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The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum – A Memoir by Seth Nayes

 The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum – A Memoir by Seth Nayes


Teaser of the WanderLOST Film

Seth: I cannot express the gratefulness of the entire experience of TALA2014. For not only be able to make it, because of Little Alice and Bryan Thompson submitting their tickets to me. But for making it out alive.


Designs by Rachel Frank

The death of her eyes, was the first thing she lost, later.. her mind. Yet, this does not happen until she is well into the bowels of her days inside the Asylum. Her wander was lost… All she wanted to do.. Was wander

Seth: The trip starting with a reunion with the talented photographer Miranda Steingarber and my gypsy soulmate, Samantha Novak. My TALA caravan- “TALAVAN” had begun. We all had not seen each other in years. We have all grown as artists together and during the years away from each other and like most of the trip, it was quite surreal.  Many laughs and stories followed.


Lobotomy by the Trans-Allegheny Asylum nurses and guides

Her untimely beginning to a new chapter in her mind, came only after a fight, you see, she would escape the lobotomy only once. This was what began a new way for her to wander, within her mind. Now, how would she get it all back? Lucky for her, they missed a memory. The one that would lead her to her escape.

Seth: We all knew and realized we wouldn’t make it to the hotel until an hour before the shoot even started. Upon arrival, both Miranda and Samantha tried to take a nap.  I, however, stayed up and tried to inform the rest of the TALAVAN crew about my plans for the different sets, and contributions from designers.  The crew included caravan veterans, and new faces.

Twig Noir, my dear friend.  Model and designer.

Brett Stoddart, the whole reason we discovered such a place.  Photographer.

Acid Grave.  Model.

Erica McKinney.  Model.

Elizabeth Noir.  Model

Gena Appleby.  Photographer.

Erin Watson.  Photographer.

Scott Detweiler.  Photographer.

Matt Moog.  Photographer.

Aaron Fisher.  Photographer.

Debra Tope.  Who had a scare and left swiftly the next morning.

Zippy Vance.  Assistant.

Thomas Quinn.  Assistant.

TL Lara.  Assistant.

Together, our band of merry artists walked through the tattered halls of the aslyum seeking both inspiration and adventure.


Gena Appleby Photography 2014
Fashion Designer: Silversärk Clothier

After the nail was driven deep. Everything was decayed around her. She could see the future of this complex..The future that stood outside the window, was even closer.

Seth: After an hour had passed at the hotel, I awoke my group.  I had utilized the hour to take a refreshing bath and prepare myself for the long day ahead.  Without sleep I was in a precarious position.  Not only would my external senses be heightened and working on overdrive, but my internal senses would be buried along with the souls to this devil’s playground.  A dangerous concoction indeed.  We arrived to what was a familiar place to me, but completely undiscovered to my lovely partners in crime.  Both Miranda and Samantha are intuitive sensitive souls.  They could feel the torture and anguish radiating from those still trapped inside the asylum.  The lost souls, surprisingly, welcomed me back with open arms at first.  But the more into the bowels of the building I traveled, the more things started to reveal themselves as less than cordial.


Photographer my gypsy soul mate Samantha Marie
Styling: Miranda Steingraber

For soon, she would become one with the earth. Far into the woods of her mind she would travel, even farther into beauty that grew, deep beneath the ground.
(On our way back we decided to talk to the mother.

Seth: I am proud to say that I collaborated with almost everyone on this trip.  I also somehow managed to leave time for exploration in my jam packed schedule.  I wanted to film and capture things by myself in addition to the photo shoots.  I’m working on my first directed and produced short film from the entire journey actually entitled “WanderLOST Asylum.”  I’m still in the process of filming it, but the majority of the movie will be shots from the asylum itself. I hope to release the film sometime next year, hopefully before the snow seeps into the dirt.


Gena Appleby Photography 2014
Fashion Designer: Silversärk Clothier

Dancing alone eternally in the asylum was her newest soul. Because of those who thought they had the power of god, with a nail that drilled further than the final nail in your coffin.

