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Remodeling: Haunted Past

The sordid past of one ASU building has left behind a spooky legacy

 by Nicolle Fuggs
 published on Thursday, April 27, 2006

This old operating room looks like it only contains a model of a skeleton and anatomy posters, but according to some of the people who work in the building, there might be something spooky there as well./issues/arts/696872
Scott Pennelly / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
This old operating room looks like it only contains a model of a skeleton and anatomy posters, but according to some of the people who work in the building, there might be something spooky there as well.
 

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The eyes of many sick and diseased men, women and children watched over ASU's Tempe campus from the school's Community Services Building more than 20 years ago, but some say that the spirits of these ill patients still roam its halls.

The CSB sits on top of a hill at Mill Avenue and Curry Road that overlooks Papago Park, ASU and the rest of the city of Tempe.

"If you've ever seen the movie 'The Exorcist,' this is where they'd keep a girl like that," Paul Skiera jokes. Skiera has worked in the CSB as the director of technology-based learning and research for 17 years.

He says that in the early 1900s, the building was the only tuberculosis hospital in the Southwest. After a TB epidemic that devastated the region passed, the building became a children's hospital until the 1980s, when it was sold to ASU for just $1. "It was public land, so the hospital couldn't make a commercial profit from it," says Skiera.

Today, the building hosts several ASU research departments, including the Arizona Prevention Resource Center, Arizona Social Services through Education and Technology, the college of nursing, KAET-TV, the music therapy clinic, Infant Child Research Programs and technology based learning and research.

"I've met some of the custodial workers who were carry-overs from when it was a TB hospital and then it was a children's hospital," says Skiera.

One custodian told him how he remembered hundreds of kids that died in Skiera's office, and saw parents looking out of his window saying prayers for their dying children.

"My office is connected to the nurse's station in the intensive care unit, so this place was their last stop," Skiera says.

A now-retired custodian who Skiera knew as Betty worked at the children's hospital and would take him to areas where "the hair would stand up on the back of your neck a little bit" he says.

Over the years, Skiera said he has had his own paranormal experiences working in the building. He has seen reflections in windows, heard rattling, and at night, has heard "echoes of children in the stairwells playing."

"There was a guy who even called the police because he thought there was someone in the building, but no one was in the building," Skiera says.

Betty assured Skiera that they weren't "angry spirits," so there's never a need to be afraid.

But it would be hard not to be when the structure and basic elements of the hospital are the same as they were in the 1960s.

The building still has an H-shaped floor plan from its original construction. Shiny silver hand rails that patients used to help them walk through the halls still pop out of the yellow tile on the walls. You can push through the double doors that would lead into the operating rooms, or peek in the small square windows in the doors of what used to be hospital rooms, but are now ASU staff offices.

What no one can explain is a wooden table with a metal frame that stands on top of the roof. The table is located near the edge of the roof facing the ASU campus. There is a metal arch at the head of the table with measurements in degrees where it looks like someone's head would go.

Skiera calls it "the Frankenstein table." He says it could have been used as part of the experimental treatments for TB patients.

Along with the "Frankenstein table," the hospital left lots of equipment behind that the nursing program used to turn the second floor into the American Museum of Nursing. Equipment is set up in the original surgical rooms. A child-size iron lung is to the right of a large oven-like device called a "steam sterilizer," which doctors used to sterilize their tools.

In the 1970s, the building became an animal testing facility. Keith Grove, a custodian who's worked at the CSB for almost nine years, says they would take muscle tissue from greyhounds and goats to use for heart research.

"You could hear the dogs go 'ooooh' through the stairwells," says Grove. "It was creepy."

The creepiest part of the entire building to both Skiera and Grove is the boiler room.

When you walk into the boiler room, a blast of warm air smacks you in the face. There are huge tanks and tubes that clank and hum. On the right side of the room there is a door leading into the incinerator, where doctors in the past would cremate the bodies of dead TB patients.

"Tuberculosis was highly contagious," says Skiera. "When they burned the bodies, there were large plumes of smoke that went up through the chimney on the roof."

Skiera believes the building's eerie atmosphere is a result of two factors: The spirits of children from the TB sanitarium that stayed behind, as well as the location of the building itself.

"This was a very religious spot for the Hohokams, because across from the building there are caves with early Native American paintings and rings of rocks from their ceremonies," Skiera says. "You can't be here at nighttime and not feel something."

Reach the reporter at nicolle.fuggs@asu.edu.



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