As a result of severe overcrowding of state run hospital facilities and a lack of hospitals in the northern part of the state, an asylum was established by the state in an effort to meet those needs. The hospital was one of three operated by the Nebraska Department of Human Services. In 1885, a large brick asylum building was erected and opened its doors in 1888 as a 97-bed facility. Originally called the State Hospital for the Insane, the facility was specifically geared to house geriatrics, alcoholics, drug addicts and the criminally insane.
In 1901, a fire destroyed most of the facility. Fortunately, only one fatality resulted from the fiasco when a patient went running back into the burning building and died. The asylum was then rebuilt in cottage style with three brick buildings and two stone buildings, expanding the facility’s size to over 300 patients. At its peak, the hospital boasted nearly 1,300 patients, or “inmates” as they were affectionately referred to.
The inmates did most of the work on the self-sustaining site. They farmed crops, cared for dairy farms, cleaned, made clothing, and ran the power plant. They also maintained the two cemeteries on site. The asylum ran on the premise that fresh air and labor would help the patients find meaning in their lives, which was especially important at that time, because the asylum was not charged with treating patients, just housing them.
In the 1920s, the asylum was renamed Norfolk State Hospital and moved from being merely a place to house patients and placed an emphasis on treatment of the patients there. Unfortunately, the hospital staff performed many trials and experiments with the patients to determine what treatments were effective. Some included electroshock therapy, insulin shock therapy, hydrotherapy, fever therapy, lobotomies and even involuntary sterilization.
Under the law, anyone who was feeble minded, a habitual criminal, morally degenerative, sexual perverts, and sodomizers were involuntarily sterilized. Over nine hundred patients were sterilized during their time at the Norfolk Hospital. Even worse, the terms were not quite clear as a wide variety of patients were admitted, including people with domestic trouble, disappointment in love, financial trouble, hepatic illness, heredity, masturbation, intemperance, overwork, overstudy, religious excitement, sunstroke, and homesickness. Those patients were housed and treated alongside people who had serious mental illness and criminal defendants.
In the 1950s, treatment moved toward rehabilitation and drug use so the population quickly declined. The facility was renamed and repurposed in 1962 as the Norfolk Regional Center for mental health and substance abuse treatment for adolescents and young males. It functioned as such until the 2000’s when the 320 acre grounds fell into decay as it lies vacant and unused. Because the facility is surrounded by razed wire and cameras, a perfect stage is set for the variety of stories that still seem to keep the hospital in the public eye.
The dark history of the hospital seems to keep it shrouded in a dark energy. Visitors describe an unnerving feeling when they are near the facility and have complained of finding themselves short of breath, light headed, chilly, nauseated, and dizzy. Feelings of emptiness, loneliness and helplessness abound as the hospital continues to clutch the restless souls of its victims. People have seen figures roaming the halls and then disappearing; heard moans, screaming and pounding; experienced apparitions, footsteps and disembodied voices. The patients who succumbed to a multitude of tortures at the hands of the abandoned Norfolk hospital seem to reach out with their icy fingers, trapped in their prison for eternity.