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Wood County Insane Asylum


The location of Marshfield Scrap is the former site of an Asylum. Although the current property owner spent three years dismantling, demolishing and razing the old rotting condemned structure, many landmarks still exist and as with many mysterious old (and some haunted) building the history of the site still exists in its legends and lore.
Historic Photo

(Below are images of the asylum as it was being demolished and some additional images of the site while it was active)


In 1909, the Wood County Board approved a 640 acre site in Marshfield for the Insane Asylum.  (At the peak they had a little over one thousand acres.) Many people in the community worked on building the asylum and many of the supplies were purchased locally or made right at the asylum. The building was 284 feet in length and 194 feet wide. The west wing interior was painted blue for the men and the east wing interior was painted pink for the women. The west wing nurses stations were a lot more secure then the east wing. In the center wing basement was the activity room and on the top was the superintendents’ quarters.

The water tower was 75 feet above ground and provided water to the fire hoses located on each floor of the building. It had 66 pounds of pressure in the hoses that could reach any part of the building in case of a fire. There was a boiler building where they burned wood and coal to heat the water for the steam.

An underground tunnel about 8 feet tall, 6 feet wide and 1000 feet long, linked the main building to the heating plant, water tower, shower room and a storage area.  The tunnel ran under Hwy A leading to the herdsman’s cow barn and house. This tunnel had many purposes, one of which was to provide a safe pathway for the patients and the employees to get to the barn. A second purpose was for the electrical wiring and steam pipes that heated the asylum and other buildings that the tunnel connected to.  The top of the tunnel was 14 inches of reinforced concrete. It was constructed with a crown in the middle to get any water to flow to the ends of the tunnel where pumps and drains were located.  Sky lights were built into the tunnel to help with the ventilation and to provide sun light. Lights lined the tunnel so they were always able to see even if it was cloudy.

A one lane bowling alley was located in the lower level of the asylum. Some of the patients even participated in a bowling league that competed with other asylums.

The asylum was completed on June 10th 1910, with L.E. Gilson as the acting superintendent. The asylum could board up to 250 patients and staff 19 people.

This was not just a boarding place for the incurably insane; this was a place where the patients performed daily farm chores. There was an 18 acre garden where the patients grew their own vegetables. The fruit orchard provided pears, many types of apples, raspberries, blackberries and cherries. The vegetables, fruits, and berries were eaten fresh and canned for the winter. Some of the original apple orchard still remains. The asylum had big bee boxes to pollinate the apple trees and to produce honey. The farm produced grade A milk that was transported to a Marshfield plant were it was pasteurized and brought back to the asylum. The extra milk was put on the market for the public. Tobacco was also grown on the farm for patients and the extra was sold to the public. The money that was raised from the farm would pay for the supplies needed at both facilities. Female patients sew articles such as aprons, dresses, vests, night gowns, quilts, dresser scarves, and dollies; they also made bandages for the war.

In 1915 the asylum brought $13,580.22 into the community.

In 1933 the greenhouse was built, entirely of glass, concrete, and steel. In 1934, livestock on the farm consisted of 160 head of cattle, 225 hogs, 20 horses and 900 chickens.  They were believed to have the best dairy herd in the U.S. at the time. Over the years, this asylum was a model experimental station for other asylums, and received great respect in the country.

In 1935 a patent was developed for the shade system on the greenhouse by L. E. Gilson.
Many people traveled there to adopt Mr. Gilson’s ideas of farm construction and building plans. This asylum was thought to bring in about 500 relatives of the asylum patients per month whom were hoped to frequent our local hotels thereby boosting the local economy. The Frisby railroad station ran adjacent to the asylum property. Many patients, family, and people just interested in the asylum were brought in and out by train.

In 1936, one of the barns burned completely down to the ground leaving nothing behind. L.E. Gilson never wanted that to happen again, so he built a new barn entirely out of bricks. The barn is still standing today.

Electroshock therapy (ECT) was used on hundreds of patients all ages, treatments for every type of disorder including depression, mania, schizophrenia and even homosexuality and truancy. ECT was usually administered to patients in a series of treatments, ranging from six to over a hundred. The patients were shackled to the gurney, and a rubber block was inserted in the mouth to prevent biting on the tongue: Conducting jelly is then rubbed on the temples and then electrodes were connected.  A doctor pressed a button and an electric current went through the brain causing a grand-mal seizure for approximately 20 seconds. The patient would wake up about 30 minutes later with a head ache: broken bones and fractured vertebrae were common.  The procedure was not monitored closely, and consequently, in 1960, ECT was no longer used in the psychiatric scene.

Another treatment was submerging patients in an ice water bath until they lost consciousness or executed a massive shock to the brain. People believed they needed to get crisis out of the patient’s body so they would induce vomiting for hours or even days. They would also use the bleeding practice; this was supposed to bleed the bad blood out of the patient. This practice would usually result in death or the patient would need lifelong care. Restraints were also used on many patients so the staff was able to handle them better.

