Saturday, September 22, 2012

Extraordinary Escapes of a Lunatic

Sunday March 4, 1860 -- "This day, a lunatic, named Wheedon, was caught and taken back to the Northern Ohio lunatic Asylum from which he had escaped. The Cleveland (Ohio) "Herald" gives the following strange account of him and his escapes. it says:--

Among the inmates of the Northern Ohio Lunatic-Asylum is a person named Wheedon, once a highly-respectable citizen in good circumstances, and said to have been a member of the former coal-firm of I.C. Pendleton & Co. He has been in the asylum for some time.

For some time past he has manifested a strong disposition to escape, and the utmost care and vigilance have been exercised to frustrate his designs, but not always with success. Before being places in his sleeping-room at night, he has always been stripped and carefully examined, to prevent the secreting of any instrument, and all his clothes, but his shirt, pantaloons, and stockings, taken away In spite of these precautions, he has succeeded three times within a few days in escaping from his room.

About two weeks since, he took a set of false teeth out of his mouth, and, by constant work, contrived with them to saw a hole through the floor of his chamber, sufficient to admit of his dropping through into another part of the house, and then escaping. He was traced and caught at the house of Mr. Pendleton, on Euclid Street.

A few days since he secreted a pin, and with that exceedingly unlikely instrument managed to pick the lock of his door and escaped into the hall, where he was fortunately arrested. He then stated that a pin was of more value than ten thousand dollars when he wished to escape from a room.

Last Saturday night he was carefully examined, as usual, before being placed in his room, but succeeded in secreting a small brass ring, split at one part, in his hair. On being locked up for the night, he set to work, and, with the ring, he cut through the window-sash and shutter, so as to enable him to remove them from the window. He then took the coverlet of the bed and tore it into strips, with which he made a rope reaching nearly to the ground,--a distance of some twenty-five or thirty feet. Some of the cotton batting with which the coverlet was wadded, he placed in his stockings, to protect his feet, as he had no shoes. Then, dressing himself in shirt trousers , and stockings, he slid down the rope and escaped.

Striking across the country to Eight Mile Lock, he then took a two-path of the canal and walked to University Heights, where he arrived yesterday afternoon. The officers of the asylum on his track came on him yesterday (Sunday) afternoon. he was very quiet when arrested and spoke freely of his escape, and made no resistance to being taken back to the asylum. We question whether this series of extraordinary escapes can be well matched."

I find it interesting that poor Wheedon, a former employee of  I.C. Pendleton & Company, was so desperate to escape from the Northern Ohio Lunatic Asylum. Even more interesting, why did Wheedon escape the asylum and head to Mr Pendleton's house? Was this the owner of his former company? Was Wheedon's ingenuity based in some paranoid or delusional process about Mr. Pendleton? Was he tossed into the asylum to hide some sort of wrong doing and an irate Wheedon kept trying to escape to find justice?

Give a moment of your time to Wheedon and wonder what the nature of his stay at the asylum was all about. While the facts of the story are likely forever lost, the people who lived and died within the walls of America's asylums are important. There voices help us understand who we were, where where were, and where we are going.

For more about the Northern Ohio Lunatic Asylum click here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The New Asylums

Some time ago I wrote a blog post about my first trip to an asylum. A regular reader of my blog posted a comment. In part, she wrote:
This is tragically unfortunate because instead of creating a healing environment hospitals create a feeling within patients that they are merely being housed until released. At least this has been my experience with crisis stabilization units. I was literally dumped out into a side parking lot after one release because the tech didn't have time to walk me up to the front of the building!
Many of us would like to think we've come a long way from the abuses of the past. I remain unconvinced. There are myriad experiences like my blog reader shared. Mental health care can be excellent with those with significant financial resources. It can be horrific and neglectful for the middle class and the poor.

