Manteno State Hospital

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In 1927, the state of Illinois purchased over 1,000 acres of land earmarked for a massive mental health complex to become known as the Manteno State Hospital. By 1929 the dedication ceremony took place with Illinois announcing Manteno as the tenth such hospital to be “dedicated by the State of Illinois to the welfare of its people for their relief and restoration, a place of hope for the healing of the mind and body where many may find health and happiness again.”

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Click Thumbnails to enlarge

History

In December of 1930 Manteno officially opened, its first one hundred patients transferring in from nearby Kankakee State Hospital. The facility quickly grew, and in 1936 an additional 200 acres were purchased to expand the campus. The program was so large it was virtually self-sustaining: there was a farming community, police force, fire department, utilities services, administrative complex, restaurants and miles of paved roads.

Picture from Chicago Times photographer Mel Larson, February 19, 1945. Inscription on back reads: “Forgotten men of ‘Hell’s cottage’ live in a twisted world of their own. At Manteno madhouse heavy boot and clenched fist add torture of broken bones to miseries of broken minds.” (photo courtesy Phil Tkacz, asylumprojects.org)

The earliest years proved to be an operational nightmare; Manteno was funded and established in the midst of the Great Depression. Compounding to the hospital’s early woes were medical staffing shortages brought about by World War II. Qualified doctors and nurses across the United States were called up to assist with the war effort.

Medical staffing at Manteno eventually became such a concern, high school dropouts were allowed to be hired as nurses. At one point, out of 120 nurses on staff – only 16 had actual nurse training.

Chicago Times, 1958. Inscription on back reads: "Crowded female infirmary at Manteno. All crib-like beds are occupied. Faces are blocked out to prevent identification. Women standing are attendants"

Photo courtesy Chicago Times, 1958. Inscription on back reads: “Crowded female infirmary at Manteno. All crib-like beds are occupied. Faces are blocked out to prevent identification. Women standing are attendants” (photo courtesy Phil Tkacz, asylumprojects.org)

In 1934 the health budget was suddenly cut by 29%. Despite this, Manteno State Hospital watched its occupancy more than double over the next two years. In 1936 shock therapy was introduced, and a year later Manteno added a tuberculosis sanitarium.

The first disaster for Manteno was a typhoid fever epidemic, which lasted from July until December of 1939 and resulted in an estimated 60 deaths.

Manteno State Hospital community room, circa 1965; plans from Manteno circa 1970s

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(Manteno community room photos courtesy Phil Tkacz, asylumprojects.org)

As the scope and funding of Manteno State Hospital grew, so did the number of patients. At its peak, Manteno was one of the largest facilities of its kind in the world: over 10,500 meals were served on a daily basis, the facility power plant generated over 2500 kilowatts of power, and up to 225 tons of coal were required to run all operations each day.

The laundry facility opened in 1966 and was one of the largest in the world, processing over 115 tons of laundry each week.

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Controversy

Over the years the hospital endured its share of controversies. Stories of patients attacking nurses would surface and rumors of patient abuse seemed to persist. There were allegations of the U.S. military conducting secret medical testing at Manteno during World War II. Patients would unknowingly be injected with malaria in an attempt by the military to find a remedy for the illness.

In 1941 alone, 462 patients would die from the experimentation. Another 198 escaped from the facility.

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There were allegations of sexual abuse, and decades later it was revealed that in the 1950s the hospital had been conducting experimental surgeries on patients without consent.

It was also during this time that lobotomies were a popular experimentation technique for treating mental illness, and Manteno State Hospital was no exception.

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A former employee shared a story about a frustrated farmer who owned the corn field bordering the hospital. He decided to sell his property, because every year during harvest season he would find bodies of deceased patients who had gotten lost in his corn fields.

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Decline

The patient population at Manteno State Hospital would eventually peak at 8,195 in 1954. Around this time, the hospital was operating with about 450 attendants – only 21 of which were registered nurses. The late 50s ushered in a time of contraction for Manteno, and it would start to see a reduced role for the state of Illinois.

