Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #15: Haunted Broughton: Tales from the Graveyard Shift

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Langley, Margaret M. Haunted Broughton: Tales from the Graveyard Shift. October 2, 2009.

This is my other favorite of the month so far. It’s a veritable self-published diamond in the rough, the first in a trilogy of ghost story collections about Broughton Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Morganton, NC (in the Mountain region). Despite having an editor named along with the author on the book cover, I’m afraid that this book suffers from a cornucopia of copy editing errors and weird formatting. Nonetheless, I recommend wading through them because the content is worth the effort.

So, why is that? For a start, there’s the setting. Psychiatric hospitals, especially the earlier ones built in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, are perennial chill-givers, particularly this time of year. They have propped up many a creaky B-movie.

The idea of being trapped as a patient or working in such asylums in their heyday is unsettling enough, but if they were haunted, too? Yikes. American Horror Story did an entire season based just on that premise and one of Supernatural‘s most famous (and famously scary) episodes is season one’s “Asylum.”

But most of these tales are set in that fuzzy time of Back in the Day. Even non-supernatural accounts about the real-life hospitals are told from a distance of decades. Most of them were closed down in the 1960s and 1970s, with some making it into the 90s.

So, it’s rare (even unique, as I can’t think of any comparable such collection) to find a book of ghost stories that is not only about a psych hospital still in operation, but one that has been collated and told by one of its current staff (and boy, do we EMS folks have some doozies to tell). Forget moldy old urban legends at fifth or sixth-hand. This is living oral history being recorded as it occurs.

Langley herself recognizes this. In the introduction, she says, “These stories are essentially time capsules, if you will; memories of conditions and happenings around Broughton Hospital that will be lost forever if someone doesn’t record them. Sadly, many people have not told their story to me, for fear of being thought ‘crazy.’ Imagine, working in a mental hospital and telling people you saw a ghost? So, for that reason, all submitters will remain anonymous.”

This is not necessarily a problem in terms of folkloric reliability, since Langley herself is one of the people who have experienced paranormal phenomena. So, even though she is telling other people’s stories as well as hers, it’s still a first-hand account. Also, by keeping anonymity for everyone (including possible identities of even ghosts of patients), she doesn’t violate HIPAA rules. In general, she demonstrates a lot of compassion for those patients, both living and dead.

The first part, about the history of the hospital, is on the tedious side. Bear with it. As with the intro for Haunted Theaters of the Carolinas, which I reviewed earlier this month, it’s necessary to the understanding the sometimes complicated background and layout of the hospital. You’ll get more out of the stories if you understand their setting.

Annnd then we get into the creepy stuff. There is, for example a haunted laundry that no one on the staff likes going into at night. Ditto a haunted recreation hall in the same building (fittingly called Ward 13) that is just fine and dandy in the daytime, cheery and bright, but a whole other story at 3am.

See, Ward 13 is the second-oldest building still in existence on campus. Built in 1887, it may have been used in experiments on patients, but it seems no one actually knows why it’s haunted, just that it is. People have reported hearing screams when they get sodas out of the vending machine, whistling, ghostly conversations, and being touched in the elevator. A cat who lives on the grounds sometimes disappears for hours, only to appear out of the deserted Ward 13 elevator or show up with chilly fur.

Ward 13 is also a building where the author reports having seen shadows of people passing in the hallway when it was deserted. In the Bates Building, she heard the disembodied voice of a colleague (recently murdered by her husband) call her name. When Langley told her supervisor, the supervisor admitted that on nights when she was doing paperwork in her office in the Bates Building, she would see reflections on her door of people passing in the hallway, but no one was there. For some reason, that’s the story that comes back to me when I’m in bed at night.

Langley also heard a story from the same building about a crying baby and a haunted doll. In a nearby building can sometimes be heard piano music.

As if that’s not bad enough, there’s a haunted tunnel through which dead patients were once carried (much like the famous Waverly Asylum) and a nearby graveyard that’s seriously haunted. This book is full of stories and there are two more books (which I still intend to read). That’s a grand total of some 400 pages in all.

An interesting footnote is that one Amazon reviewer named “littlejo” (Susan Amond Todd from White Lake, NC in her profile) gave the book two stars on February 4, 2011. She claimed to have worked at the hospital for 15 years and that her mother worked there for 37 years. She insisted that while some hauntings had occurred, the author had greatly exaggerated them and that the reviewer’s mother disagreed about some of the stories.

On the other hand, a reviewer from Alabama named Joe L. Carpenter gave it four stars on July 16, 2015. He claimed in a review on the second book that his father and neighbors experienced many of the same stories as Langley tells, while working at the hospital, themselves. I’m not sure what the background is on all that, especially considering the easy anonymity of internet criticism, but it’s intriguing that even the reviews add to the folkloric story.

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