Sunday, March 6, 2011

Highland Hospital (Asheville, North Carolina)

Asheville, N. C., March 11, 1948 (AP) -- Fire roared through a mental hospital here early today and snuffed out the lives of nine women patients. They died as 20 others, some screaming, some calm, were led to safety. Flames quickly engulfed the four-story central building of the Highland Hospital for nervous diseases. Wailing of some of the 29 women echoed over the spacious grounds. Firemen, police, nurses, doctors and townspeople rushed to the rescue. But seven women were trapped on the upper floors. Two others removed by firemen died in a short while. It was the third fire in the hospital in less than a year. Fire Chief J. C. Fitzgerald said two broke out last April. One ignited a mattress and the other started from oil-soaked rags tucked under a stairway.

Chief Fitzgerald said he believed today's fire started in the kitchen of the hospital's central building. But that had not been officially determined. DR. B. T. Bennett, hospital medical director, estimated the fire loss at $300,000. Miss Betty Uboenga of Lincoln, Ill., assistant supervisor, described how she and Supervisor Frances Render of Scarboro, W. Va., first went after the helpless patients. "We felt that the others were awake and would help themselves," she said. "As soon as we got the helpless ones out and safely put away elsewhere, we rushed back to help others. By then we knew some had been trapped. Some of them were awake, we know, and were rousing the others. It seemed no time at all until the entire building was like a furnace."

Florence Morning News (South Carolina) 12 March 1948.

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (July 24, 1900 – March 10, 1948), born Zelda Sayre in Montgomery, Alabama, was an American novelist and the wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1936, Zelda entered the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, and she was in and out of this facility until her death. Scott died in Hollywood in 1940, having last seen Zelda a year and a half earlier. She spent her remaining years working on a second novel, which she never completed, and she painted extensively. In 1948, the hospital at which she was a patient caught fire, causing her death. On the night of March 10, 1948, a fire broke out in the hospital kitchen. It moved through the dumbwaiter shaft, spreading onto every floor. The fire escapes were wooden, and caught fire as well. Nine women, including Zelda, died.

In 1939, the founder of the Highland Hospital Dr. Robert S. Carroll entrusted the hospital to the Neuropsychiatric Department of Duke University. It was during this time that on the night of March 10, 1948, the deadly fire mentioned above broke out in the main building and took the lives of nine women. Duke owned the property until the 1980s, and today the complex functions as an office park and shopping plaza.

National Register of Historic Places:

Hi all. I'm not sure if anyone has ever really tried to investigate the old Highland Hospital, or even knows the history.

March 10, 1948 a fire was started in the diet kitchen of the women's building. All of the more "ambulatory" patients had been heavily medicated and locked in their rooms.

There were bars on the windows which was illegal because the building was not up to code. One of the night supervisors, Willie Mae I believe her name was, told another woman that if there just happened to be a fire that night, not to call to FD, but to try to reach her at the Oak Hall, which this woman did. The fire report I have says that the fire had been burning for around 30-45 minutes before they were ever notified. Willie Mae later turned herself in for fear that she might set another fire, never really admitting to setting the first series of fires.

That night, nine woman were killed in the fire, including Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott. She lead a very tragic life. One of the more interesting things about this is, she was free to leave the facility but decided to stay on another week or so just to make sure that she was really ok. When leaving her mother's home in Alabama, Zelda rushed back to the door and said "Mama, it's ok, I'm not afraid to die" fled back to the taxi and left for the last time.

For those who don't know, Highland Hospital was a mental institution, opened its doors around 1908 I believe, changed hands in the late 30's to Duke *who has fewer records than our local library*, then again in the 80's, it has since shut down and been leased out to Genova Diagnostics. The administrative building is now for sale/lease, Homewood, the stone structure, served as home to the doctor who opened the facility and sometimes housed patients, is now available for rent for events. Highland Hall is a hospice, I think, the other buildings are newer. The building that caught fire, burned completely to the ground, as the firemen were deployed too late to do anything but watch in horror. Oak Hall has been torn down, which I angrily believe was to facilitate the construction of the apartments where I live.

I'm a bit long winded, could you tell?

I can look out my bedroom window and see the spot where Zelda Fitzgerald died, I think that is awesome. I became a bit obsessed with researching this, I still have a few loose strings to tie up.

