1876 The Case Of The Lunatic Boy – Part 2

The following is the testimony of Mary F. Ambrose, mother of Oliver D. Ambrose (the lunatic boy), transcribed from VAN KEUREN, Mary J., The government asylum. Horrible and extreme cruelty to the army and navy patients, Supplement only. 1876, pages 29-32. Several names are included in her document:

Mary J. Van Keuren, George W. Bontz, Sarah Bontz, Elizabeth Bontz, Jacob E. Bontz, John Bontz, Joseph Price, T.J. Gardner, Dr. C.H. Nichols, Alfred D. Nichols, Dr. Pliny Earle, Dr. W.B. Magruder, George R. Adams, Dr. Stone, Mrs. Sarah Adams, Mrs. Elizabeth Gludman, Judge Boone, Samuel E. Arnold, Mrs. Gladmon, Dr. Thompson, Dr. Benjamin F. Dexter, General Loomis, Dr. Morrell, Dr. Chase, B.G. Blakesley, Dr. Daly, J.W. Wallace, Hetterman, Mr. Tuft, Mrs. Taylor, Dr. Powell, Dr. Case, Dr. Toner, Dr. Hamlin, Mrs. Tobin, Dr. Walker, George M. Dow, General B.F. Butler, P.T. Woodfin, Eugene M. Wallace, Timothy Lynch, John Boyle, John E. Benson, O’Connell, Lieutenant Dannenhower, Jane Beatty, John A. Darling, Theodore F. Wilson, Mr. Mellish (Millish?), Dr. Thompson, Mr. O.W. Marsh, Henry Miller, Mr. Lyon, Mr. Baker, H.L. Weeks, Henry B. Taylor, Mr. Lane, Mary F. Ambrose, Oliver D. Ambrose, Dr. Eastman, Dr. Franklin, Senator Wade, Williams, C.F. Carter, Frank McAdams, Hetterman, General Barnes, William Edgar Van Keuren, Vice Admiral David D. Porter, H.H. Buck, William A. Knox, W.C. Lyman, G.O. Roker, J.A. Emmons, Secretary of the Navy George M. Robeson, Dr. C.H. Crane. 

Testimony of MARY F. AMBROSE. This witness had a son, Oliver D. Ambrose, who became insane from the effect of the assassination of President Lincoln, who happened to be sitting near the box in which Mr. Lincoln was killed. When Booth jumped out of the box Oliver shouted ‘Booth!’ ‘Booth!’

After a while Mrs. Ambrose placed her son in the Asylum, Dr. Eastman showing her a ward where her son would be cared for, which was satisfactory. The witness stated that she made efforts to see her son time and time again, and could never do so. She then took assistance with her, and was refused. The witness then said: ‘I will see my son this morning, or that door shall come down.’ ‘Well,’ said Dr. Eastman, ‘if you must see him, you can.’ Dr. Franklin then opened the door and I pressed in, and he took me through a long corridor where the patients were all seated on benches. He conducted me along until I got to the end of the corridor, and then took me down some steps, and brought me into a little corner of a place, not much larger than a man could lie down in – a little vestibule, it looked like, but they called it a ‘strong room.’  ‘Said I, What do you call this room? Said he, That is the ‘strong room.’ Why, there is no heat. It was cold as possible in there, and the poor boy was blue with cold. His skin seemed to be perfectly purple. He was cold and trembling all over, and had fallen away so much in flesh that I scarcely knew him. When the door was opened he screamed out, ‘Oh, my ma, are you going to take me home?’ My son ran up to me, and I put a shawl around him, and he said, ‘Ma, are you going to take me home? ‘Please take me home.’ I said, ‘I certainly shall,’ and I turned to Dr. Franklin and said, ‘Ain’t you ashamed of yourself, to treat a poor boy like that? How could you do such a thing?’ He was very cool, and said to me, in an off-handed way, ‘Madam, if your son is insane, here is the place for him.’ I took my son and carried him into the parlor. He was covered with vermin. His back was actually eaten away by vermin. they had eaten holes in his body. There were marks of violence on his body and arms. He did not show any violence. He was in the Asylum eight weeks. He weighed 155 pounds when I put him in, and 90 pounds when I took him out.

We forbear quoting all this witness stated, for the reason the case was so horrible and cruel that language fails to describe it.

