Topeka State Hospital – An Abandoned Mental Institution

Topeka State Hospital

Topeka State Hospital, formerly the Topeka Insane Asylum, in Topeka, Kansas, USA was an institution for the mentally ill which opened in 1879. It was built in response to the overcrowding at Osawatomie State Hospital. Both buildings were designed by renowned architect John G Haskell. The facility remained open for over 100 years before finally being abandoned and then demolished.

The hospital was built using the Kirkbride Plan, similar to the Trenton State Hospital, Metropolitan State Hospital and the Danvers State Hospital. The Kirkbride Plan was  based on the theories of Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride who suggested that natural light and good air circulation could have a positive impact on the mentally ill.

A typical Kirkbride Plan hospital.

A typical Kirkbride Plan hospital.

Many horror stories exist about the facility including that of a journalist who visited and saw a patient who had been restrained so long that his skin had begun to grow around the restraints. There are reports of abuse, neglect and rape. Some patients were kept chained and naked.

A 1913 sterilization law was introduced and aimed at “habitual criminals, idiots, epileptics, imbeciles, and insane” and as a result, 54 people were sterilized in Topeka State Hospital before 1921 and then the number increased dramatically but the practice was stopped in the 1950s. In 1951, the hospital was further criticised when it was discovered that a 59-year-old Danish immigrant called John Crabb had been wrongly incarcerated despite not being mentally ill.

Old picture of Topeka State Hospital

An older picture of the hospital. Note the wings present here and not in the image above.

In 1948 after a number of complaints, a panel was put in place to make changes to the facility and improvements were made. By the 1960s, it was of the top hospitals of its kind in the USA.

In 1992, the hospital was in the news when music and activity therapist Stephanie Uhlrig was murdered by patient Kenneth D. Waddell who was classed as a high risk patient. Uhlrig and another therapist took some of the patients out to watch a movie and once back in the hospital, Waddell killed Uhlrig. Her body was found in a bathroom. The the state mental health administrators were cleared of reckless conduct by The United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit in 1995.

Kenneth D. Waddell

Kenneth D. Waddell was charged with the murder of Stephanie Uhlrig.

In 1988 the Topeka State Hospital lost its accreditation but remained open until 1997 when it closed and was abandoned, much like many similar institutions of its type in the USA at that time. It has since been demolished.

The cemetery remains in the former grounds and is the final resting place of patients who died in Topeka State. Only 16 of the 1,157 graves have headstones. A memorial now also stands in honour of those who died there.

Location: Topeka, Kansas, USA

Abandoned: 1997

A closer look at the central building at Topeka State Hospital.

A closer look at the central building at Topeka State Hospital.


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