Hillhaven Nursing Home in Marceline, Mo., sits vacant, a haven for vandals and skittering rodents.
However, in the dark of night, this three-story, crumbling brick edifice is not quiet.
The building, constructed in 1923, has housed the Putman Memorial Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, Hillhaven, and finally Meadowbrook Nursing Home.
Ryan Straub, founder of the mid-Missouri paranormal research group Tir Firnath, is familiar with the building – his mother, Patty Cruzan, worked there for 10 years.
“My mom says death comes in threes,” he said. “The reason she says that is because of this place.”
At least 10 people died in the building while she worked there.
Dust and plaster coat parts of the floor that aren’t covered with broken furniture and boxes of books and other forgotten refuse. Crossword puzzle pages dot the ground along with puzzle pieces nursing home residents once used to build landscapes. In one room, former St. Louis Cardinal Mark McGwire’s smiling face perpetually stares from the Oct. 5, 1998 issue of “Sports Illustrated.”
When Meadowbrook closed, the owners left everything. Pots and pans sit on rusting stoves that will never again be lit to cook. Desks and chairs huddle in offices. Beds and equipment – still recognizable after all the vandalism – lay broken in patient rooms.
Cruzan worked at Hillhaven from September 1988 until August 1992 when Meadowbrook bought the building. Meadowbrook closed in 1995 and the company hired her to “maintain the grounds and handle inventory,” she said.
She worked there alone until 1998.
One night she received a call at home about the empty building – a light was on. She asked her then-teenage son to drive to the building and turn off the light. He did, but discovered he wasn’t alone.
In a room on the second floor, Straub saw an old woman sitting in a chair looking out the window. As he watched her, the woman turned her head toward him.
“I was a witness to an entity that was in the shape of an elderly woman who, when she recognized my presence, turned her head 180 degrees and smiled,” he said. “Her smile literally went from ear to ear.”
Straub quickly left, but he’s been back. As a paranormal researcher, he has investigated the building a dozen times and always encounters something strange.
“There have been times I’ve been down here and all the doors in the hall were open and when I got to this door,” he said, placing his hand on a door at the end of the second-floor hall, “they’d all shut.”
Cruzan was with her son one day when this happened.
“We went through that building, the doors were open,” she said. “We went back, they were closed.”
She also knows of things she can’t explain that have happened in the building.
During its years as a nursing home, Cruzan said third-shift workers occasionally reported hearing people walking upstairs, but when they checked, every resident was asleep.
One worker said tasks she’d turned away from would be complete when she returned to them. And Cruzan experienced something herself while she was there alone.
“At one time I thought I heard something down in the kitchen,” she said. “Something was going on down there, like somebody was there. I didn’t find anything. I didn’t stay long.”
People have reported being unable to breathe in certain parts of the building and have heard footsteps running down the second floor hallway. Many people who worked there said they never felt alone. Straub said his mother was familiar with the feeling.
“She always felt like there was somebody here,” he said.
But Straub knows the strangeness of the building isn’t because of people. It might be the building itself.
“At night, it literally sounds like the building was growling,” he said. “It feels like the whole building was growling. It almost feels like the building wants to mess with you a little bit.”
Copyright 2011 by Jason Offutt
Got a scary story? Ever played with a Ouija board, heard voices, seen a ghost, UFO or a creature you couldn’t identify? Let Jason know about it: Jason Offutt, P.O. Box 501, Maryville, Mo., 64468, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Your story might make an upcoming installment of “From the Shadows.”
Jason’s newest book on the paranormal, “Paranormal Missouri: Show Me Your Monsters,” is available at Jason’s blog, from-the-shadows.blogspot.com.