By the early 60s the farm operations were shut down, and for the next decade the patient population would continue to dwindle as Federal subsidizing dictated the state shift elderly patients toward nursing homes.

In 1975 Manteno State Hospital went through an organizational shift and was renamed Manteno Mental Health Center. Manteno would slowly continue to see a reduced role until finally operational cost became too much of a burden for the state.

By 1983 Governor Jim Thompson decided it was finally time to shut the hospital down.

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After 55 years of operation, Manteno Mental Health Center closed its doors in December of 1985.

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Today

In the years since, several attempts have been made to re-appropriate the land. A golf course and a Veterans’ Administration home occupy part of the old Manteno land – and recently an industrial park was also developed.

Numerous housing developments and treatment programs have since also found a new home on the old Manteno campus. Very few of the original structures remain, however, and as the land continues to be further developed those structures that are left may not be around for much longer.

Former location of Todd & Zeller Cottages

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Original black & white pictures of Manteno State Hospital courtesy of mantenostatehospital.com.

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Want to see Manteno on a map? Very little is left of the original structures, but click here.

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  1. March 2, 2013 at 00:29

    Just wow!

  2. David Murray
    March 2, 2013 at 12:13

    Absolutely love stuff like this, top notch.

  3. March 3, 2013 at 14:09

    Wow !

  4. sprub
    March 5, 2013 at 14:42

    The writing on the third bath room walls is surreal… I want photos of all the walls to read it.

    Photo at http://sometimesinteresting.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/msh-11-31.jpg

    • skaliwag
      May 24, 2013 at 23:43

      The writing is about Gennie Pilarski. This site has a story about her.

      “Everyone has,” Gennie said. Her brother, for instance, was an enemy because he had threatened to hurt her. Her father was an enemy because he had beaten her up, slapped her and torn the clothes off her back. And her mother?

      Gennie said she didn’t know if her mother was an enemy. When asked if anyone had ever tried to poison her, Gennie responded: “I have eaten things I don’t like, but I wouldn’t call that poisoning.”

      The therapist asked Gennie what she would do if she were released from the “insane asylum,” as Gennie called it. Gennie said she would like to have a job, clothes, some books. She would buy powder and rouge, and have some teeth extracted.

      When asked to explain the difference between a tree and bush, Gennie said: “A bush is a small plant and a tree is a large plant.”

      When asked the difference between a lie and a mistake, she asserted, “A mistake is a casual error; a lie is a deliberate, conscious attempt to twist the truth for personal gain.”

      What was the difference between laziness and idleness?

      “I don’t know,” she said.

      The therapist noted that Gennie had repeated a statement–the same statement–several times during the examination: “A person that is 25 years old should be away from family entanglements.”

      In a paragraph marked “Sexual Trends,” the therapist noted that Gennie had said, “I don’t want a boyfriend.” He concluded that she was oriented as to time, place and person, and had good memory and retention. She was neat and clean in appearance, tidy in her personal habits, cooperative.

      Estimating her intellectual capacity, he wrote: “Counting and calculation were all done rapidly and well. Patient has attended the University of Illinois for three years as a chemistry major.”

      Several months later Gennie was subjected to hydrotherapy–repeatedly plunged in and out of ice water. Afterward, she asked: “Is life a farce?”

      By VJ-Day in August 1945, Gennie had been given 40 insulin coma “treatments” and undergone 14 bouts of electroshock therapy, in addition to her hydrotherapy.

      How had she responded?

      • kandrews82
        October 24, 2013 at 10:51

        Who did the writing? I’m guessing there were hundreds of patients who were just like Gennie unfortunately..but why/who chose her?

        • June 21, 2014 at 19:31

          It was a part of a photography project called the Gennie Project by photographer Kristyn Vinikour

  5. March 9, 2013 at 10:47

    I bet that place is haunted.

    • Mark
      June 16, 2014 at 13:54

      my daughter and I went into the steam tunnels underground (between buildings) many years ago and turned off the lights…and listened…and yes, that place has spirits.