There is something off about the place. I tend to "pick up" spirits, in a quite literal sense. They just get "attached" to my person, and I believe my latest "friend" was someone who died there.

We never got to do the seance on March 10 this year as I work odd hours and needed to sleep. But we did break out the Ouija a few days prior, and there is a very angry spirit around here somewhere, says her name is Ann. I'm pretty sure the other people weren't moving anything because it started to pick on me a bit and they snatched it away to take outside to burn, game over.

There was a 19 year old boy who killed himself here in November, not in the building where to other incident took place though.

Have there been any investigations into the hospital?

Is anyone else interested?

Posted Apr 25, 2007 10:53 PM to The Asheville Paranormal Society Message Board (

Historic Montford boasts the highest concentration of bed & breakfasts in Asheville. The neighborhood mirrors in subtle ways Asheville's cosmopolitan character at the turn of the century. Artistic influences in the town, including details from national architectural trendsetters like Bruce Price, Bernard Maybeck and Frank Lloyd Wright. It is also where Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, died in the Old Highland Hospital formerly located at the north end of Montford.

Ghost Hunters of Asheville

Highland Hospital Haunts

The Asheville Fire Department

National Register of Historic Places

Zelda Fitzgerald




  1. I had a dream about her last night. Her ghost told me that the women in the hospital were part of an experiment. The person who killed her was under hypnosis. It was a mind control experiment. They used these ladies because they thought they were disposable and that no one would notice.

  2. No one probably will want to hear what I have to say but I worked in the hospital on 11-7 shift for 11+ yrs and I worked in Highland Hall alone from the beginning and nothing strange ever happened when I was working but I did get a little creeped out at times. I was working there when the hospital was sold and I hated that. Wished many times for patients sake it had been Appy that got sold! Highland was structurally a lot more sound than that of Appalachian Hall was. I do believe with all my heart that no one murdered anyone in that hospital. We worked very hard to take care of our patients and the 19 yr old was a suicide and 4 sure was no murder. How these stories get started amazes me. Perhaps we should get that paranormal show from tv to come to Highland Hospital and try to find something. Now I would be interested in that show myself! I am sure you guys knkow the show I am referring to. Not trying to downplay anything u have said but I spent many nights in Highland Hospital and NEVER saw or heard anything the least bit strange! Anita Middleton

    1. I've had quite a few employees who work there now (or used to under Genova Labs) tell me of various paranormal sightings and happenings that they've experienced. We've investigated using ghost equipment too. Some buildings appear haunted; others not. Not everyone experiences things. Maybe you're one of those people.

  3. As a former employee of Highland Hospital although it was a much different era. I do not for one minute believe the place I worked EVER experimented on anyone. All the workers I knew were dedicated hardworking individuals. Yes, a young man committed suicide there at one time but that was a mental hospital not a tourist hotel! I am not trying to put down any of you and your beliefs and that is all I am asking. To be given the same right to express my views. As someone who worked theere from 10/1979 til 3/1990 and many many 11-7 shifts I definitely would have seen or heard something at night but I swear on my own mother's grave I never heard or saw anything and I worked my first shifts alone in the 4 story Highland Hall that sat righjt in front of the bldg that burned. If there is truly something there then perhaps we need to get the ghost hunters from tv to film an episode there. I would be most interested in viewing that show myself! I did however feel very strange at night in Highland Hall alone but that was because of stories I had heard! And I was only 24 yrs old! It was just a little nerve wracking sitting in there all alone at night and having a lot of mentally ill folks in there with me but being entirely alone would have been very scary!

  4. My Dad tore down one of the buildings at Highland Hospital, hauled it to Barnardsville and built a four bedroom house from the lumber. To the best of my recollection the old building had 8 bathrooms. He reused the fixtures in our house.