Seth: During the first few moments of exploring, Sam and I wandered about, soaking in the dilapidated sites before our first shoot of the day.  Little did we know that things we discovered on this trip would carry with us for the rest of our lives.  We took in our last prepossessing moments of the morning, then it was time to work.  The first set I shot was with Scott Detweiler.  I was styled by one of my best friends, Rachel Frank.  Complete with a bone headdress.  It was certainly something to be remembered.  Debra Tope stood near by.  This was when I started feeling not only the lack of sleep and travel, but an unwelcoming, torturous feeling.  I shook it off and tried to focus on shooting.  But I could tell Debra was feeling the same.  I have a statement by Debra, which I will release later in the story, but first, lets get to the second set.  This was the first set published by Freque Magazine, and was photographed by Gena Appleby.  I was blindfolded with white lace in the Women’s Ward, wearing designs by Silversark.  I was screaming on the inside for those lost souls on the outside.  I thought of those who were inducted into this place for all the wrong reasons.  Blind to their own “mistakes,” if you even want to call them that.  The greed of this city has never truly been forgotten.  The poor women that were ensnared by this enterprise for having natural health problems that are common in all women.  It sickens me.


Pray for their soul and a safe journey to finally escape the bars of the asylum.
Photographer: Miranda Steingraber

Seth: The rest of the day consisted of more beautiful art made by multiple artists.  Most are unreleased, but first I’d like to get to one of our photographers leaving in the middle of the night, Debra Tope.  I asked her if she was comfortable making a statement.  So here it is.

“No problem.  I’m sensitive to spiritual energies and dealt with a lot of stuff at OSR {Ohio State Reformatory} but the vibe I felt at TALA was so overwhelmingly oppressive that by noon I didn’t even want to go in the building again.  I managed to do Acid’s {Grave} shoot in the afternoon but that night I lay there and I’m like ‘I can’t do this’ so I packed up my stuff and left with a note to a couple people apologizing.  What I felt was decades of sadness, evil, torture and this weird medicinal odor.  My mom underwent electric shock treatment, and later committed suicide.  The anniversary of her death was in May, so that could have also been a factor.”  My heart goes out to you Debra.


“Did you pray for your legs to work?” She asks

Gena Appleby Photography 2014
Fashion Designer: Silversärk Clothier

For more details on a Smudging Ceremony:

Seth: We thought it was best if we smudged.  When we returned to the hotel, Samantha saw and heard images as she came back up to the room after forgetting the sage in the car.  We were most certainly not alone.  I became nauseous after she smudged me.  As the rest of the group talked about how the experience made them feel, I tried to wash my face.  When I looked into my reflection, it was as if the reflection of myself within the irises of my eyes was the only thing that was real.  I felt an overwhelming heaviness and my hold body.  I felt hot.  I lay upon the wet towel, trying to collect comfort.  I wasn’t able to move or make a sound.  Almost like an anxiety attack.  My body was just shutting down.  I finally threw myself to the bathroom floor, foolishly hoping to either vomit, or teleport to my bed.  Samantha helped me off the floor, after finally seeing me lurched over the toilet.  She peered inside me, only to find something lurking there, possibly from OSR the previous year.  It felt as if she lifted a darkness from my heart.  The world became dark until the sun had finally risen over our second day at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum…

There is a strong possibility that Seth carried a demon spirit from OSR 2013.  He did not take the prison, and its visitors, seriously.  He played hide and seek with the demons while Little Alice took the brunt of the misbehavior.

WARNING: This video contains graphic and disturbing material.  (Video #5 in the playlist)


“Or did you pray that I would forever be trapped as a doll?”

Photographer: Miranda Steingraber
Dress by Silversärk Clothier

Seth: The next day had the abrupt absence of our friend, and the way the asylum had already ravaged us.  It was looming over us.  It was rise and shine for the caravan.  We had to keep moving and hope that everything was going to be okay.  But I couldn’t help but be elated to get the opportunity to go back a second day.  I made sure to cover almost every inch of the building.  I shot with my travel buddies, Miranda and Samantha a lot that day.  Together, we created some of my favorite photos to date.  The staff of the asylum are always amazing, whom I shot with on the lobotomy table.  One of the nurse/tour guides was holding the actual lobotomy stake inches from my face.  They told me of a patient that was convinced she was the Queen of England.  As they rolled me down the hall, tours were going on.  I screamed at the innocent tour goers.  “You should go to England and have some tea!  It’s right down the hall!  They’d love to have you!”