    • Ann
      June 17, 2014 at 13:14

      I used to work at one of the programs that was using part of the facility. They only use a few buildings, but as staff we we’re show around the tunnels and while working and many times at night you could hear strange things and the power would often shut off for no apparent reason. One of the reason they have such a high turn over rate. I left after a month. Most people working there believed strongly that the buildings and even the current residents are haunted. When I had been working there for only a week, my mother told me that my great-grandmother had been institutionalized there until her death and that they performed hydrotherapy and other forms of shock therapy on her.

  6. March 10, 2013 at 15:46

    What a fantastic collection of stories that lies behind these abandoned buildings.
    The photos of these buildings are beautiful – and amazing, probably largely because one senses many stories hidden here …
    And thanks for the “like” visiting my blog :-)

  7. May 10, 2013 at 11:43

    My father worked in the power house at MMHC for 35 years. When it was his turn for custody, and he was forced to work, I used to stay the night there. Huge generators I would sleep on. Had massive deadbolts on the door and a chain, essentially locking us “in” to stay safe from some of the patients who would escape and try to break in. This place was enormous and really cool for a kid who loved to wander around. The power house was torn down quite awhile ago because it was riddled with asbestos, which sadly, probably killed my father. Awesome memories,but a very,very, creepy place.

  8. May 10, 2013 at 11:45

    If anyone is really interested and would like to see more pictures. Facebook has a page under the listing: Manteno State Hospital.

  9. mike williams
    May 12, 2013 at 22:12

    Is any of the buildings still standing ???

    • May 12, 2013 at 23:17

      As of now there are, but the buildings have been coming down quickly in recent years as the land is re-appropriated and developed. Unfortunately it’s already too late for most of Manteno.

  10. Patricia Hosier
    May 13, 2013 at 14:28

    Can anyone give the exact address.

  11. T. W.
    May 21, 2013 at 16:46

    I lived there on the grounds from 9yrs. old until was 15 or 16 , father was the chief engineer . The address used to be 100 Barnard road . I know the place very well .

  12. May 24, 2013 at 05:25

    awesome place, been there a few times myself to do some photography. Some of the buildings have been torn down, some have been remodeled and are being used by companies as depots i presume, while others have degraded naturally and can’t really be accessed (the basements at least, which is where all the cool stuff is in my opinion) things like old equipment and clear signs of satanic or some kind of witch craft rituals, plenty of graffiti, and a very VERY unsettling feeling especially if you read up on all the cruel ‘treatments’ the doctors practiced on the patients. also the chimney stack from the crematorium where they burned plenty of bodies. i don’t suggest going there however since there is a regular security force and residential areas near by with folks that are very aware and sick of people trespassing just for kicks.

    • stormy
      July 6, 2013 at 21:50

      Any suggestions on where to go now for a photo adventure. I love this place and want to go soon. Thank you.

      • July 10, 2013 at 14:51

        Unfortunately there’s not much left abandoned of the original campus. Much of the hospital has since been renovated/rebuilt and most of the rest of the land has already been re-appropriated.

        That said, there are still some original structures standing:
        * at the corner of Olive & Mulberry
        * along Olive between W. Sycamore & Diversitech Drive (& across the street from these buildings are other various abandoned structures)
        * on Diversitech between Evergreen & Chestnut
        * the original main building on Diversitech & Bramble (still in use though, not abandoned)
        * at Bramble & Sycamore

        And there are more. But keep in mind many of those old buildings are still in use and not vacant.

  13. juan
    September 29, 2013 at 16:44

    how do I get to the place??? address?? are the buildings still standing? I would love to take pics..

  14. Ms Paulo
    October 22, 2013 at 13:11

    I would love to know if anyone has any info on my grandmother (Doris Totten) who was a patient at Manteno from April 1931 to her death in 1971….she is buried there on the grounds….i wonder where I can get any old records or info on her while she was a patient there for so many years…it was a family secret for many many years…and my mom and her 2 siblings were raised by a great aunt who told them their mother was dead. My mother did find out her mother was living when she was older but didn’t go to visit, (out of fear) until year’s later….what was wrong with her…they, the family said she had a nervous breakdown because of her mother’s death, but it doesn’t add up and i’m wondering why nobody went and got her what happened to her husband, Paul Totten..he seemed to disappear off the face of the earth…..I just want to know the real truth behind it all…Please help if anyone know’s anything..

