In February 2017, I was able to see the Bowen building on the grounds of the old Peoria State Hospital for the very last time. As of now, I don’t believe I would be able to bring myself to go back; knowing the Bowen building is no longer there. There are photos sprinkled about the Internet of the demolition of a truly magnificent building that should have stood for the rest of time. It’s a numbing feeling knowing all of the hard work and compassion that was infused into the building and the grounds for the sake of everlasting effects now remain within a faint memory. A lot of people have been fighting for a long time to get the Bowen building to disappear. Lack of money is what originally closed the asylum in 1973. Lack of money is what ultimately met the Bowen with its demise 44 years later. It’s saddening to think about what the great Dr. George Zeller would think; to see this melancholy story of a lifetime almost wiped clean for no real good reason at all.
Where a lot of controversy surrounded the saving of the building and the reasoning behind it, my heart truly breaks for the Weiss family. Over the last 10 years, Richard and his daughter, Trish put in endless blood, sweat, and tears, attempting to restore the massive building and bring attention to its saving. It must be said that while they were attempting this overwhelming feat, they were catching considerable criticism for their true intentions. Richard and Trish wanted to save the building for its historical history but quickly discovered that the public was much more interested in the paranormal stories as opposed to the historical stories. Offering both paranormal and historical tours of the Bowen, they also found that the paranormal aspect actually brought in a little bit of the money they so desperately needed. A loan was taken out with the village to remove the asbestos so they could hold indoor tours. The loan, however, was given under certain conditions and a timeframe. Three years to make enough money to not only repay the $300,000 loan but to also continually progress in the renovation process. While they may have brought in more from entities like the TV show, Ghost Hunters, their individual tours at $5-10 a pop would have never brought in enough money to repay the loan. And in my personal opinion, the village knew this and planned on it when they gave the loan. Someone with deep pockets could have surely saved the building but some question if it would have even been worth the trouble with so much bureaucracy surrounding it. Still receiving criticism for using the paranormal aspect to try and save the building, Richard and Trish knew that they had to do what they had to do if they would have a fighting chance with such a time crunch. It wasn’t as if they were boasting around town that they had a haunted building they’d like you to see. They pushed the historical aspect and knew their history so they could give genuine educational tours of an incredible place deserving so.
Richard worked in the mental health field for many years so he could truly appreciate what the Bowen had to offer. This was long before he had learned of its ghost stories and the folklore surrounding the history. He also knew that if he didn’t try to save it, no one would. It had already been sitting empty for centuries and by the looks of it, would continue to decay. In a 2011 interview with me, Richard’s eyes glimmered with hope as he said, “I just couldn’t see it be torn down.” The sparkle in his eyes could imagine all of the plans for what the building could possibly become. There was talk of the ballroom for weddings on the top floor, a hotel on one or two of the floors, a restaurant, and a historical museum. And let me tell you, it would have worked. That building was beyond colossal and people would have come from all over the world to experience an aspect of it… be the ghost stories or not.
I’d like to personally thank both Richard and Trish for their bravery in creating the Save the Bowen, Inc. foundation and donating so much of their lives to something that they saw needed to be saved. They kept hope alive that maybe the Bowen would breathe creative, positive light in the dawn of a new future. I will forever miss it and my heart will never stop breaking over how things transpired.