Jan 23, 2008


Monday night I watched American Experience, The Lobotomist , on PBS and became completely engrossed in finding out more about the history of mental health in the US. What I found was absolutely amazing and I have become obsessed with the history of when mental health care was a government concern before it was privatized. I admit I was naive about this subject having only knowledge of these things from the Hollywood fright movies seen as a teenager.

Two things got to me the most. First, the stories of a large amount of sane individuals that were committed because their behavior was not of the expected social norm. Many of them came to know these places as "home" and ended up staying for life even though there was no clinical reason for them to stay. There is a traveling exhibition created from over 400 unopened suitcases that were found in the attic at the Willard Psychiatric Center in New York. It's looks very touching and poses many, many questions about how these individuals lost control of their lives. Why weren't these individuals allowed to have any of their personal belongings? Photos of loved ones? Clothes? Because they had to be a number .... spend some time on the site. It is truly mesmerising.

image from www.suitcaseexhibit.org

Second, the architecturally stunning state buildings that were built in the mid to late 1800's to care for these individuals were so incredibly beautiful.

Images from http://nysasylum.com/

Binghamton State Asylum for the Chronic Insane - New York

What they look like now and how they are/are not being used in modern times. Many of them have been abandoned and left for the pigeons and unrested souls.

The most magnificent were based on a treatise by Thomas Story Kirkbride , a 19th century doctor who believed in a "moral treatment" approach to care for patients, which centered upon humane and kindly behavior. They are known as the Kirkbride buildings.

Short pictorial history on the Danvers State Insane Asylum outside of Boston. This is only one of hundreds of asylums that something (albeit major deconstruction) has been done to so that it might be brought in to the modern world.

Danvers State Insane Asylum built in 1878

Dannvers State - abandoned 1992

Image from http://www.danversstateinsaneasylum.com/

Shell of Kirkbride bldg at Danvers State 2007 after demolition of compound

Image from http://www.danversstateinsaneasylum.com

Danvers State (shell of) 2008

Image from http://www.danversstateinsaneasylum.com/

Hawthorn Hill AvalonDancer Residences

I believe that I am much better educated in the history of how our democratic system took care of the unfortunate souls that did not have their wits about them. And I thank God that in modern times we have the option of pharmaceuticals. I am very sad that more has not been done to to save these beauties. There is so much info on this that I could easily turn this in to an Asylum blog but I won't since I am by no means an expert - just someone who saw something and wanted to become better versed about it.

I'll let you surf for yourself. Major kudos to the web sites that educated me regarding the loss of these lavish buildings - The Kirkbride Buildings , Danvers State Insane Asylum, and Forgotten Photography.


All Things Bright and Beautiful... said...

Taddie - now this is post and a half - excellent - absolutely excellent - informative - well illustrated and make you think - I like it !! Good on you for posting on this topic

Taddie Tales said...

All Things - thx so much for stopping by. I know this was a long one but the subject really got to me and I became engrossed in it. Have some follow up on same topic for later .... Muchas Gracias for the comment!

All Things Bright and Beautiful... said...

Taddie - I fixed the link - sorry about that and thanks for letting me know!