  15. Geoff Fial
    December 25, 2013 at 10:25

    My great uncle was a “guest” here at one time. He had a brain tumor that caused him to be “violently insane” and instead of actually treating his cancer, they locked him in there as was the custom of the time.

  16. Angie Harris
    March 7, 2014 at 00:10

    I live here in diversitech, I love it out here, its peaceful. There are still buildings left especially the administration building which is now the Homestar bank office, but that building is a landmark so I don’t c them tearing that one down, but there are some that have been turned into company buildings, and some are used now for the Manteno veterans home, and some are now part of Indian oaks academy, and then there are some that are still standing that r really decrepit, like the most decrepit one is the Morgan building in the most southwest corner, but there’s just something interesting about that building that I think they should just leave it alone till it collapse on its self, ( actually that building made a great backdrop for my senior pictures). Oh and the Morgan building is said to have been the home where gennie lived. anyways there are a lot of photo opportunities around this place, I’ve done it. And people wonder if this place is haunted, I’ve never seen anything or heard anything, and my house sits along the block that had the building that housed that morgue. but the other buildings that still stand might have some ghost stories from people. either way I love this place, and that it has interesting/ disturbing history. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

    • March 12, 2014 at 14:01

      Angie, thanks for sharing. I wasn’t sure what the present status of the area was like, your insight is very helpful.

  17. Mark Miarka
    June 9, 2014 at 21:10

    How can I find records of a patient that was there around the 1967 to 1972 time frame. Would like to see if this patient died there or was moved to another facility.

    • June 10, 2014 at 23:29

      Unfortunately the old records from Manteno are next to impossible to find or obtain. Several former employees told me they threw out many of the records to save time and money.

      If there are no surviving immediate family members, a court order from an Illinois circuit court will be necessary. If there are, the state has even more confusing laws to allow them. Immediate family members can request records from the state per Public Act 097-0623.

  18. ryan
    June 15, 2014 at 19:50

    Dont forget about the tunnels that connect the buildings underground. Thats where you go to get the poo scared out of you.

  19. Ashley Marie Burns
    June 16, 2014 at 08:31

    If you are planning to go there, please don’t be seen around the buildings that are still standing. You can get in major trouble with the police in the area. I am from the surrounding area, and have friends who grew up in Manteno. Thrill-seeking kids back in the day were caught in the buildings, and now not even the most honest spectator is viewed kindly by the authorities.
    And the story goes that it is insanely haunted. I’ve never been there myself, for fear of getting caught, but the stories I hear from the people I know, it’s quite a place. I actually can’t believe they’re rebuilding over the ground.

    • Doog
      June 17, 2014 at 13:54

      My friend’s and I use to venture out there on the weekends in the summer of ’99 and yes almost got arrested by the cops because of it. We heard the rumors too of the place being haunted and have lots of pictures with orbs in it. One time though while walking through we started to smell like there was a fire burning yet we could not see any flames or smoke. Kind of creepy but a great experience.

  20. bv2014
    June 16, 2014 at 08:38

    in the 80s and 90s it was all pretty well abandoned. Teenagers would break in and go thru the rooms and tunnels. There were underground tunnels connecting each building and ruemored to go all the way to town.

    • Doog
      June 17, 2014 at 13:51

      I was one of those teenagers. We went all over the place within the grounds, in the basement and the upper levels as well. And yes there were tunnels downstairs and you could get lost very easily if you were not careful. I heard those rumors too, that the tunnels would connect to the town but never ventured that far to find out.

