Asylum Acres

photo by Tim Johnson

photo by Tim Johnson

by Danielle Webster

In lieu of all the haunted houses opening in preparation for Halloween, I visited one of the newest local nightly terror attractions last Saturday night, and I'll begin with this:

Asylum Acres in Bartonville is NOT for the faint hearted!

The mood was set from the moment my colleague and I arrived in Bartonville, with a half moon peeking through the cloudy night sky. The temperature was a chilly 43 degrees, which fit perfectly for a scary night of walking through the woods. The entrance to Asylum Acres is well lit at the end of Enterprise Drive. Signs direct visitors how to find the attraction and where to park, while actors in costume direct you where to pay the $10 entry fee. Concessions were offered, and bathrooms were available before the trail itself. A mixture of music played, all of which fit the evening's activities. Visible actors both in and out of costume greeted us before we entered the dark and creepy woods that make up the Asylum Acres. The trail itself lasts anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes depending on how you pace yourself and upon the number of visitors ahead of you.

The particular section the Acres is located in once housed a small zoo, which patients ran. Farm Colony 1 was there as well, and provided the institution with fresh, butchered meat. Runoff from the nearby powerhouse still covers the ground as does waste dumps which date back to when the hospital's doors were still open. An auto park where families could visit loved ones is located on the site as well. But few people today are aware that the woods surrounding the previous Peoria State Hospital were more than a tranquil setting for the patients who called it home. Some wandered them, and ended up in nearby Mapleton or even further away. There's also reports of patients drowning in the river or succumbing to the elements in winter, but most were found and returned to the institution. The more depressed individuals took their own lives by hanging themselves from the many trees in the forest in which today the Asylum Acres 3/4th mile long haunted trail is located.

Visitors are warned right from the start of several things by the actors before proceeding into the treeline, while signs are posted with rules as well. It's highly suggested that no matter how afraid you may become to not run through the trails. This is due to the possibility of not only falling and getting injured, but also losing your way and becoming lost. I found the trails themselves dimly lit, and although easy to navigate, at some points there was confusion between my colleague and myself whether to take a left or a right turn. Anyone under 14 years old must be accompanied by an adult. Another rule that is stressed from the start is to avoid using a flashlight or a light from a phone. It not only takes away from the experience, but as an actor said, "it draws the patients to it like moths to a flame."

Immediately after walking onto the trail and away from the entrance, the natural setting of the trees highlighted in the moonlight quickly seeded fear and curiosity of what lay ahead. The trail is well worth the money without the actors, music or props alone. I say this due to the fact that a night walk through a wooded area is scary enough without the added "escaped mental patients" and "demented doctors" who haunt Asylum Acres during the month of October. Some individuals may hesitate to go to this attraction due to it being wooded and the fear of having an accident or getting lost. To them I would say it would be fairly difficult to trip and fall as the trail was very well kept and artificial lights are always visible twinkling through the foliage. Even at the several points where the trail dips down, there were always signs posted on trees where you could easily read to "Watch your step."

In the beginning as we walked, we simply enjoyed the surroundings and the experience. As it went on, and we passed props and actors, we found ourselves in an entirely different world where the "rules" don't exactly apply. Asylum actors pride themselves on making their "trespassing visitors" as uncomfortable as possible while trying to get a few good screams out of them at the same time. These individuals are trained how to jump at precise times, as well as understanding what's acceptable to do in a scare and how to handle rowdy or panicked customers. I wish to give them all credit for sitting, often by themselves, in the dark woods of the Acres and not breaking from their character roles while visitors pass through. Surely they must be cold and perhaps even a bit uncertain themselves of their surroundings and what may sharing the darkness with them.

I myself don't scare too easily but I found myself on more than one occasion jumping or shying away from an actor or a slow and silently moving shadow. We were scared within the first few moments of our stroll when an actor jumped out, somehow avoiding rustling the leaves to give his position away. At one point, I practically jumped out of my skin when an actor who mirrored the many dummies that line the trail, reached out as if to grasp ahold of me. My colleague joked with the visible actors about how he "liked their trees, that's a very nice tree" whereas I stayed silent most of the time, trying to ensure that we were following the correct trail in the darkness. For those who may not be able to complete the trail, emergency exits are available at several points.

It was immensely unsettling to see these actors silently appear in front of and around us, even following behind on several parts of the walk-though. More often than not, in places where you'd expect an actor to be your anticipation would be built up for nothing. Then, moments later, you'd be taken off guard by a silent shadow or a sudden shriek. We both were harassed by actors who touched us, several of which found it fun to pull off the hood of my jacket and jeer in my face. While I found it added to the experience, other visitors may wish to avoid the trails, in case they would strike at the performers out of fear. Another time I was followed so closely by an actor, I could feel her breathing on the back of my neck. At the end of the trail we were greeted by a local "Ghostbuster's" crew who scanned us for any entities who might have attached themselves to us during our walk.

Currently the Acres is ran by both Insane Women Productions and Asylum Acres LLC, of whom they partnered with. Insane Women Productions are the same group who operated the "Insane Asylum" out of the Pollack Hospital in the past. Unfortunately the Pollack is currently is under renovation and is closed to tours after the state inspected the building and requested several areas inside to be brought up to code. Asylum Acres was purchased this past August and the 185 individuals who work there now are dedicated to preserving the history of the "Old State Hospital" while having fun. Ultimately their goal is to build a museum dedicated to the life and work of Dr. George Zeller and the many doctors, nurses, staff and patients who resided on the hilltop.  

Overall, Asylum Acres is a must go to Halloween event, which I recommend to only the bravest individuals to attend! Keep in mind if you do visit, that this attraction is designed to be terrifying and they WILL find a way to make you squirm, if not scream! Good luck to those foolish souls who, regardless of my advice, will attempt the trails. I hope none of you meet the unfortunate souls which haunt the grounds nor end up as "fresh meat"!

To visit the demons which haunt the darkness that is Asylum Acres, please visit their Facebook page at https://m.facebook.com/AsylumAcresBartonvilleInsaneAsylum or for more information, call 309-241-3113.

If planning to visit this attraction is located at the end of Enterprise Drive, Bartonville, Illinois. Signs are posted to direct visitors the way, as well as where to park.