This is not a bad place, not the hell it had been..."
July 29, 2013 8:01 AM   Subscribe

"Founded in 1912 as a farm colony of Brooklyn State Hospital, the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens [New York] became, by mid-century, a world unto itself. At its peak, it housed some 7,000 patients. They tended gardens and raised livestock on the hospital’s grounds. The hospital contained gymnasiums, a swimming pool, a theater, a television studio, and giant kitchens and laundries where patients were put to work. Today, Creedmoor, still run by the New York State Office of Mental Health, has only a few hundred patients" and houses The Living Museum, an 'art asylum within an asylum' where patients can create and exhibit their art. But what is life like inside the institution itself? In 2010, Katherine B. Olsen spent weeks interviewing staff and patients. Her essay, published this week, 'Something More Wrong' takes us inside Creedmoor's women's ward.

With so few patients remaining in residence, the institution has been downsized. Some buildings have been abandoned, such as Creedmoor's Building #25. Other lands have been re-purposed: Wikipedia: "In 1975 the land in Glen Oaks formerly used to raise food for the hospital was opened to the public as the Queens County Farm Museum. Another part of the campus in Glen Oaks was developed into the Queens Children's Psychiatric Center. In 2004, the remaining part of Creedmoor land in Glen Oaks was developed into the Glen Oaks public school campus, including The Queens High School of Teaching, Liberal Arts and the Sciences.'

The hospital also has a checkered history. Here's a New York Times exposé from 1984: Fear and Brutality in a Creedmoor Ward.

The Living Museum
* More pictures of art. In 2009, Mount Mary College exhibited works by the artists of the Living Museum. Video slideshow.
* Queens Chronicle: Inside Creedmoor's Living Museum
* The Museum was the subject of a 1999 HBO documentary directed by Jessica Yu: The Living Museum. (Reviews: New York Magazine, Los Angeles Times / Interview with Ms. Yu.)
posted by zarq (7 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Growing up on Long Island in the 60s, threatening a kid with being sent to Creedmoor was enough to guarantee they'd behave. We didn't know what it was exactly or even where but its reputation was enough scare those unfazed by the threat of reform school.
posted by tommasz at 8:18 AM on July 29, 2013

Growing up on Long Island in the 60s

And in Staten Island, they had Willowbrook/Cropsey.
posted by wensink at 8:46 AM on July 29, 2013

Same here, tommasz. Creedmore was the Bellvue of the bridge & tunnel crowd.
posted by dr_dank at 9:10 AM on July 29, 2013

Thank you, that Katherine Olsen essay was gorgeous.

Reminded me, in a weird oblique way, of this essay I read recently, criticizing journalists for the way they write about disaster relief — and specifically for their tendency to frame shit as "civilization is unraveling! brutality and lawlessness and chaos! they'll be rioting any minute now!" rather than as "oh man this is tough but in fact people are holding it all together pretty well under the circumstances and there's way less violence than you'd probably expect."

A lot of people writing about mental health and addiction seems to fall into a similar trap, where they've got a panicky fascination with the romantic idea of capital-M Madness and chaos and violence and so on, and they aren't even really seeing the situation in front of them which is more about boredom and hard work and coping surprisingly well with surprisingly few resources. An actual psych ward in my experience is less like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and more like a long line at the DMV in a bad neighborhood when you just worked a double shift. And so few people get that right when they try to write about it, because they're too hung up on the idea of things falling apart and aren't really interested in the idea of people holding things together.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:11 AM on July 29, 2013 [11 favorites]

I hardly ever think about it anymore, but when I was ages 5, 6, 7 my family lived across 240th street from Creedmoor. This would have been in the mid-60s. It was a nice, quiet street, but I do have a specific memory of a man calling to me from the window one time, "Hey, little girl! Little girl!" trying to get me to come through the fence (as I thought).

That didn't bother me much, because my parents often took me along with a church group that went inside Creedmore, Cropsey, and other institutions whose names I can't recall, to sing to and visit with the residents. They probably thought interacting with a child would cheer people up, but as I experienced it, the wards we visited rarely housed anyone who was sensible to our presence. The best were catatonic, the worst were agitated, and more than once men exposed themselves to me/us.

I can remember staff trying to get the men to cover themselves, which would usually escalate the situation, although we were never asked to leave in these circumstances. The group I was with seemed to think it was best to just pretend nothing was happening and keep singing. I did feel safe because I was with grown-ups I trusted, and I developed a pretty great poker face, but man...

I realize these are memories made when I was very young, so now I'm going to go RTFA, hoping to discover it was nothing like that. Thank you.
posted by probably not that Karen Blair at 9:33 AM on July 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

One of the first jobs I had in healthcare was "outtake" for the local hospital's Behavioral Health wing. Essentially, when their patients were done with inpatient treatment they had to go somewhere else, and I had to call around to the assorted group homes, retirement communities and long-er term treatment facilities to see who had a bed or would even take their insurance (which was mostly medicare/medicaid). I'd arrange all of the paperwork, schedule someone to pick them up and give them a ride, and just generally take care of the transition between facilities.

It was not an easy job, even though I only worked with the paperwork and didn't have direct contact with the persons themselves, it was difficult to read most of the notes to see what those individuals had gone through. A large number of them had suffered both physical and mental abuse, and an even larger number of people had been abandoned by their families entirely.

The only thing I inherited from the previous employee was a stack of bus passes. Apparently the standard practice was that when the patients didn't have another place that would take them, we'd put them on a bus back to whatever address was on their ID.

The only night I slept well during that job was the one where I took every last one of those damn things and burned them in my backyard.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:34 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Blue_Villian - sorry if i'm sounding a bit dense here. But are you saying that the previous employee was not the best and simply threw people on a bus, but you made the effort to get them into the next place that would take them?
If so - good on you.
posted by redskythinking at 7:19 AM on July 30, 2013

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