Now after the lobotomy shoot, I collaborated with Twig Noir and a few photographers.  I remember she was in the middle of a shoot and still helped me.  Class act right here, ladies and gentlemen.  I ran down to get her something for my accessory, when I saw a bird flying near the ceiling, down the hallway and into a room.  I noticed the window that it got through and tried to get him to fly back through it.  He ended up flying into a room, and getting stuck behind a cage window.  I didn’t know what to do.  After a staff member saw my video of me apologizing to the poor bird on instagram (which has videos of my adventures throughout the asylum), they came to the room and released the bird.  Setting it free!  Oh what a relief.


eaching up for the power to climb down the stairs and out. She could barely walk at first on her own. Then. She remembered how everything worked.
Gena Appleby Photography 2014

Seth: The end of the shoot was almost here.  Before we left the asylum, we had moved a bed for our final set.  Our assistant was drawn into the room and Samantha had to lay on the bed.  We performed a sort of sandman concept.  Sprinkling gold onto her, wrapped in tulle and vines, covered in white flour.  Sprinkling dreams into the ground.  The last piece of glitter dropped to floor as my veins shivered from being wet and covered in flour in the basement of the main building.  Samantha rose from the bed leaving a snow angel behind.


Destroy the walls that everyone built to hold you back, trapped. But you cannot help everyone, some forever remain, blinded by the predecessors of power.

Gena Appleby Photography
Fashion Designer: Silversärk Clothier

Seth: The immense amount of things that went into an intricate order on our travel home was the most intense part of this trip.  Like a spider had trapped us in her web, but instead of eating us alive, taught us how to build a web of our own.  As fast as her legs spun the magic home made of silk, was the journey throughout the asylum and back home.  This is where things became a complete circle.  What set whatever decided to come with…free.  Said by Samantha Marie herself: “The drive from Weston to Chicago would be one of the rockiest rides any of us had ever experienced.”

We left Tuesday morning, tired as all hell, with a long day of driving in front of us.  Since none of us had obligations until Wednesday, we figured we could make the drive a little more fun by stopping a few places along the way to shoot.

The first place we stopped at was a beautiful park in West Virginia alongside a riverbend.  By this time we recalculated our time route since it was so off coming in, that we agreed we didn’t have as much time as we had planned to get home with enough time for a good night’s sleep before we all resumed our working lives the next morning.  Having been in dark and dormant rooms and hallways the last two days, the park was especially beautiful to us.  We did a little ‘gypsy romance in nature’ shoot before headed back on the road.


 From the ceiling down, everything begins to rain. Falling apart, as your mind remains innocent. With one thing on it. Happiness, beauty, money and that white flag of yours.

Wear it all. All at the same time. It’s time to have a ball.

Seth: I, for one, had no particular desire to return home at all, as my life back home was in a heaped up mess when I took off for TALA.  I had successfully forgotten about life outside of TALA for a few days, but reality was dawning hard when we packed up the car and began to head back.  All three of us in the car could feel the pent-up exhausted energy and we rattled on for a while recounting the events and experiences we had all had during our time apart at TALA.  One thing that we agreed on was that the feeling of dark energy still lingered there with us in the car. Something did not feel right.

Miranda was itching to stop at a pharmacy to buy some sandals.  We decided to stop.  Getting out of the car to stretch did not give us much peace, as that was the beginning of a whole new set of weird circumstances that would haunt us on the way home.


It’s almost time to dance from beneath your blanket of white.

