The complex that came to be known as Sunland (or Sunnyland to locals) Mental Hospital was originally the W.T. Edwards Tuberculosis Hospital when it opened in 1952. The five story building was constructed with large banks of windows that were equipped with cranks so they could be opened easily to allow the fresh healing breezes to penetrate the patients’ rooms. Doctors tried numerous ineffectual cures for tuberculosis, many of which caused the suffering patients further misery before their inevitable demises. Eventually, after countless deaths had occurred at the facility, a vaccine was discovered to combat the killer and the hospital was needed no longer. The building’s next incarnation was as the infamous Sunland Mental Hospital.
Sunland accepted patients that suffered from mental retardation as well as psychiatric ailments. Most patients were children who had been turned over, either willingly or unwillingly, to Florida as wards of the state. For twenty-two years, from 1961 to 1983, the hospital cared for its patients in a manner that was often indifferent and sometimes downright criminal. The hospital was one of the first in the state to use electroshock therapy to treat patients suffering from seizures. Rumors of secret lobotomies abounded, but were unfounded, as the hospital did not contain surgical facilities.
Physical abuse was reported but not followed up with proper investigations. Whispers of sexual assaults were kept quiet as well. Finally, in 1978, the Association of Retarded Citizens stood up for the long suffering patients of the hospital and filed suit alleging neglect. The lawsuit eventually forced the facility to close.
The looming structure stood empty, but not silent for the decades to follow. It became a proving ground for high school students to roam the halls in the darkest hours of the night. Transients moved in to get cover from the elements. Slowly, tales of the activities that went forth within the “vacant” walls leaked out.
Gurneys were still heard trundling down the hallways. Children’s laughter rang out on every floor. Mysterious lights were seen in the upper reaches of the structure, visible from the roads that meandered past the facility. The running, playful figure of a little boy was spotted darting around the corner in a hallway on the third floor. Crashing sounds, as of a metal tray being thrown to the floor, have echoed through otherwise silent corridors.
The reports proved to be beyond tempting to numerous paranormal groups. Evidence in the form of temperature changes, electronic voice phenomenon, photos of orbs and actual apparitions have been documented by the groups that visited. Those seeking to communicate with spirits of children that may have been left behind brought balls and other toys to entice the entities into showing themselves. The sound of a bouncing ball and the sight of balls rolling by themselves have also been documented in the investigation logs of some of the paranormal groups.
After years of abandonment, vandalism and trespassing, things came to a head when a 23 year old “urban explorer” was injured after a fall down an elevator shaft. The police set up a satellite station within stone’s throw to the old hospital. The trespassing continued, but at a slightly slower rate. Finally, the site was sold to a land developer. The building was tented, divested of its deadly asbestos and demolished. Now, in its place are the Victoria Grand Apartments….complete with sparkling pools, airy floor plans, work out facilities, and who knows? Maybe the ghost of a little boy who is just waiting for someone to leave out a bouncy ball for him to play with.
Thanks so much for all the posts! I look forward to reading them every day. 🙂 This is awesome!
Awesome post here. I actually took the picture you’re using at the top of this blog (I uploaded it to the wiki article myself). I used to roam this building often in the mid-2000’s, starting in about 2004 til the day they tore it down. I have countless pictures and video of the old building.
I do think the “urban explorer” thing happened at one of the other Sunland locations, though. If I’m not mistaken, many years prior at the location in Orlando, which was demolished soon after the near-death experience. I don’t recall there ever being an active police satellite station near the Tallahassee location in all the times I walked up there (I lived not far from it), as well.
Still, this is really cool and captures the environment Sunland gave off beautifully. Thanks for writing this and keeping the memories alive.
I had been to sunnyland a lot of times and loved it every time. I was sad when they took it down. My grand ma worked there up until it closed for good.
Love this article! I’m an alumni of FSU (c/o ’02), and I’m putting together a “room” for a local haunted house. Naturally, I thought of “Sunnyland” as inspiration for my backdrop. I visited Sunnyland only once (which was MORE than enough), and the experience was just as frightening as we hoped (or feared!). My roomate and I were treated to a tour of the facility in October of 2000 by a few “local” boys. I remember thinking that the scary repuation was just hype, and this “tour” was just our dates’ way of acting out their respective Knight-in-shining-armor fantasies.