      • Manteno
        June 18, 2014 at 00:25

        For starters, the tunnels did not connect to the town of Manteno. In fact, some claim they went all the way to Chicago, they didn’t. I remember going through the buildings countless times starting in the early 1990′s. I dispute talk of the building that was full of children’s toys. By the late1960s, Manteno did not house juveniles. At that time Manteno was only for people over 18. Lincoln & Dixon State Schools were able to handle most of the children by the 1970s. There is a lot of BS out there about Manteno, including those that say Charles Manson spent time there, he didn’t.

        • Stephanie Billips
          June 18, 2014 at 07:22

          Explain the toys we saw then. And the voices.

          • South Sider
            June 18, 2014 at 13:56

            I was one of those teens as well, as was my father and his friends before us. I don’t remember toys, but I do remember shoes. Old fashioned shoes from the 30′s-40′s. Hundreds of them everywhere. Also adult sized “cribs” with handcuffs still attached and old prescription pill bottles in the pharmacy area. My friend claimed to have seen bones/remains still in the furnace but i can’t confirm that. While sitting in the inner courtyard at night we could all see flashes or orbs of light in the various windows. While I don’t doubt there are spirits lingering in the tunnels, most of the sounds people hear down there are probably bums; we ran into evidence of people living down there (modern food cans, toilet paper, etc.) Over all, the vibe was heavy, depressing, and downright terrifying at some points.

  21. Lisa
    June 16, 2014 at 20:00

    My parents live real close to the property that was the Manteno Mental Health Facility. We saw buildings come down and single family homes go up on the property. If I remember correctly there was/still is a youth program that operates out of a few of the buildings. It has been some time since I traveled through the property so I am not sure if they still are there. My sister even worked for a short time at the Veteran’s Home out there. It was truly sad to see such beautiful, in architecture, buildings fall into decay.

  22. Stephanie Billips
    June 17, 2014 at 07:34

    In 1995, I worked for a company called M&D Ballons which was run out of one of the buildings. Across from it was the one where they kept the children. Mind you, we later found out the building we were working in had served as the morgue. The tunnels beneath were terrifying! One day on lunch a few of us went into the facing building. It was late fall so it was chilly, but a warm downdraft swept past us after opening the door. There were toys everywhere but NOT A SPECK OF DUST was on them! And then we heard the voices.

    Don’t get me started on the stuff that happened in the morgue…

    • June 21, 2014 at 19:04

      Its pretty interesting to know that houses are built on top of graves over there too.

  23. Tiffany Wommack
    June 18, 2014 at 09:46

    I live about 25 min away from this place and a few of my friends and myself went there because everyone says its haunted and the walls we not like that at all and this was maybe 13 years ago. A lot of teenagers go there because like I said alot of people say its haunted so I’m positive the artwork on the walls is a patient from the hospital the ink wouldn’t be that fresh even from 40 yrs ago people are so gullible lol

    • June 21, 2014 at 19:02

      The words painted on the walls was of a patients file. Seone did a project about Manteno and they went in and painted the words of the girls file on the walls to tell her story. It was really remarkable to see first hand and to read about the woman who use to be a patient there. The last time I was there some idiots sprayed another one of the rooms with spray paint. They were destroying the property. They sprayed the tubs gold and sprayed the words BLING BLING on the wall and door of one of the rooms. Such a shame. Without the graffiti and garbage from teen parties you can see the beauty and destruction of the place as it was naturally falling apart. It was quite dark.. beautiful and historic. Seeing people destroy it was heartbreaking.

  24. June 21, 2014 at 18:52

    My friend April is a very talented photographer and back in my modeling days she took some amazing photos of me inside the Manteno Mental Hospital. One where I was a ghostly lost soul and another where I was a nurse. One of the photos when I was ghostly lost soul you can see the word SANE in the branches and leaves below the window I am looking out of. Nothing photo shopped. It just appeared. The place was truly remarkable to be inside. I am glad I had a chance to experience it before it was torn up. Check out my friends photos at http://www.aprillovephotography.com/#adventures-with-interesting-people

  1. April 10, 2013 at 06:44
  2. April 28, 2014 at 13:16

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