Photographer: Miranda Steingraber
Dress by Silversärk Clothier

Samantha: By the time that Miranda and I picked up Seth in Chicago it was around 7pm. The shoot at Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum began with a check in time of 7:30am the following morning. We knew we’d be cutting it close with our late start due to work schedules, but still estimated we’d arrive in West Virginia around 2-3am which would give us at least a few hours to sleep. Well, that didn’t happen. We ended up driving into the sunrise and at 7am arrived at the hotel. The alarms were set for 8, and we had one hour to sleep before the first day of our two-day shooting adventure at one of the most remarkable building structures in the world.


Into the rain of gold. Light the fire from beneath your feet, until they bleed.

Photographer: Miranda Steingraber

Samantha: I could write an entire book about what the next three days had in store for us, and another on the experience of TALA herself as a historical landmark and of the energies that lived within. But to tell the story of how we ended up in Chicago contemplating about the effect the trip had on our lives personally, I will begin with where it all went wrong.


You lie and hope one last time that everything will be bare.

Photographer: Miranda Steingraber

Samantha: Yes, it is to be expected to have some technology malfunctions at locations like abandoned insane asylums given all of the ghostly energies roaming about, but it was getting to the point of being obnoxiously ridiculous in our case. We were filming the final scene in Seth Nayes’ short film “Wanderlost Asylum” in a room that was failing to cooperate with us. It was during the last time block of the day and we were hustling to stick to a strict time frame when Seth’s camera stopped working and refused to record the scene we were trying to capture (which was in a room that had been used for solitary confinement). I waited in the corner of the room already in character as our photographer, Miranda Steingraber, and Seth were out in the hallway setting up the scene. The presences in that room felt suffocating. It was hard for me to tell how many there were, but it felt like people were standing all around me, hissing and cursing. After each take, the video would refuse to save. We were running out of time and becoming flustered with frustration. It was time to whip out some of the sage that I had brought for cases such as this when a little cleansing was needed. I smudged the room we were in and we tried one last time to film the scene. This time, it saved. Later, after we were out of the Asylum and back at the hotel was when the other failed attempts started to show up on the camera.


And would grow from beneath the ground and have every inch of sun touch your skin, while leaving the shadows. All you have to do is let go.

Photographer: Miranda Steingraber

Samantha: We rushed to our next location in a different part of the building for our last set. From here out there was a string of strange occurrences that could have been either accounted for by lack of sleep, or something much more tricky. A dark closet called our assistant too close after pulling an old bed frame from the room next to it. She claimed to feel something rush out at her upon opening the door. Ultimately we were rushed to finish our set by lingering waves of dark energy that felt like mimicry which was felt by all of our crew members.


You L00k behind you to see your former innocence, blinded by what you’ve been told.

Gena Appleby Photography 2014
Fashion Designer: Silversärk Clothier

Samantha: The GPS brought us to incorrect locations once we were in the car. When back at the hotel, things continued to go awry. As everyone tumbled into the hotel room eager to unwind, I went back out to the car to get the sage so I could cleanse the room and all of us of any energy that was possibly brought back from the asylum. While back in the elevator,  I had an image sweep across in my mind’s eye of the entity that had been watching us during our final set. It looked like a janitor with a broom, but with a mouth of razor sharp teeth that smiled eerily at us while we were shooting. Then I heard physical voices in the elevator which sounded like my travel-mates. The only way I could explain this was that they were waiting for me outside the elevator? Our room was all the way down the hall, so surely that had to be it. When the elevator opened, there was no one there.


As the flowers finally bloom from your eyes. You see everything ahead, and how beautiful it is that you’ve have discovered everything that once had blinded you. They tried to take it from you. But it was yours all along.

Sometimes, it’s right behind our eyes.

Photographer: Miranda Steingraber

Samantha: As someone who does energy work and has experienced my own fair share of pesky entities, I knew there was one fucking with us.  The drive from Weston to Chicago would be one of the rockiest rides any of us had ever experienced.

We left Tuesday morning tired as all hell with a long day of driving in front of us. Since none of us had obligations until Wednesday, we figured we could make the drive a little more fun by stopping a few places along the way to shoot.


The playground of your flag has been released, you can finally see it, cant you not?