Some might think the most horrific images of neglect and abuse may mostly be a thing of the past in psychiatric institutions. They really aren't in the past. We have, as society, just managed to find another way to neglect those who are most vulnerable. Several years back the PBS program Frontline did an excellent documentary on prisoners with mental illness. They suggested--both in images and words--that prisons have become the new asylums.
There are nearly 500,000 mentally ill being held in jails and prisons throughout America. That's ten times the 50,000 that remain in psychiatric hospitals. 
If you don't have time to watch all these clips, just make sure you fast forward to the group therapy scene that starts at 6:25 in clip one. The horrors for those of our neighbors with mental illness have just moved to a new venue: prisons.

For more about asylums click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, or here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Our Universe Gets Smaller

The Kepler Project, launched in 2009, has discovered 2,299 planets (and counting). I love this graphic view of what has been found. We have started to learn how to look at our vast universe to discover just how much is still out there to discover.

Click here for more. For more about the creator of the video, check out Alex Harrison Parker.

Worlds: The Kepler Planet Candidates from Alex Parker on Vimeo.

In the House of Dementia Love and Compassion

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Northern Ohio Lunatic Asylum

Hawthornden State Hospital
A couple of years ago I wrote a blog entry about my first visit to a state run psychiatric facility. It was a harrowing experience that continues to influence my work as a psychologist in complex ways.

Recently someone left a comment on my original blog post. Shuko raised some interesting questions that I want to answer in more detail. That will have to wait for a future blog post since I've managed to get distracted (imagine that!). While you are waiting, check out Shuko's blog here. She has a great way of exploring the history around us in both images and words.

I visited Western Reserve Psychiatric Hospital every two weeks when I was a 23 year old case manager. The hospital has gone by several different names including Hawthornden State Hospital, Western Reserve Psychiatric Habilitation Center, and currently operates under the name Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare.

That's a whole lot of names. What surprises me is that there isn't a lot of information available on the internet about this hospital. It's especially surprising that the hospital hasn't been subject to any significant historical research. It seems that one of the precursors to Northcoast Behavioral Health Care found its way into a national magazine. The article was called Bedlam, 1946 and discussed the Northern Ohio Lunatic Asylum. We'll explore the Bedlam of Cleveland in a minute.

Here is an aerial view of Northcoast Behavioral Health (aka Hawthronden, aka Western Reserve Psychiatric Center) as it looks now.

Google Maps
Let's go back in time. The Ohio Department of Mental Health makes a single reference to the Hawthornden State Hospital. They write:
Hawthornden State Hospital, later known as Western Reserve Psychiatric Habilitation Center, operated as a farm for Cleveland State Hospital from 1922 until 1938. It was established as a separate facility in 1941. 
That's not a lot of information. The blurb however gives me an important clue. The property got its start as a farm for the Cleveland State Hospital. This means our first stop in exploring the history is a field trip.

Fenn College field trip, Special Collections, Cleveland State University Library 
It just so happens that in researching the Cleveland State Hospital, the first image I came across was an abnormal psychology class taking a field trip in 1946. Look at those eager young faces peering into a model of the brain and marveling at it's structure--and perhaps wondering what separated them from the patients in the asylum. Do you think as part of their field trip that they got to meet actual patients? I wonder what these young students thought about as they encountered those who were removed from society and kept for treatment in an asylum.

I also wonder if any of them were aware of the abuses that were going on at the hospital they were visiting. This class visited the same year that Life magazine published the article Bedlam, 1946. Look at the pictures in the article. The broken and abused people being "cared" for by the hospital in 1946 are far removed from the fresh faced college students pictured above.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The View From Here: Welcome to the Almshouse Edition

Can't you just imagine horse drawn carriages and early cars dropping off future inmates, patients, and residents of the Tewksbury Almshouse?