    1. LOVE this story. Do you know which building it was?

  5. I worked in Brower Hall from 1996 till 2005 for Hospice. The place is definitely haunted . I worked the nightshift. Many of us had unexplainable things happen . I could tell you stories from sitting at the nursing station and looking out the glass doors and seeing a old woman near the old oak tree planting flowers at 3 am. to the small elevator going up and down and the doors opening on every floor with no one on them in the wee hours of the night. One night I had gone to the 4th floor to check my mail I worked on the third and there were just offices on the 4th. It was in March .As I stood looking at my mail I heard banging in the office next to me. It sounded like drawers being slammed.At first I wasn't alarmed because sometimes the nurses on call would come in at night to pick up things if they had to go out on a call But then i started hearing heavy breathing then a cold wind blew down the hall there was no wind that night and besides that all the windows were closed because it was cold . When the wind blew down the hall every door rattled. I flew down the back stairs and didn't go back up there for a long time after that. Also we had just moved into the building when one night about midnight the phones started ringing. Every patients phone started ringing. Me and the other nurse ran like crazy to get to them when we did answer them there was no one there this was on the second floor same thing happened on the third floor our bosses told us it was a malfunction with the phones I don't think so. Is Brower Hall haunted ? Yes it is I know it is.

  6. Before Highland Hospital was a psychiatric hospital, it was a tb hospital, or tb rest home.

  7. I have written on this blog before. My mother was a close friend of Zelda who survived the fire by breaking out of her room on the same unit as Zelda. Chief Fitizgerald noted this in his report that she was the only one from that floor who was able to overcome the sedation, find the strength to break out. She returned three times trying to get to Zelda's room and saving many women patients who were groggy from the sedation and disoriented by the fire. On the third attempt a firefighter physically pulled her away as hair and gown was on fire from the intense heat. Mrs. Hipps family has contacted me, and I intend to continue the book I am writing about this. Would be interested in speaking with any surviving family, friends, or those who may have contact with the spiritual side to gather information. My name is Dean S. DeSoto, San Antonio, Texas and I intend to visit Asheville site sometime next year to work on this project. My mother's name was Adene Nims Yelvington and she is listed on the survivor's list. Old newspaper accounts, any information would be helpful. My email address is, and my telephone is 210-681-8655. Thank you for your time and help.

  8. Loved your wonderful post on this. I'd never heard of Highland Hospital until just a few days ago. My introduction to this institution comes by way of a novel by Lee Smith called "Guests on Earth." Have you read it?

    As I started reading the novel, I couldn't help but think that the grounds of this hospital, as well as the remaining buildings, must have spirits! I start to do a little research on the internet, and I stumble on your blog where you say, "There is something off about the place. I tend to "pick up" spirits, in a quite literal sense. They just get "attached" to my person, and I believe my latest "friend" was someone who died there." Amazing. I just had such a strong feeling that spirits had to be present at this location. I hope you'll post more on this, perhaps you'll get to do a paranormal investigation.

  9. Worked there from 76-to-79 have many stories to tell...My conclusion after working there for two and a half years was/is that they were less interested in helping people get better/and/or well that keeping them incarcerated till their Insurance and/or Bank Accounts ran out then they were relased or transferred to Broughton or state hospitals in their own towns...A few I knew after release comitted suicide anyway.Fine beautiful sensitive amazing people those ones...It was practically medieval it some of its treatmenst of those people..I have no doube oits a hainted place by those and many was/is a place where many like souls met during their stays..perhaps they come back from time to time to meet up with one another...working on a book on my own...with a larger chapter about my experiences there..

  10. I have been doing a lot of research on recently and I found a cousin who was there when it was Appalachian Hall Sanatorium. She was there from June 1936 until she took her life on October 31st that same year. creepy. She came from a well to do family from Kentucky and was only 32 when she died. Her death certificate states that her doctor, William Griffin, last saw her October 30th and she passed away at 6am Halloween morning. It says that her cause of death was strangulation of self, with depression being a contributing factor. I have done a little research on Appalachian Hall and apparently it had been a hotel before Dr. William Griffin and his brother Mark converted it to an institution. From what I read, they wanted to use a more forward approach to treating mental disorders. So along with the traditional physical treatments of that time, such as hydrotherapy and electric shock, they also used recreational and occupational therapies. They resisted changing the grounds of what used to be a hotel so that the patients could enjoy participating in the same outdoor activities the hotel had. Sounds normal enough for a mental institution, but I am very curious about this place. I don't know what issues my cousin had, but find it odd that she would commit suicide after being there for 4 months. Does anyone have any good info about this place back when it was Appalachian Hall? I read about the fire but that was several years after she was there. I've also read about a few suicides that happened there, maybe their approach to treating mental disorders wasn't a success. I'm just curious as this has piqued my interest