Anoka State Hospital – Anoka, Minnesota - Atlas Obscura

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Anoka State Hospital

Anoka, Minnesota

For over a century, it was a crucial center of mental health treatment and also the source of many local legends.  


On the night of Halloween in the year 1949, a unique bonfire took place on the grounds of the Anoka State Hospital in Minnesota. Around 359 straitjackets, 196 cuffs, and 91 straps, all different forms of restraints used on patients, were destroyed by Governor Luther Youngdahl, in a bid to tell the world that the facility, and the state at large, was moving towards more humane forms of treatment. 

The dramatic display came after a series of articles that exposed the conditions at the hospital, which housed hundreds of patients, including many who suffered from mental illnesses. The hospital had been established in 1900, when its first 100 “incurable” patients were admitted there as a place for them to spend the rest of their lives.

It was not until a couple of decades later that treatment was started, and by then the patient count had increased and also expanded to include women. Forms of restraint and electroshock therapy were used, as was common in many other facilities of the time.

After the introduction of drugs and some institutional reforms, conditions improved, but some unfortunate incidents involving the safety of the community around the hospital took place sporadically over the next decades until it was closed down in 1999, and the patients were moved to a new facility nearby. Some of the buildings are used by the the local government for human services offices and the county workhouse.

A number of urban legends about the hospital have circulated over the years, especially about an underground tunnel that had been constructed to aid in the transportation of patients between buildings. Stories about patients trying to use the tunnel to escape, and even some about getting lost and committing suicide have been part of local lore, and have given rise to reports of supernatural activity on the premises.

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