Photographer: Miranda Steingraber
Fashion Designer: Silversärk Clothier

Samantha: The first place we stopped at was a beautiful park in West Virginia alongside a riverbend. By this time we recalculated our time route since it was so off coming in, that we agreed we didn’t have as much time as we had planned to get home with enough time for a good night’s sleep before we all resumed our working lives the next morning. Having been in dark and dormant rooms and hallways the last two days, the park was especially beautiful to us. We did a little ‘gypsy romance in nature’ shoot before headed back on the road.


A snicker crawls from her nose. Then the echo of laughter sounds from down the stairs.

Gena Appleby Photography 2014

Samantha: A little ways down the road was a big sign that said “BATES.”  I remarked on this to Seth. “Oh great, and here we stop in a town with its own Bates Motel.”  He laughed and stayed outside to have a cigarette as the girls went inside.  Inside, I am mindlessly drawn to the wall of magazines while I wait for Miranda, in particular an issue that was titled “End of the World”.  I tried to clear my head, but all of the magazines I had scanned had negative and scary titles to them.  While waiting at the checkout, a man and his young daughter came into the store laughing. The man had said to the girl, “What was THAT?”  It wasn’t until after they walked down the aisle and I saw them gesture to the doors that they were referring to Seth outside in his cute little daisy dukes, fishnet stockings and messy hair.  This irritated me further.


top toying with me and just tell me what you want to say!


Photographer: Miranda Steingraber

Samantha: Back outside, Seth was anxious to tell us about the woman that had randomly come up to the side of the pharmacy and began vomiting on the building.  “What the hell is going on?” we all wondered, having a feeling that something strange was happening.  We still needed to make it back home and we were still states away.  We start the car, the gas light is on.  We didn’t realize that the gas gauge had gotten that low, so immediately we tried to find a gas station.  We drove for a few miles before we found one.


Hey blind you once again. To toy with more, they leave the door open. Curious. What will she try next?

Gena Appleby Photography 2014

Samantha: Across the street from the gas station was an open grassy lot with two dozen giant white vases, at least 8 feet tall that were painted and arranged in a circle.  While Miranda was pumping gas, Seth and I walked across the busy street to go and look at the vases.  There was no sign explaining what they were or why they were there.  The first one I was drawn to had the story of Noah and the end of the world on it.  Beautiful, but strange and mysterious this random art placement was.  We were admiring all of the work when Miranda joined us with unpleasant news.  The gas pump had put $1 and some change into the car when it stopped and she went inside to talk to the gas station attendant.  Although there was another car at another pump, the attendant told Miranda they were out of gas.


Photographer: Miranda Steingraber

Samantha: We didn’t believe this was truly the case, it seemed more like a juvenile prank that was being played on the gypsies that were passing through town with their wild clothing and all of the random props that filled up their trunk space.  What could we do?  We needed to find another gas station quick before we were in a situation where we ran out of gas in a city far from home after we’d already been spending our time at an abandoned asylum.  But first, we made Miranda look around at all of the beautiful vases that were around us.  Seth noticed that coincidentally there were three cinder blocks in different places between the vases in the circle.  It seemed like the best idea to take a moment to ground ourselves while we were outside and before we tried to move on to our next destination.  So each of us stood on a block, and we did just that.


Gena Appleby Photography 2014
Fashion Designer: Silversärk Clothier

Samantha: I can imagine how we must have looked like to the townspeople that were at the nearby mechanic, gas station and in their cars coming to the fourway stop right by the grassy lot that we were standing in, seeing three outsiders dressed in clothing that was far from the regular Tuesday attire in that small town in Ohio, standing completely still with their eyes closed in conjunction with the circle of art vases.  By the time we were turning to cross the street and back to the car, everyone in the town was staring at us.


Photographer: Miranda Steingraber

Samantha: I mean the mechanics had stopped what they were doing, the people at the gas station (that was supposedly out of gas at said point) people in the cars going by, all staring at us.  Seth looks at me and says, “It’s like ‘they’re here!'” I felt like the people at the end of the Langoliers saying “its the new people”.  We did make it to another gas station that was cool with serving us before we had run out of gas entirely.


