The abandoned mental hospital looms over the students at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Sitting on top of a hill, it holds a certain presence…a reminder of those who lived and subsequently died there. The Georgian style facility is a stark contrast to the wooded area that surrounds it. You can see it from every angle on campus, silently watching as you go about your day.
Home to a plethora of local legends, the Ridges holds a special place in the hearts of the Athenians. Students take advantage of the greenery for nature walks, while some even dare each other to travel there at night to ghost hunt.
Perhaps the most-known apparition at the Ridges is Margaret Schilling. Not because of how she roams the halls or waits in the window of the room where she died.
No, Margaret is known for the stain her body left on the floor that has remained for the past four decades.
The Athens Mental Health and Development Center
Opened Jan. 9, 1874, the Athens Mental Health and Development Center housed thousands of mentally ill patients. Over the course of its 119 years of operation, the hospital had many names. For now, it is simply known as the Ridges. The facility spans over 1,000 acres of land, featuring various farm lands and gardens. In the beginning, supervisors allowed patients to roam the grounds, connecting with nature. However, as time went on and the hospital obtained more patients, overcrowding became a problem. Due to harmful treatments and lack of funding, the Ridges closed in 1993. The building now houses the Kennedy Art Museum, only operating out of a portion of the closed off building.
Margaret Schilling was a patient at the Ridges in the ’70s. One cold day in the beginning of December 1978, Margaret did not arrive at dinner. According to College Bound Advantage, she was playing hide-n-seek with some other patients under the supervision of the nurses. Some suspect she got lost, and the nurses neglected to find her.
Six weeks later, a maintenance worker found her body in a closed off portion of the facility. She appeared to be dead for some time, and her body laid naked on the floor of the locked room. Her clothes were folded neatly beside her, while her body was bathed in the sun coming in through the windows.
The official cause of Margaret’s death is heart failure. She must have died from exposure to freezing temperatures in an unheated room. No one knows why exactly she was naked, but I suspect she was trying to warm up in the sunlight in a last-ditch effort to stay alive.
Officials removed her body from the room while cleaners sanitized the room. However, something peculiar happened: there was an outline of Margaret’s silhouette on the ground. For days after, they tried to remove it, but nothing worked. The explanation is simple: a chemical reaction between Margaret’s decomposing body and the acidic cleaning supplies left a permanent stain on the floor.
To this day, Margaret’s Stain remains basking in the sunlight, reminding visitors of what happened to her.
Locals spread the legend of the Stain to incoming freshman at Ohio University as a right of passage. The legend says that if one touches the Stain, they will die a horrible and untimely death. Perhaps this is one way to deter the new kids from venturing inside the building illegally. Or maybe, it’s a way to keep them safe.
According to the Skeleton Key Chronicles, one student broke into the room and spent some time with Margaret’s Stain. He allegedly touched the Stain and died by suicide shortly after. It is unclear whether or not his death is a coincidence. Yet, one thing remains: the fear associated with the death of an innocent woman and how she has impacted numerous generations in Athens.