By Cheril Vernon
Messenger Copy Editor

PALESTINE – That’s a popular question for those who have lived in Palestine long enough to drive by the old, dilapidated Memorial Hospital, located at the corner of Sycamore and Angelina Streets.

The hospital, which has sat vacant for a couple of decades, is now on the City of Palestine’s list to be demolished.

While those who live in the neighborhood surrounding the vacated hospital have to deal with the unappealing aesthetics of the crumbling, graffiti-covered, asbestos-filled building with broken and boarded-up windows, there have been many who have ventured inside the walls of the old hospital – though facing the possibility of spending the night in jail on trespassing charges – to see if the rumors are true that the former medical facility is filled with apparitions – as many ghost hunting enthusiasts and locals proclaim – noting unusual noises, voices, sounds of doors opening and closing and shuffling footsteps. Even those who walk by the condemned building have reported strange sounds and sights.

While talking to a few twenty-somethings over the weekend, the subject of the old hospital came up, and they mentioned that as a “rite of passage” in their teenager years, that yes, they have been inside the hospital for a chance to see for themselves what all the talk was about – on their thrill-seeking, but super risky experience.

One local mentioned their 22-year-old cousin – who has since moved away- but had a particularly strange encounter inside the old hospital about five years ago, according to hearsay. Contacting her on Facebook, I was able to hear about her night – something that still haunts her to this day.

What follows is her story. For the sake of keeping her identify secret, the name “Sarah” will be used for this story.

“My friends talked me into going there one weekend night – like I mean in the middle of the night- 2 a.m. or so – to the old hospital. There were four of us – two guys and two girls, me included. It was close to Halloween and we had already went to a haunted house that evening, which already had me freaked out because I don’t like clowns – or people holding chainsaws. Then, we had went back to their house to watch scary movies. There was some kind of bet made that we girls wouldn’t be able to make it in the old hospital – the guys had said they had been before. They bet us $20 that we would run out screaming. I don’t know why, but we said we would do it because we didn’t want to look like chickens. Honestly, I wish I never took that bet,” Sarah said.

With only their cellphones as light, the four teens worked their way into the old hospital – despite the “no trespassing signs” – and started their adventure.

“It’s pretty scary in there regardless- the ceiling tiles and wiring is hanging down everywhere, there’s broken glass and graffiti on the walls. It looks like homeless people might have lived there at one time because of some of the stuff in there. I even saw dog bones,” Sarah said.

Sarah’s voice quivered a little as she started talking about the part that chilled her to the bone.

“To this day I don’t talk to the two guys that we went with. We had been in there looking around, going down the spooky hallways, peering into operating rooms and the chapel – totally freaky, when they thought it would be funny to push me in one of the rooms on the third floor and close the door and barricaded it where I couldn’t get out. I was already scared and all that did was send me into a panic state. I was screaming and begging for them to open the door, but all they did was laugh. The other girl I was with was trying to convince them to let me out, but they were being jerks.”

Meanwhile, Sarah was stuck inside a pitch-dark room in the middle of the night – disoriented and scared out of her mind.

“I was spinning around in circles. I kept hearing voices and sounds. Then I dropped my cell phone and I really, really started panicking,” Sarah explained. “I couldn’t see anything. I bent over and was reaching around for my phone and I cut my hand on something on the floor – no telling what it was, probably glass. I was yelling and screaming at the guys but I couldn’t even hear them, it was like they had went away. I swear I was trapped in this room forever.”

Even with the cut on her hand, Sarah was determined, and she kept feeling around on the ground for her phone.

“I finally found it. I didn’t have a flashlight app on my phone back them – I could only make the phone light up for a few seconds at a time before it would go dark. I know people will think I am crazy, but the second my phone lighted up once I found it, I saw a nurse dressed in white with the old-timey nurse hat and wrinkles on her face. She was about five feet from me and coming toward me, telling me to come with her. She sounded old and cranky, like she was really irritated with me. Then my phone light went out again and I felt someone grab my arm. You wouldn’t believe how I jumped. It was crazy. I’ve never had a ghost encounter before – I don’t even believe I ghosts – but this was real, or so it seemed at the time,” Sarah said.