Photographer: Miranda Steingraber — with Samantha Marie.


Take her mind, because she’s already lost it.
Photographer: Miranda Steingraber
Designer: Silversärk Clothier

Samantha: On the road again, something still lingered in the air and things didn’t feel right.  We were part of the mid-week semi truck traffic on the highway.  In front of us, a semi began to drift into the other lane, causing the other truck to swerve and kick rocks up onto our windshield.  I don’t think I can forget Miranda’s gasp, it sounded like my mom’s the night we crashed our van.  The trucks got back in line and we continued to keep breathing.  This was not the kind of scare we were prepared for at this time.


Photographer: Miranda Steingraber
Designer: Silversärk Clothier

Samantha: This happened again a second time, with the semi’s near collision on the highway in front of us.  After the third time, all hell broke loose in the car. There was no way we could continue on the road in the state we were in with premonitions of semi’s colliding in front of us.  It was feeling way too real-life Final Destination for all of us, and then a rabbit ran across the road and Seth told us to follow it and pull over.


Gena Appleby Photography 2014
Fashion Designer: Silversärk Clothier

Samantha: Like with the vases in Ohio we thought it was best to stop for a while, an hour even if we had to, to get our shit together.  And with all of the random and weird events that had already happened, it was the third time that day we were distracted from everything by something oddly beautiful.  The turn we took following the rabbit was into a big arboretum.


Mister Sandman… haunt my dreams… Bum Bum Bum. Isn’t she the cutest that you’ve ever seen?
Photographer: Miranda Steingraber
Sleeping model: Samantha Marie

Samantha: The story of the arboretum is another book like Alice in Wonderland all in itself.  For the sake of this blog, I will say that a separate blog will be written for anyone interested in hearing the story in its entirety, as I’m sure this is becoming quite long.



Photographer: Brett Stoddart
Styling: Twig Noir

Samantha: After finally becoming comfortable in the feeling that we were grounded enough to continue, an hour later, yet still warily, we were en route once again.  Before we saw the collision, I remember Seth commenting on an orange construction sign that had the number 3 on it.  It was a small comment, but with it lingered the same feeling that we’d gotten all day since we left Weston. That something was wrong, something bad was going to happen, all at the same time we were being sidetracked to extremely beautiful locations like something was routing for us at the same time.


Gena Appleby Photography 2014

Samantha: There were two cars on the side of the road and a semi truck on the other, a collision of some kind had taken place.  We all had similar remarks to make once we passed the accident site.  Given the amount of time that we had stopped at the arboretum and how far down the road the collision was, it easily felt like had we not pulled over at the time that we had to follow that damn rabbit, one of those cars that the semi collided with could very well have been us.


Photographer: Erin Watson

Samantha: After this moment, the rest of the ride into Chicago went much more smoothly.  It was as if a huge weight had been lifted from the car.  For the first time since driving in, we put the music on, rocked out and laughed.


Photographer: Miranda Steingraber

Samantha: It was right before midnight on Tuesday when I sat in a chair at a small kitchen table next to my good friend and recent travel-mate for the previous four days, Seth Nayes, when we both looked at each other with pure exhaustion in our faces and I said, “To be honest, I didn’t think we would make it back to Chicago alive.” Seth looked back at me and agreed. “Neither did I.” Although we laughed at the way the statement sounded, it was no lie. Our trip to TALA this year was nothing short of wonderful. And wonder for me consists of a lot of beautiful things and a lot of fearful and scary things. Our experience had a lot of both.


Come back soon..
Photographer: Miranda Steingraber

Samantha: Life somehow seemed different by the time we got back to Chicago and were sitting in his kitchen. So much had happened in such a small amount of time, it was hard to get thinking straight again.  The whole trip definitely served as a turning point in all of our lives.  And we all had work in the morning.”

Thank you Little Alice, for making it all possible.


Follow Samantha Marie on Facebook:

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Read about the TALA 2013 caravan trip:

Read about the OSR 2013 caravan trip:

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