The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic
March 21, 2007 12:31 PM   Subscribe

The Lives They Left Behind. Previously on MeFi, the Village Voice article. Related are efforts to restore cemeteries located on the grounds of old "insane asylums," creating memorials See information from Washington, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Georgia.
posted by ClaudiaCenter (12 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 12:36 PM on March 21, 2007

What a fascinating and depressing find. It amazes me that some of these people were still being held into the 1980s.

Great post ClaudiaCenter

I did think the interface was a little clunky in the first link, but the material was so interesting that it was more than worth the minor annoyance.
posted by quin at 1:23 PM on March 21, 2007

Sometimes young people get the bizarre idea that abuse and exploitation are new ideas, and that things were "better" in the 19th century. Yet, we keep seeing stories about 19th-century psychiatric institutions and what they did to otherwise functioning human beings.

Especially in the mid-20th century, when "advanced therapies" became available. Thorazine and ECT were doled out with smug indifference, and state governments loved having the low-cost labor force. Only in the last 20 years have most of these hellholes been closed down.

One can then ask: if they were such great places, why were laws changed to shut them down?

Good post, thanks.
posted by metasonix at 1:32 PM on March 21, 2007

Another thing this exhibit mentions....isn't it interesting how many of these people were recent immigrants to America? And how many of them were committed for being "noisome", for being disorderly drunks, or for having epilepsy or other seizure conditions?

Warehouses. For a paranoid society, to hide their messier members.
posted by metasonix at 1:43 PM on March 21, 2007

Self link: This is the cemetery behind the East Louisiana State Hospital.

Built in 1847. There's no telling how many unmarked graves there are on the hospital grounds. Every time we go out there to dig a grave, we have to be careful not to dig one up.

"East", as it's called by locals, was where people were sent from New Orleans for psychological conditions. It's the hospital referred to in Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje, a fictionalised version of the life of the New Orleans jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden.
posted by ColdChef at 1:54 PM on March 21, 2007

My medical school is situated on the former grounds of a state hospital. Am told in its day was really something, a model of progressivism. Patients lived semi-independently in "cottages" on the hospital grounds.

All the cottages and other buildings of the hospital are long gone, though appropriately enough a new psychiatric hospital has gone up on the eastern end of the land. It's not as "progressive" as the cottages, but having met and helped treat patients there, I'm rather glad they're less free.

Anyway, there's an old graveyard on the grounds somewhere where all the patients who died at the state hospital were buried. Now I've got to find it.
posted by adoarns at 2:16 PM on March 21, 2007

Similarly, a couple of years ago a project was started here in Oregon to return all of the unclaimed remains of people who died at the Oregon state hospital
posted by Dr. Twist at 2:45 PM on March 21, 2007

Wonderful presentation, well written. Gentle, compared to the lives lived there.

Reminded me of other suitcases I saw while visiting Auschwitz back in the 70's. Displays of suitcases, glasses and material made out of people's hair. I though I'd pass out.
posted by alicesshoe at 2:52 PM on March 21, 2007

Do it, Gordon.

Do it, Gordon.

Do it now.

posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:03 PM on March 21, 2007

oh, definitely, robocop. Just the movie I was thinking of. (plus, I was floored when I watched with the commentary track and found out Danvers was very real and required little alteration to be suitable for filming)
posted by Monster_Zero at 3:30 PM on March 21, 2007

Actually I was reminded for some reason of the black and white photo that comes at the end of "The Shining". The one with smiling Jack in the middle of the ballroom dance crowd. Don't know why, maybe the mixture of insanity and forgotten photos of happier times.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:19 PM on March 21, 2007

And thanks for post.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:19 PM on March 21, 2007

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