Sensible people know there are no such things as haunted houses. But there are seemingly innocent places that will provide visitors with more willies per square inch than any ghost-infested mansion. Supernatural scares can't even hope to compare with what living human beings are capable of. Just look at how ...
Magisterial plantations are popular tourist destinations across the South, because while they were built on the backs of slaves, they also serve delicious mint juleps at destination weddings. But it's easy to shove the horrors of the past to the back of your mind, especially when plantations like Destrehan in Louisiana go out of their way to gloss over them.
The Destrehan Plantation is a bit north of New Orleans, and was home to the start of the largest slave uprising you've never heard of (because it was intentionally spun as being conducted by a band of brigands interested only in plunder). In 1811, 500 slaves marched from Destrehan to New Orleans while chanting "freedom or death." They burned plantations and killed two planters before eventually receiving the latter of their demands.
The retribution by the white elite was brutal even by 19th-century slaveholder standards. One of the revolt's leaders, Charles Deslondes, was shot in the legs, then had his hands chopped off before being set on fire. Other slaves were killed in a brief battle with militia and federal troops, or rounded up and had their heads hacked off to be delivered to their owners. Later, groups of captured slaves were put on trial, and shockingly, most were found guilty, leading to public executions by firing squad and hanging. A few were able to escape to freedom in the swamps.
In the end, 95 slaves were killed. Their bodies were put on display, while their heads were put on pikes and used to line the entire length of road they'd marched. That's about 60 miles of heads, culminating in heads and Deslondes' remaining body parts stuck on a fence at the place where today people hold their Pinterest-baiting weddings. Here's a recreation of what it looked like at the Whitney Plantation, which today is dedicated to portraying what life was like for slaves:
And here's what a modern wedding looks like at Destrehan:
Earning the title of "world's most abusive and dangerous mental health institution" is an achievement as unwanted as it is difficult. The facility with that dubious distinction can be found in Guatemala, and was named for a distinguished diplomat and physician who would be glad that he died in 1972 so he wouldn't have to explain to his grandchildren why his name is plastered on the entrance to a house of horrors.
Federico Mora Hospital is home to around 340 patients. About 50 are classified as violent and/or criminally insane, and the treatment plan at the severely understaffed facility seems to be to sedate them until they're more stupefied than Matthew McConaughey after a 3 a.m. visit to Woody Harrelson's bungalow for bongo night. Patients were found dressed in rags and covered in their own feces, too doped to stumble to the bathroom. Another alarming aspect of the healing process is the armed guards whose only role in their charges' psychiatric development is to openly mock and abuse them. Oh, and patients are occasionally raped. One hanged themselves.
Not safe for work, school, home, children, adults ... just, like, not safe.
You can study up if you have a strong stomach and a high tolerance for outrage.
In addition to the world-class neglect and filth, Federico Mora is also where local undesirables are sent to simply disappear. Oh, and the hospital is widely rumored to be an "institution that consigns girls and women to sexual slavery." Much of this wouldn't be known if intrepid BBC reporters who lied their asses off to get inside. So this October, try not to roll your eyes when your friends drag you to one of those haunted house attractions that features a "scary asylum," because any one of Mora's residents would consider it a quaint getaway.
Shepherd Hills in Georgia is what happens when Nurse Ratched is put in a charge of a for-profit nursing home. Its corporate owner, PruittHealth, is facing numerous lawsuits regarding their treatment of patients, lack of infection control efforts, and even wrongful deaths. How bad did it get? In 2015, 93-year-old Rebecca Zeni was killed by an agonizing scabies infection that wasn't properly treated and eventually worked its way into her bloodstream. Mites had burrowed under her skin to lay eggs all over her body, and fingers were about to fall off of her blackened right hand. Zeni's death would have been easily preventable had Shepherd Hills not been run like a Silent Hill level.
The nursing home has a one-star Medicare rating, which is based on health inspection results, staffing, and quality of care. In recent years, they've had multiple scabies outbreaks, and almost three dozen health inspection violations from 2014 to 2016. They've been penalized for serious medication errors, with at least one resulting in a resident being given vastly excessive morphine and having to be rushed to the ICU. There's also been a history of failure to report infectious outbreaks or properly quarantine victims of outbreaks, which probably happened because they did things like launder the sheets of scabies patients with all the other laundry.
Shepherd Hills is now facing threats of losing millions of dollars of federal funding, while 19 other PruittHealth facilities that have also received one- or two-star ratings are being scrutinized. But hey, by the time you're old enough to need nursing care, we're sure a brand-new sleazy hell house chain will be around to welcome you through its nightmare gates.
