Every small town in America has a haunted house, building, cemetery, school, or playground, and Morganton, North Carolina is no exception. Morganton is my hometown, and growing up you always heard stories, like anywhere else I’ve lived. “Broughton is haunted,” or, “My cousin works there, and he saw a ghost one time,” and countless other stories and legends. A lot of you may not know what exactly Broughton is, so let’s start there.
Welcome to Broughton
Broughton, originally called Western Carolina Insane Asylum, has been a facility in continuous operation since it was opened in late March of 1883. In 1890, the facility’s name was changed to State Hospital at Morganton, until it was changed again in 1959 to Broughton Hospital. Stories of strange apparitions, malfunctioning elevators, slamming doors, and the like have been told in those halls almost as long as those halls have had patients.
When hearing just the word ‘asylum,’ your mind is automatically linked to places like Smith’s Grove from the Halloween franchise or Arkham from the Batman lore, but most people can’t claim spending years administering care to the patients of these facilities. One individual that can is Margaret Langley. She worked at Broughton for years and relayed her experiences, and those of others, in her Haunted Broughton trilogy of books. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Margaret and discuss her books about her experiences at the hospital while she worked there.
The Little Town of Morganton
So, I started where anyone would—the beginning. I asked Margaret if she had always lived in Morganton. “My dad was in the military, and I was born in Memphis, Tennessee. We moved to North Carolina when I was six, and I’ve been here pretty much ever since.” We talk a little about Morganton because nostalgia grabbed me for a moment when we started talking about the old hometown, but we quickly changed course back to Broughton. I was under the impression that she may have always had an interest in the paranormal, but that turned out not to be the case. “I had had things happen to me when I was younger, but I didn’t really believe in ghosts. My mom was very religious, and any time something would happen she would always say, ‘That wasn’t real,’ and she downplayed the ghost thing a lot.” Her time working at Broughton helped to bring that belief to the forefront of her mind, and her beliefs quickly changed, “When I first went to work at Broughton Hospital, I wasn’t a believer in ghosts. I was told stories from coworkers, but you don’t believe it. You think people are just trying to scare you, but I pretty quickly began having my own experiences.”
The Broughton Cemetary
Langley didn’t go out seeking the supernatural or the unexplained. “I wasn’t a ghost hunter and I didn’t go looking for ghosts or spirits.” It always seems that the individuals that are in search of the supernatural or otherworldly phenomena aren’t the ones to experience it. Perhaps it is the desire that the spirits notice and they don’t exist for our amusement. “After my first experience I began looking for things and I never saw anything. I never used a Ouija board or anything like that but things didn’t happen when I was looking for them to. The only time things would happen were when I wasn’t expecting it and caught totally unaware.” There were even times when Margaret was spoken to personally. “I’ve seen solid apparitions and had my name called by people I couldn’t see but I knew they were right there.” She had even spoken to one of the psychiatrists there hoping to learn more and to just share her experience. He talked to her as if she may need to be a patient instead of a staff member. “He told me, ‘I wouldn’t tell people that.” Now things have changed and it seems so many more people are open to hearing about these experiences but even as recently as the late 90s someone could share their experiences and they would be looked down on. Treated as if they were crazy. As if they belonged in a facility like Broughton. “So many people on staff there just took it as an unspoken truth.”
A Place of Good
There have been a lot of terrible things at Broughton that would send shivers down one’s spine. There are echoes of horrible things done in those halls and offices, many of which were thought to be acceptable treatments for mental illness. There have also been intentional happenings like the murder-suicide of a doctor and a nurse involved in an extramarital affair. There were so many people that were taken to the hospital and just left by their families—so many souls wandering about with no closure and no real understanding of why these things happened to them. But Margaret thinks there may be another reason for these spirits to stay on the grounds. “There were things done that were bad things, but back then, they weren’t considered bad. It was, and still is, a place of good.” There have been people that have accused her of trying to profit from the misfortune of the poor souls who were there, but she has a response to those individuals, as well. “I never wanted to put the hospital down because I sincerely believe it is a place of good. I’ve never advertised the books or tried to market them to a wide audience. I just felt like these stories should be told and because nobody else had told them, I took the responsibility.” She never wanted to do anything other than to spread the history of the facility and the supernatural events that people have been experiencing for years.
Keeping My Eyes Opened
I’ll admit, when I went to the facility with the photographer, Ash Kiluk, I expected to see something. To be more precise, I wanted to see something. I checked every shadowed doorway, I looked into every dirty window of the old buildings no longer in use, and I checked behind every tombstone and corner we passed by, but I never saw a thing. Maybe it was because it was daytime, or maybe it’s because I wanted it too bad. Does that change whether or not I believe the grounds of Broughton Hospital have spirits of those that called that facility their home? Not in the slightest. Margaret Langley still believes, “If there is any place that people still walk around after they’ve passed on, it is Broughton Hospital.” All three books in the Haunted Broughton trilogy are available for purchase on Amazon in paperback and are free to read with Kindle Unlimited.