking alone on that path at night, but decided it would be fine. I told my friend Anna where I'd be and said I'd text her a code word every hour to let her know I was OK (the code was a line of lyrics from a Tenacious D song; one word each hour, sent in order). I may like creepy things, but I'm a huge pansy.

I dressed in ghost hunter stuff (i.e. all black) with a hood and my rain boots. I held my keys in my hands like a weapon. You know, that thing you do in case someone attacks you and you think, "I'll jab them with my keys and they'll leave me alone." Knock on wood.

Max was waiting there when I got there so I didn't have to wait alone, which was great.

We started weaving our way through the property, all the while avoiding light posts. We got to the entrance; it was one of those concrete entryways that immediately led to descending stairs. We headed in. The usual graffiti was present: iterations of "fuck" and penis sketches and a bit of it that was just the word "no" repeating.

I turned on my flashlight and we headed down. At the base of the stairs it smelled like absolute shit. It was also at least 10┬░ cooler. He clicked on the light switch at our end and we started off.

There was nothing remarkable about the tunnel. It was just a bunch of empty, mostly doorless rooms, an inch or so of putrid smelling water, and a few pieces of destroyed furniture. I routinely looked through every room and he waited in the main tunnel. The rooms were ten-foot cubes. I both expected to find something horrible and also feared I'd find something ghastly. Most of the rooms were harmless, just kind of gross.

Honestly I was slightly disappointed. It hadn't been the adrenaline rush I had hoped for. There were four rooms left at the other end that looked particularly beat up. He explained that they had been holding cells for patients that were having episodes and needed isolation. These were the only rooms with intact doors. I made him come in with me because I was paranoid that the door would suddenly slam shut and there was no way I was going to be haunted alone.

I started inspecting - nothing interesting in the first two rooms.

In the third, I found some indents on the bottom corner of the back wall. After inspecting for a bit, I realized they were fingernail marks. The worst part about them was imagining the position someone would have to be in to make them - crouching on the floor with their back to the door.

I found a few more spots of claw marks, all bundled together, marks going in all different directions. Most of them were clustered around the bottom of the room or corners, but there was one grouping of scratches about nine feet up on a wall. I guessed maybe the person was standing on a bed and just going to town. But the unnatural height bothered me.

At this point, that was enough. I really didn't need a lot of creepy stuff to fill my quota so I was ready to leave. Max understood, but also thought I should check out the last room, since I had looked in all the others. I wanted to leave, but my OCD and curiosity was like, "You totally need to look in that last room. You have to complete the dungeon crawl."

So I went in and made him stand right by me. We started going over all the walls, but found nothing. I kept going back to the back corner, since that's where I had found the first marks in the other room. I bent down to look at what I thought was another mark on the wall, and noticed there were marks on the floor. It was hard to see, since there was water all over, but by swishing my foot back and forth I could make it out. The word "no" repeating.

Now I was done, I stood up and turned to Max and then stopped. We had been so focused on looking at the floor with the flashlight we didn't realize the light in the tunnel had gone out. I fucking all-out screamed.

Max grabbed the light from my hand and charged toward the opening. I followed in a panic. He looked one way then the other with the light before dashing toward the stairwell to hit the corresponding light switch. I waited in the hallway, pressed against the wall, eyes down. I didn't want to close them, even though I couldn't see anything anyway, but I didn't want to look around - I was afraid I'd see a shape in the claw-mark room across from me.

Moments later, Max had the tunnel light on and was grabbing my arm. Thank God he's an emergency responder and could just act on instinct. I was useless.

We ran up the stairs and out the other side. I had another brief moment of panic when he took the flashlight and went back down to turn the light back off (to complete his patrol). I thought for sure he would be pulled out of view by an invisible force or that some terrible creature would come crawling up the stairs after me. But it was nothing like that.

Thing is, I'd never go back, but Max had one more night on patrol.

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