Pictured to the left is the Old Administration Building. Built in 1894, this building first accepted inmates to the Tewksbury Almshouse. The Public Health Museum notes that the name of the hospital changes over the years reflecting a change in mission as well as a change in how people were cared for. The facility was renamed Tewksbury State Hospital in 1909 and Tewksbury State Hospital and Infirmary in 1938. It has cared for paupers, pauper insane, alcoholics, and people with illnesses such as tuberculosis, smallpox, sexually transmitted illnesses, and typhoid. Currently, the facility goes by the name of Tewksbury Hospital. It provides acute and chronic hospital level of care for medical patients with Huntington's Disease, HIV/AIDS, and those in need of neurological rehabilitation. Additionally, the facility also provides psychiatric  treatment for adults over the age of 19 with serious mental illnesses that require the security of a locked unit.

Something I'm currently investigating: other institutions of the time include: State Colony for the InsaneIndustrial School and Home for Crippled and Deformed Children; and North Reading State Sanatorium, and the Medfield Insane Asylum. It was a different era and the way we talked about and named conditions that people had were very different than our customs today. It seems incongruent that Tewksbury would be named a hospital while other institutions of the era were asylums and colonies for the insane. I suspect somewhere along the line some well-meaning local historians have altered the names of the institution to make it sound 'nicer'.

For more of my explorations of the Tewksbury Almshouse see here, here, and here. For more about my trips to the Medfield Asylum click here, here, here, and here. If you'd like to read about my very first trip to an asylum click here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The View From Here: Almshouse Edition

This tower fascinates me. I'm convinced that there is a history waiting behind this shell of copper and glass. Perhaps a few scraps of paper telling a secret of a former inmate of the almshouse--or maybe some graffiti carved by a patient when this building housed an insane asylum?

As a side note, I've been somewhat obsessed by old graffiti since discovering a face drawn on a wall at Ellis Island by someone waiting to be processed for entry into the United States. By obsessed I mean I've thought about it from time to time and hope someone might point me to some historical graffiti since I'm not often wandering across it on my own.


I've not yet had a chance to venture into this building. Parts of it are open to the public on a limited basis for tours. This building, the old administration building of the Tewksbury Almshouse, now houses a Public Health Museum. Peeking in the windows I saw a veritable cornucopia of treasures to look at, think about, and use to illuminate how we have cared for those most in need in past eras.

For now, I'll have to settle for pictures. In the late 1890s, the Commonwealth went about building sturdier structures at the Tewksbury Almshouse. The main administration building, a Queen Anne style building, was completed in 1894.

For more images of the Almshouse check here and here. To see images of another asylum built in this same style during this era, see my blog posts about the Medfield Asylum here, here, here, and here.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Linen isn't Frivolous: A Lot of Materials Are

When is the last time you thought about where your clothes were grown? A few clicks this morning brought be to a blog that had this wonderful video from France about linen. The video is promotional material for flax--and linen fabric--made in Europe. It definitely made me want to go out and buy some of this fabric to have a little piece of nature with me and around me.
"I think that linen is rather like wood. There's a structure. It's a living material."

BE LINEN MOVIE IN ENGLISH from Linen and hemp community on Vimeo.

The View From Here: Patients Downstairs Edition

Earlier this summer I spent a couple of days wandering around the Tewksbury Almshouse. First opened on May 1, 1854, the almshouse offered care for those in society most likely to be ignored and thrown away--paupers, insane people with no financial resources, and people who were disabled. One of the more famous residents of the Tewksbury Almshouse was Annie Sullivan, the teacher of Helen Keller.

This sign, near the imposing front door of the main administration building, points potential patients down to a nondescript door. While I'm processing what I saw on my trips and doing more research, I'll be posting some of the images that I took.

Check out The Field of Dreams, which is the first of the images I posted from the Almshouse.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The View From Here: Summer Sampler Edition

There is a veritable cornucopia of images captured this summer that are lurking in my computer. Here are some of my favorite. Enjoy the view! What have you seen this summer?

Harvard Square, Cambridge Massachusetts
Marblehead Massachusetts
Marblehead Massachusetts
Marblehead Massachusetts
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem Massachusetts
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem Massachusetts
Boston Commons, Boston Massachusetts
Public Gardens, Boston Massachusetts
Commonwealth Avenue, Boston Massachusetts
Public Gardens, Boston Massachusetts