WILLIAMSON, W.Va. (WBOY) — Built in 1928, the Old Hospital on College Hill overlooks the town of Williamson, West Virginia. The hospital was built to replace the original hospital downtown that burned down in 1926. Named Williamson Memorial Hospital at the time, the hospital remained in use until 1988 when the current modern hospital was built up the street. The building housed physician’s offices for a time, then was used for storage in 2014. The hospital now is a booming tourist destination for those who are into history or the supernatural.
At the time of its purchase in 2020, Charlie Hatfield, co-owner of the hospital, explained that many rural hospitals were torn down. Tonya Webb approached Hatfield and his wife to pitch a partnership to save the hospital and its local history.
“I love architecture. I’m in real estate, and I’ve seen some wonderful buildings be taken down by the wrecking ball or by age and dilapidation, and this building was still wonderfully solid,” Hatfield said, “The craftsmanship, the quality is just unparalleled. So, for all those nostalgic, all those emotional reasons, which are things in business you shouldn’t let enter into your business decisions, but it did. And here we are.”
[In a town of this size,] high schools, churches and hospitals are really the glue in the fabric of the community. It holds you together, and hospitals probably more so because life begins here with birth, and sadly, [ends with] those that pass on.Charlie Hatfield, co-owner of The Old Hospital on College Hill
With 1.9 million followers, Kalani Ghost Hunter made a full-time career out of doing live paranormal investigations on TikTok. This was his fifth time spending the night at the Old Hospital on College Hill. Kalani said he likes to return to places that he has visited before to see if he can get the same activity as he treats ghost hunting as a bit of a science experiment.
“Because then you can start building out a log of what you’re getting here and why you’re getting it here,” Kalani said, “And it starts to give a little bit more rhyme to the reason compared to just putting equipment out and saying ‘Make this go off.'”
Kalani said in the past, he’s heard voices, people have been touched, heard things fall, etc. These are all things that Webb said she experienced as well. She said that at first, she would try to rationalize why, for example, doors would shut or open on their own, but then one morning, she was looking through the hospital after a paranormal team left to make sure they didn’t leave any equipment behind, and she heard a male voice.
“Just as plain as day and so clear, and he was so close, and he just goes, ‘Hey,'” Webb recalled, “I thought it was one of the guys from the group from the night before, so I texted them real quick and I said, ‘Hey, are you all still in the building?’And they said, ‘No, we left about an hour ago, but we need to tell you that as we were packing up our stuff, we kept picking up a male voice on the second floor,’ and the hairs on my arms started standing up.”
Webb said that was the moment she started to believe in ghosts.
Perhaps one of the most notable ghosts at the hospital is the ghost of Mose Blackburn. According to newspapers from 1962, Mose was arguing with his wife outside a restaurant downtown when police were called to the scene. The argument climaxed with an exchange of gunfire, and Mose shot and killed a policeman. In the shooting incident, Mose was shot in the arm and was taken to the hospital.
Two sheriff deputies were guarding Mose at the hospital when he ripped open the screen and jumped from the third-story window, according to newspaper clippings. Mose was in critical condition after the fall and eventually died from his injuries.
Watch: Shayla Klein ghost hunts with Kalani on Facebook Live
Paranormal Tourism Diversifies the Former Coal Town’s Economy
Webb explained that since the hospital opened for historical and paranormal tours, the attraction became the second biggest driver of tourism in the town next to the Hatfield McCoy Trails. She couldn’t explain why she felt the urge to buy the hospital—even her own mother asked her what she was buying an old hospital for—but she was always fascinated with the building and the old nurses’ college next door.
“Because, as you could see when you’re driving up to them, they overlook the city, so it’s almost like they’re protecting it. But also, it’s weird to explain, but I felt like I had a special connection with the hospital, and I don’t know if it’s just because my family members were here and I was born here, but it just drew me in,” Webb said, “And I never thought I’d own a hospital, but I think she’s got a lot of stories to tell, and I’m excited to see what she does. 94 years is a long time. A lot of things happened in this hospital. It went through a lot of different things, so I’m curious to see what comes out of it.”
Hatfield is also the mayor of Williamson. From that perspective, Hatfield said that he watched the town come to a crossroads with the dwindling coal industry. The town has been trying to attract different types of businesses since then, and tourism has been a great way to draw people to their local businesses.
“[In] this part of eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia, we were dependent on coal, right or wrong. And that’s changed. I know when I was a kid, the word ‘diversification’ was always used, but no one really put it to practice, and we should have been trying to do other things,” Hatfield said.
Kalani said he often gets asked why he comes to West Virginia for ghost hunts. He explained that West Virginia has a little bit of everything paranormal, so it’s a hot spot for ghost hunters because there are so many places to go.
“West Virginia has some of the most rich history in terms of not only paranormal, but you have things like Mothman, Grafton Monster, Flatwoods Monster,” Kalani said, “There’s so many cryptids and lore there…If this is your kind of stuff, West Virginia is an awesome place to go.”