“I started crying along with screaming for the guys to please let me out, that there was someone in here with me. They still didn’t open the door. I swear I was in that room for 30 minutes. I tried calling them on my phone, but I guess I was in such a panic that I couldn’t even make the phone work, and my phone was dying, it had like 2 percent battery. I would have killed for a flashlight, because then maybe I could have found my way out.”

Sarah said talking to people about her experience later on, she learned that she was probably in the psych area of the hospital.

“So there I was, where all the crazy people were when the hospital was open. And now I am all alone with the ghosts. I kept hearing a man moaning and what sounded like a woman screaming in the distance, like in the next room. Yes, I know I was screaming too, but it was because of all of the crazy stuff going on in there. I was a basket case. I only saw the old nurse lady once, but I can tell you I can see her face in my head still today. She was real.”

After tripping over medical equipment she couldn’t see in the dark, Sarah finally found a wall and leaned against it.

“The next thing I knew, my friend was shaking me to wake up. I had passed out. They said the d

oor wasn’t locked from their side, so they didn’t know why I wouldn’t come out. They tried to open it and had tried telling me to open it. They swear they were telling me to just open the door, but I never heard them. Then they tried for the millionth time and it opened, like it had been unlocked,” Sarah said. “My friend and one of the guys had to practically carry me out of there because I couldn’t make my legs work like I was frozen. They were just pulling me and I kept stumbling. I was in this state of mind where I was frightened beyond belief, half-sobbing, half-freaking out, just a total mess.”

At this point, the group had no choice but to leave to avoid detection that they were illegally trespassing on the property because of Sarah’s behavior – as they figured the cops would be arriving any time.

“The worse part was now we had to go down to the first floor, going down scary stairwell after scary stairwell. I thought I saw a shadow around every corner. They kept telling me there was nothing, that it was just my imagination, but I didn’t believe them,” Sarah said.

Finally, the group made it out of the old hospital and back to the safety of her friend’s house.

“I couldn’t sleep that night and I couldn’t calm down. The guys might have won the bet, but we never paid them. They knew I was mad. I don’t care if it wasn’t their fault that the door locked on its own – it was still their fault for pushing me in there on the first place.”

When asked if she had the chance to make that decision again to go into the old hospital, Sarah blurted out “no” as soon as the question left my lips.

“If I could go back in time to my younger self, I would have just went home – it wasn’t worth getting in trouble and it definitely wasn’t worth the months of nightmares I had after that. That place is haunted, and totally creepy. I was lucky I didn’t hurt myself. Just knowing about the asbestos problem itself is scary enough, but I was young and stupid. I really regret stepping foot in there.”

According to the Sonshine Paranormal Investigators of Fort Worth, who spent the night in jail in 2012 after illegally entering the hospital property to do a paranormal investigation, it’s not just the previous patients or employees who may haunt the hospital.

The old Memorial Hospital was built in the 1950s. However, decades before it was the site of a Victorian home built in the late 1880s, owned by pioneer Palestine businessman George Anderson Wright and his wife, Mary Henry Wright. The home was tore down in the 1940s, but the Sonshine Paranormal Investigators found evidence that the couple’s ghosts may still be haunting the area.

During a first-hand interview in 2012 with Sonshine Paranormal Investigators team member Clay and Barbara Henderson, they showed me photos they had taken during that night – before they were arrested for being on the property.

Though at the time, they didn’t see anything through the camera’s lens, when the photos were printed, it showed something different. A few of the pictures had an apparition with the face of George Anderson Wright, with another of a woman who appears to be Mary Henry Wright – matching historical photographs they found doing research afterwards. Another photo had the figure of a woman dressed in 1800s attire, while another had a young child.

The paranormal investigation team also took EVP (electronic voice phenomenon recordings) and reported a handful of supernatural responses of various types.

Since that day, other paranormal groups have been inside the facility and have reported occurrences with EVP recordings and “ghost box” equipment. Locals who say they have been in there said it’s definitely, without a doubt, haunted.

But the real question is do you believe there are ghosts, and if so, do you think they haunt the old hospital?