Richard Estep is a local Longmont, Colorado resident and paranormal investigator. He co-founded and is team leader of the Boulder County Paranormal Research Society. In The Haunting of Asylum 49, Estep takes his team to Utah to investigate the old Toole Valley Hospital outside Salt Lake City. To make things even more intriguing, the hospital was purchased after it closed down by Kimm Andersen and his wife (co-author Cami) who turned it into Asylum 49: a full-contact haunted house. It is also open to the public for ghost hunts.
This combination of potentially haunted location combined with the excitement and ins-and-outs of a Halloween haunt makes for a thoroughly gripping narrative as we follow the team’s exploration of the old building over Halloween week, 2015.
The book opens with a brief history of the hospital, which originally opened in 1953 to serve nearby military personnel and families in Toole County. The hospital stayed open until 2002 when the community had simply outgrown the hospital’s increasingly limited resources. Interestingly, an active and practicing nursing home for the elderly is still housed in part of the building!
A floor plan of the hospital gives us a great sense of place and we progress with Richard’s team through the building from the northernmost maternity ward and delivery area where more friendly spirits seem to congregate, south to the Green Mile and beyond where the paranormal residents grow increasingly more hostile.
Readers experience a behind-the-scenes look at what sounds like an epic haunted house, as well as a detailed and scientific investigation. It is the best of two worlds, and the spirits seem to think so too: resident ghosts sometimes participate in haunt. We meet a little girl who helps scare visitors by grabbing them from under hospital beds. Other hospital inmates include Thomas, a little boy who likes to mess up bed sheets; Jeremy, a tragic burn victim whose presence is announced by smell of smoke; Westley, a former Alzheimer’s patient who now resides in room 666; and the Guardian, a former employee and now the Asylum’s most sinister resident who targets females and is not afraid to get physical. Estep (a paramedic and chief officer for large private ambulance service) even leads an ER experiment that seems to draw the ire of medically-trained spirit.
It is almost hard to believe the volume of paranormal activity and level of communictaion of the spirits in Asylum 49, but at the same time, it is hard to retain one’s skepticism simply because so many separate individuals have had documented encounters with entities in the building: from the owners, to the security guard, to the resident and visiting psychics to multiple teams of investigators who have visited the site. Estep’s team is quick to recognize and test for natural explanations, yet much of the data they gathered defies natural answers. Utilizing EMF meters, EVPs, flashlight communication, human pendulum experiments, an Ovilus box and photography, the team gathers tantalizing evidence of the paranormal.
The Haunting of Asylum 49 is a great read and fascinating investigation of a spirited old building. Estep and Andersen do a good job providing a double-firsthand perspective detailing the investigative team’s experiences throughout the hospital, from human discussion to ghostly EVP dialogue. The writing style is engaging and almost conversational. At times I got chills, other parts made me grin. You get to know the owners, many participants in the haunt and Estep’s team members as individuals. Always, investigators and the haunt proprietors retain their professionalism and sensitivity to the living and the dead. My only minor criticism would be that the narrative is jumpy at times as it moves between past encounters and the current investigation. That quibble aside, this was a hard book to put down, and I am excited to check out the EVP recordings on both Estep’s and the Asylum’s own website.
The Haunting of Asylum 49: Chilling Tales of Aggressive Spirits, Phantom Doctors, and the Secret of Room 666 by Richard Estep and Cami Andersen, 2016.
As an aside: The haunted attraction element of the book reminds me of a bit of Scream (Margee Kerr, 2015), which takes the reader inside notorious US haunted houses to find out what exactly is that elusive quality that truly scares people. Fascinating read.