1881 Brutal Attendants At Buffalo State Hospital

A Story Of Cruelty From The State Asylum At Buffalo.

BUFFALO, Feb. 6. – A story of terrible cruelties practiced upon patients at the new State Insane Asylum here has been made public to-day, for which Frank P. Churchill, of this city, formerly a keeper, is responsible. He claims to have resigned on account of these practices, and says they were carried on by two men names Jones and McMichael whom Dr. Andrews, Medical Superintendent, brought with him from Utica. He says that John Turney, a monomaniac, was choked with towels so severely tha they had to blow in his mouth to restore consciousness. Being noisy one day while bathing, McMichael held his head under water until he was almost drowned, and pounded him on the stomach until a bunch was raised as large as a hen’s egg. They would go into his room at night and pound and kick him for the slightest disturbance. At one time Jones pressed both thumbs against his windpipe and jammed him into a chair with such violence that the back of the chair made two large holes in the wall. Another object of cruelty was Abraham Vedder, who was apt to be fractious at times. As a result of their attentions, he appeared on day with one eye blackened, the skin peeled off his throat, and the pit of his stomach black and blue. A railroad conductor named White, who was harmless, but so nervous as to be unable to keep quiet, was pounded by McMichael until he cried out, “My God, my God, don’t kill me.” If a man was slow in entering the dining-room he would be knocked down, kicked, and cursed in the vilest manner. A man named Vedder, from Alden, went to Jones and threatened to report if the abuse did not cease, and Jones frightened him from telling, by threatening to pound him to death. None of these things were done when Dr. Andrews was about, but Churchill claims to have frequently reported these things to him, and that the Doctor said he must be mistaken, as he had the fullest confidence in Jones and McMichael.

SOURCE: Reprinted from The New York Times. Published February 7, 1881. Copyright @ The New York Times.

Commissioner Ordronaux
Recommends The Discharge Of The Accused Attendants.

BUFFALO, March 2. – The State Commissioner in Lunacy has rendered the following decision in regard to alleged abuses in the Buffalo State Insane Asylum:

To the Managers of the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane:

Gentlemen having been requested by your board to make inquiry into the truth of certain allegations of Frank P. Churchill, late an attendant at your asylum, charging that two fellow-attendants, named Robert H. Jones and J.F. McMichael, had, to his personal knowledge, habitually maltreated patients confided to their care, the Commissioner submits herewith the findings and conclusions to which he has arrived after a careful consideration of the same. The organic act of the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane lodges in its Board of Managers the original power of control over all the property and concerns of the institution not otherwise provided for by law, and it is made their duty to take charge of its general interest, and to see that its great design be carried into effect and everything done faithfully according to the requirements of the Legislature and the by-laws, rules, and regulations of the asylum. Among these prerogatives is the power of employing and discharging servants, prescribing their duties, and otherwise regulating the domestic service of that institution. A request on your part to the Commissioner in Lunacy for an inquiry into this service is to that extent a surrender o the territory of your proper jurisdiction. Moreover, no formal complaint having been made to the Commissioner against any department of your administration, and no evidence having been laid before him furnishing any ground for his further official interference, the action of the Commissioner in the premises and under these circumstances becomes, strictly speaking, advisory rather than judicial.

The publicity of this inquiry, added to the fact that the evidence received is spread before the public in the files of the daily press, renders it unnecessary for the Commissioner either to refer to it in detail of to weigh its probative force under the rules regulating the value of legal proofs. Besides which this evidence, by reason of its conflicting character, presents no preponderance in favor of either side, and the charges remain not sufficiently established to warrant any affirmative decision upon their truth. It is manifest, however, from the very nature of the guardianship exercised over lunatics in asylums, that attendants who are in constant and immediate appendance upon patients should be free from any taint of suspicion. In these peculiar positions of trust the character of every person implicated in allegations of this kind and brought into the field of public inquiry, although sufficient proof has not been adduced to justify a conviction, yet suffers in public estimation from the fact alone that the evidence is conflicting. Where such evidence, therefore, leaves the presumptions equally in question the effect nevertheless operates to the public discredit of the parties concerned and their services should, in the Commissioner’s judgment, be dispensed with for prudential reasons. I am, very respectfully yours, John Ordronaux, State Commissioner in Lunacy.

SOURCE: Reprinted from The New York Times. Published March 3, 1881. Copyright @ The New York Times.

Buffalo State Hospital

Buffalo State Hospital


BUFFALO, N.Y., March 18. – The Assembly sub-committee appointed to investigate the charges of abuse at the State Insane Asylum arrived here and was in session to-day. The testimony of Dr. Andrews was taken, and a visit made to the asylum. All the evidence given before Dr. Ordronaux’s investigation will be reviewed, as the members of the committee express themselves determined to get a the bottom facts of the case.

SOURCE: Reprinted from The New York Times. Published March 19, 1881. Copyright @ The New York Times.

Kirkbride Buildings – Buffalo State Hospital