Although…I’m not gonnna lie…when they showed up that evening to take us out to the abandoned site, they brought us each a pair of SARS-esq masks, and several pair of gloves (they adivsed us the building may have exposed Asbestos (sp?) and they wanted us to be safe (I know, I know…preeetty sweet). We were still pretty skeptical about any haunted-happenings, though.
I consider myself to be open-minded, but FIRMLY planted in the pragmatic and realistic, however…we saw some crizaaaazzzzy shiz while there, and our “escorts” abandoned any hope of being rescue-ers, instead playing the role of damsels in distress. Freaky shadows? Check. Sounds of children laughing? CHECK! Temperature changes? Check. Our dates holding onto our arms with death-grip force, while walking BEHIND us (and squealing like little girls)? Check. (If you’re wondering…yyyyeah. They went home alone.)
I don’t know if the place was “actually” haunted. However…the 45 minutes (or so) of walking around Sunnyland was FAR more terrifying than ANY scary movie I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen…like…a MILLION of ’em!).
I’m 36 and have lived in tally since birth. I went to Sunland prob at least 100 times from 84-85 to 05-06. It was one of my fathers favorite places to walk too. We lived a couple miles away and he worked right around the corner on Mahan. I never saw or heard anything out of the norm.The most scared I ever got at Sunland was when we would run into a homeless person or animals. Cats raccoons even a fox one time. I really wanted to see or hear something everytime I went but it never happened for me.
I grew up in Apopka which is a neighboring city to Pine Hills, home of “Sunland Hospital Orlando”. I am also a writer doing a lot of investigative research into the 6 Sunland Hospitals throughout the state, together with the connection between the Acting Director of Sunland Hospital Orlando, Arthur Dozier, at the same time as his Superintendent position at the Dozier School for Boys during the 50s-70s. While I did enjoy your article, I sadly, have to disagree with some of the accuracies. Specifically, the account of the 23-year old explorer. While there was a 23-year old that fell three stories down an elevator shaft, which occurred in 1997, it actually occurred at the Sunland Orlando and not the Sunland Tallahassee. Unfortunately, there were many stories and scandals with many of the hospitals, but those stories are confused between the different facilities. As with the rumors of lobotomies, Sunland Orlando did have surgical facilities and they did perform surgeries on the children, namely gastrostomies (feeding tubes) to lessen the need for personal feeding by a staff member, as the hospitals were severely under staffed. One last thing, none of the Sunland Centers were “mental” hospitals, but rather facilities that treated children and young adults with severe mental and physical disabilities. No one was “crazy.” The Sunland Centers were brought about originally in the 50s – before the average person had an understanding of what disorders like Autism, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscle Dystrophy, and Down Syndrome were – to help treat and care for children and young adults with these kinds of disabilities and to help alleviate the parents of the hardship. Sad thing is the staff weren’t completely trained in how to care for these children and were overstaffed and overworked, which resulted in many children being mishandled, neglected and abused. A lack of funding from the State helped aid in the neglect and resulted in some very poor decisions being made when it came to the children’s welfare. I hope this helps with any questions anyone may have had and also help to clear up any confusion. Thanks.
my brother was a child when my parent had no choice but to place him in this hell hole he got 2 broke legs no on knew how i was a child myself i still have night mares as adult about this place but now i find myself having to find my brothers medical records from this place to help my youngest son for he has what my bother did any HELP in telling me how to find them
good luck with the records i have been there a bunch of times and it looks as if the staff just up and left office stuff and everything. and the records were kept in the basement which when i went was flooded and had been flooded for a while, i just dont think that records were kept that well in 1985 when the place closed
That’s pretty crazy I’m sorry that’s awful ! My friends and I are actually creating a documentary for a Florida history competition on Sunland hospitals. Were trying to get as many real live sources of peoples experience with sunland, the good and the bad. If you have any stories you’d like to share,we’d love to hear them.
When I was in high school I volunteered at Sunland Tallahassee and was allowed to choose which ward to work. I chose the children’s ward. During the summer I applied for a paying job and was assigned to the mens ward. I still have so many memories of this place and the patients. I went into the basement ONCE to meet my friend that I rode with. Once was enough, it was scary when it was still open.