In November 1945 L.E Gilson retired after 35 years of service. M.J. Fernando was then appointed as the next administrator where he served until 1962. Subsequent short term administrators followed.  (Currently Rhonda Kozik is the administrator.) There was a rumor that an orderly left and moved to Chicago immediately after two patients died suspiciously the same.  Both patients were impaled to the rectum with a wooden handled flyswatter and died a while later of internal injuries.

The original design and the purpose of the facility did not fit the evolution of allowable practices. The results were the facility quickly became outdated. At the relatively young age of 64 the property was abandoned for a new facility at 1600 North Chestnut.

Since the closing of the asylum as a hospital it was regularly ransacked by owners, treasure hunters and other interlopers. Stolen items included old magazine articles, newspaper clippings, a cross from the chapel, the fire place & mantel, fire hoses & nozzles, chandeliers, windows, radiators, doors, flooring, souls of the dead, and pretty much anything else they could carry.  Other items were donated or sold to people in the community. Some of the windows are located in the Main Street Conservatory of Dance in Marshfield.  The 90 foot flag pole is located at the Country Bumpkin Bar in Marshfield. The original 1910 corner stone will be on display at the Norwood Health center in Marshfield.

The original asylum building can be found on the internet as one of the haunted places in Wisconsin. There was a rumor that a maintenance man committed suicide in the tunnels and his spirit still roams in it. A patient was an assistant in the boiler room, one day he opened the door to the boiler and saw the face of the devil. He then jumped in trying to catch the devil, no one knows if his body was ever taken out.  Two patients were killed in the tunnel between the main building and the farm; they are also reported to haunt the tunnel area. The spirit that is seen the most is a young girl with long dark hair, and she would usually appear in windows and the tunnels, she seems to be a friendly sprit.

In October 2005, the demolition of the asylum began.  Hardwood floors were used throughout the building before asbestos was so popular so there was very little used. Although the building was abandoned for many years, there were no spider webs, any other bugs, rats, or mice in the building like most abandoned buildings would have, this was very unusual. In the winter, there would be three inch thick frost along the bottom of the stair well walls. It did not go all the way up, and there was no frost on the stairs. The pictures taken were taken when the building and the sky were clearly seen, but when the pictures came back from being developed there was always a white fog in the pictures. Some believe it was the spirits of the people that died at the asylum.   

There were many mysterious things found in rooms from hobos, campsites from transients, trespassers and other entrepreneurs. In one particular room, there was a circle of tea light candles. It appeared that someone was trying to summon the spirits or perform satanic rituals. Also, there were pools of blood leading from different rooms and down hallways, as well as bloody hand prints on the walls. It looked like someone had sacrificed a chicken with the amount of blood that was spread all over or injured there selves in the process.

In 2005 the building was deemed unstable. There were reports that there were voices, footsteps, and much more when people looked around the abandoned asylum. The bowling alley and the movie theater were still recognizable. (People described it as a very creepy experience for them.)

In the fall of 2006, a group of people investigated half of the asylum, and received a very good EVP reading from the building. The tunnels were flooded at the time, so they were not able to go in them.

Another group of people investigated it when half of the building and the floors were gone. It was a very rainy day, and apart of the ceiling on the top floor caved in while they were on the lower floor. They described it as “a little scary”, and were also able to get an EVP reading. To listen to the reading try http://www.cwparanormalresearch.com/ it was taken on one of the patient balconies. There were only two women present at the time of the recording.

A group of students were making a video for one of their classes when they heard some running and other weird noises. As they were exiting the building, there was what appeared to be a face, whose eyes were looking right at the camera. To see this picture go to the site listed below.  http://oldnorwood.zooshare.com/1.shtml/what%20do%20u%20think.

Currently, the office has a bell that is set off whenever a vehicle enters the yard. Even on quiet windless days the bell will ring for seemingly no reason.  We are unable to use radio frequency equipment across the old tunnels. Strange images appear on surveillance cameras. There are many unexplainable computer problems, and strange interference on telephone lines. There also is an excessive amount of lightning strikes.

The US Gen Web Project, Marshfield Historical Index http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~wiwood/history/Towns/Marshfield/nw-asylum.htm
A lot of information was obtained from “The Secrets from the Asylum Cookbook,   A collection of Recipes and Historical Facts from then and now”
Interviewed with Dave Wilman & Pam Martinson
Haunted places in Wisconsin http://theshadowlands.net/places/wisconsin.htm
Zoom share http://oldnorwood.zoomshare.com/1.shtml/what%20do%20u%20think   (eyes)
Central Wisconsin Paranormal Research http://www.cwparanormalresearch.com/
Electroboy http://www.electroboy.com/electroshocktherapy.htm
The history of mental illness by Kimberly Leupo   http://toddlertime.com/advocacy/hospitals/Asylum/history-asylum.htm