“If you have to go to the bathroom, I suggest you do it now,” announces a man in a lab coat to the group of nervous youngsters gathered in the hallway. “Oh my god, I’m going to pee my pants like eight times, have six heart attacks, and throw up,” responds Elle Willgues (@ElleWillgues, 118 followers), an 18-year-old from Burbank who has shown up at the long abandoned Linda Vista Community Hospital in Boyle Heights.
Young thrill-seekers have gathered here for a haunted-house-meets-scavenger hunt sleepover planned by the people who bring you the guilty-pleasure creepfest American Horror Story. After a Q&A with American Horror Story: Asylum actors Naomi Grossman (who plays Pepper) and Barbara Tarbuck (who plays Mother Superior) and a screening of an episode from the newest season, Coven, the hospital was turned over to superfans who had pledged to spend the night in the spine-chilling setting. Many places in the building have an uneasy feeling to them—the boiler room, the file room strewn with real medical records, the old morgue—but it was here where we observed the most terrifying beast of all: the American teenager.
Cassidy Tassart (@CassidyTassart, 323 followers) was one of them. Along with her friends Oscar Corona(@oscarjamescrown, 228 followers) and 19-year-old Josh Gearhart (@thatguygearhart, 68 followers) she won tickets to the event by retweeting Fox Home Entertainment. For this generation, all experience is processed through a digital filter. Their personas aren’t scrawled across their backpacks or notebooks; their Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook accounts reflect what they’re doing, what they’re obsessed with, what they’re thinking--and what they want others to think of them. Before they arrived at Linda Vista, their excitement had been building and if their Tweets are any measure, it crescendoed that night.
Team Badass Minotaurs, as they were called, were poised for action. They were dressed as fright flick victims: the guys sporting floppy coifs and plenty of denim and the girls in short skirts and crop tops (Tassart’s read “Fuck You” while Willgues’ said "1990," a date a few years before she was born). Willgues and Tassart nervously chattered while Corona stayed quiet and Gearhart chewed his nails as the group proceeded down the halls.
Located on the grounds of the former Santa Fe Coast Lines Hospital, which was created to service the frequent casualties incurred by railroad workers, the current structure was built in 1924 and renamed Linda Vista Community Hospital in 1937. In the 1980s, it fell on hard times; it was famous for its high mortality rate and in 1991, claims of negligence led to its closure. The facility lay dormant and grew more terrifying over the next 20 years. Many Boyle Heights residents will tell you stories about their encounters with the ominous building on the hill, which has served as polar North for petrifying dares, urban spelunking, and awkward make-out sessions. Today, it’s home to film shoots and Halloween haunts like the Asylum sleepover. Soon, that will all end. The property has been bought by a developer who plans to convert it into senior housing.
For the young superfans, the terror-athon begins when their blindfolds are removed and they find themselves in a dingy downstairs room brimming with squeaks and groans. The sudden bling of distant piano keys startles them and Gearhart leaves to investigate; Willgues and Tassart gather at the center of the room. They empty the bag they were given. Inside is a screw, a blacklight, a pen, and two pairs of scrubs. The pair slips into the scrubs and runs behind a one-way mirror—this place appears to be an observation room—to sing “Ring Around the Rosy” as their apparitions seem to float in the mirror. The already nervous Gearhart is not amused. Corona flips on the blacklight and begins to search for clues. Willgues and Tassart entertain the idea of twerking, then begin to discuss which Scooby Doo characters they represent. “I’m Velma,” Willgues blurts out; no one responds with their own characters. It’s obvious: Tassart is Daphne, Gearhart is shaggy, and Corona is a Latino Fred. They move to the next room where a hokey dead body lies on an autopsy table. As the gang digs through the mummified remains, another group of teens floats down the hall.
With their arms clutching oversized purses the quartet huddles together as they wander down the blue-lit hallway. The slight, ginger-haired Quinnlan Kummer (@quinnlaaan, 433 followers) 18, and bespectacled 19 year-old Tessa Szmagalski (@heyytessa, 343 followers) lag behind. “We’ve never been here before and we’re freaked out, but they’ve been here before,” she says gesturing to the other half of the team, which has forged ahead. In a nearby room, Sara Hardie (@Sarahardie, 1593 followers) and Sloane Brown (@_SloaneBrown, 63,508 followers) loom above an oversized plywood box, discussing the time they saw it in either an alien or zombie movie.
Brown is from Amarillo, Texas, and she costars on an E! reality show called Drama Queens, which follows the exploits of celebrity manager Marki Costello. At 3 a.m. she Instagrams a picture in the chaotic medical records room; surrounded by the male “orderlies” who have been stationed around the hospital. The girls split up, Brown and Hardie leave their counterparts behind, nonchalantly walking down darkened corridors with exposed pipes and torn up floors. Just when they start to get bored, Hardie has an idea: “Let’s go back and scare the others…”