Venezuela's Sabaneta Prison was built to hold 700 prisoners. Today it's bursting at the seams with 3,700. Shockingly, that creates violence and disarray! In 2013, gang violence led to 15 inmates being dismembered and beheaded. The year before, there was a shootout. Between the prisoners. If you're wondering how they managed that, well, it's pretty easy to smuggle in guns, drugs, and even bombs when the guards are outnumbered to the point where they're basically a formality.
Two weeks after the beheading incident, the government decided that they should take a gander at the prisons they fund. A security sweep in Sabaneta found 22,767 rounds of ammunition, 105 firearms, 75 knives, five grenades, two mortars, and tear gas. To an enthusiastic NRA member, that's nothing but a romantic night at home, but the government was appalled and announced an official investigation into the smuggling. Because while prisons around the world will tolerate shivs, once you introduce mortars, it starts to sound too much like the plot of a bad video game.
But the gangs weren't deterred. One attempt to confiscate weapons from Uribana, another hellish prison, led to two days of shootouts and rioting that killed 61. And when a journalist entered La Sabaneta, it was even worse than he suspected. The inmates were armed, sleeping in hallways and classrooms for lack of bunks, and operating under a strict hierarchy that left unwanted people vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. Others are suffering the ravages of drug addiction. In protest of being confronted with death and abuse at every turn, some inmates started sewing their lips shut. That is not a euphemism.
They used anything they could get their hands on -- thread, plastic, shoelaces -- to draw attention to the fact that they were living in an Eli Roth movie. The hope was that taking such drastic measures could get them transferred to a different facility that wasn't as into plumbing the depths of humanity. Let's assume it worked so we can all sleep tonight.
Villa Baviera is a fun little vacation spot in the south of Chile. Why, you can rent a cabin there right now and enjoy a slice of German culture at the base of the Andes. There's hiking, horse rides, a pool, and other fun amenities that will keep you distracted from the fact that the villa was once run by a lunatic named Paul Schaefer.
The story goes back to 1961 when Schaefer, a Nazi army nurse turned Baptist preacher, was accused of abusing two young boys, because he was going for evil Bingo. Facing arrest, he fled to Chile, and he convinced 300 of his followers to follow him by prophesying a communist takeover of West Germany. The Cold War years were ... weird.
In Chile, the group founded a commune called Colonia Dignidad, which held everything from a farm and bakery to a state-subsidized hospital that gave free healthcare to locals. But Schaefer, who dubbed himself "the Eternal Uncle," also had his dark side -- that is, even darker than the "ex-Nazi" thing, or calling himself "the Eternal Uncle." Children were separated from their parents and raised communally, families were split up and separated by age and gender, and dissenters were tortured and force-fed drugs. Visits from the government and other outsiders were carefully choreographed to make the camp look idyllic while Schaefer worked to make far-right political allies.
While Schaefer and his inner circle profited, everyone else was unpaid, given one day off a year and forced to watch as the colony was fortified with barbed wire fences, watchtowers, and hidden motion sensors and cameras. Schaefer kept raping children the whole time, by the way. Oh, and other Nazi fugitives, including the infamous Joseph Mengele, called the place a refuge, possibly because the Universe was trying to see how much evil could be concentrated in one spot before a black hole formed.
But wait, it gets worse, somehow! After a 1973 coup put Augusto Pinochet in charge of Chile, Pinochet and Schaefer realized that they really admired each other's hatred of basic human rights. Pinochet's brutal dictatorship housed political prisoners in Colonia Dignidad so they could take advantage of that patented Nazi flair for torture. Dozens of people were tortured and experimented on under Schaefer's watch, most of whom were never seen again until their bodies were exhumed from a mass grave.
All the original culty forced labor and child abuse was still going on at the same time, because Schaefer was a big believer in multitasking. But by the '90s, the camp's population was dwindling, so Schaefer opened the doors to locals. Shockingly, Chileans soon released it wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and with Pinochet out, democracy back in, and criminal charges apparently on the horizon, Schaefer fled in 1996. In 2005 he was found hiding in Argentina, hauled back to Chile, and thrown in jail, where he died in 2010. And now you can vacation in his former colony! Its current leaders insist that they've reformed, and also that you definitely won't suffer 15 concurrent Shining experiences if you spend the night.
Gemna Jay lives in Arizona and pays for the privilege of an air conditioner by writing jokes on the internet. Follow Peter I. Santiago's Golem on his Facebook page.
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