Efforts were made at that time (1865) to investigate the management. Senator Wade moved in the matter, but nothing could be done. The power was safe; the neglect of duty was safe; the cruel and inhumane treatment was safe from the outside eye; the ignorant and beastly assisting physicians were safe in their conduct. Insane persons or any one within the walls complaining were not listened to. The brutish, cruel attendants could beat, bruise, kick, and ill-treat the patients without risk of a discharge, with a few exceptions.

Is it possible that in 1865, a few weeks after the boy Oliver D. Ambrose was placed in the Asylum, Dr. Franklin or Dr. Eastman could not discover whether the boy was insane or not?

The fact is plain that those assisting physicians (so-called) either did not know anything about insanity, or that they had not seen the boy for eight weeks, during the entire time the boy was there. We charge the fact to be that neither Eastman or Franklin had seen the boy. Take the testimony, which is not disputed. Mrs. Ambrose’s mother called, but could not see her grandson. No one but his mother could see him, was the answer. then his mother made efforts, and after a time she was admitted. Note the answer of Dr. Franklin: ‘Madam, if your son is insane, this is the place for him.’ This remark shows that Franklin did not know the boy’s case. No doubt whatever he had not seen him before. But it turned out that the boy was not insane, and if Franklin or Eastman had attended to their duty they would have found the boy weeks before well enough to go home. Not one item of proof did the defense show or attempt to show that the boy had been examined by any physician from the day he entered until he left, to show his case whether better or worse. This is one case, and if the graves could speak others of the like, only worse, could answer.

Why did not the defense call Dr. Franklin from New York city to show how this boy had been treated. We answer, because he was not a man like Eastman, who disgraced himself in the mind of every man who read his testimony, or who may read it hereafter.

Take the questions of counsel to Dr. Eastman and his answers, and it will plainly be seen that fraud and false-coloring was designed. How very ridiculous the pretense to discredit the testimony of Darling. Why did the Doctor not go and get the reports made to the Adjutant General, and show by the hand-writing? The pretense of a memoranda in his pocket was foolish, when he had the means within his power, if the witness had not stated truly; and besides, Dr. Nichols himself does not deny that Darling acted as clerk, and that every word he testified to was true.

How long will such sham be tolerated? There is altogether too much money to be used in the management by one man to expect justice and humanity to prevail without a struggle – a desperate struggle. Money is power, and it often crushes justice. The people will sooner or later put out such management.

These witnesses show extreme cruelty of one kind or another, more or less extending over many years, showing such neglect of duty on the part of the Superintendent as no man can excuse, and such as cannot be excused or suffered longer to exist. In fact the neglect on the part of the Superintendent shows such a disregard of duty, of official oath, that it comes clearly within high misdemeanor; the cruelty is revolting to all feelings of humanity.

The testimony shows that the Superintendent for several years has given but little attention to the patients; that he has trusted the inside of the asylum to assistants who the testimony shows to have been incompetent almost from the first, as the present attending physicians are. The neglect has been so great and the attendants so very incompetent that nothing short of a clean wiping out of every man in charge will answer the demand of the people.

If the reader of these pages will read but a tithe of the testimony, and then read the law of the asylum, he will say, as Boynton said, that if half is true hanging would be too good for every one of them. No man will say that the testimony against the management is not true and overwhelming. Comments cannot add to its force and convincing elements. There are such numbers, such quantity, giving particulars, acts, facts, and circumstances that all effort to explain, to excuse, becomes swamped at once, and no power to extricate.”

Discussing Public Charities – New York Times – June 11, 1879
On June 10, 1879, Dr. C.H. Nichols, President of The Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane, resigned. It is unclear if he was forced out or if he was retiring. 

1876 The Case Of The Lunatic Boy – Part 1

1876 The Case Of The Lunatic Boy – Part 1

This is a very interesting article from The New York Times. It refers to an unnamed “lunatic boy” who was mistreated at the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C. The Superintendent of the asylum was Dr. C.H. Nichols, formerly of the Bloomingdale and Utica Asylums for the Insane of New York State. The Government Hospital accepted veterans, pauper, and pay patients. The article speaks of the Testimony before a House Committee (of Congress), and alleges that veterans of the Civil War and pauper inmates, including women, were being beaten and whipped; starved; served rotten meat and butter; and were covered with vermin (hair and body lice), while the pay patients were treated humanely and were kept in good physical condition. The article speaks of the barbaric treatment in various insane asylums and county poor houses in the United States but gives praise to the Willard Asylum for its mild and humane treatment “of the wildest and most incurable cases from the county poor-houses.”

Back to the “lunatic boy. It is often difficult to figure out who people were from old newspaper articles because although the reporter knew who this boy was, he didn’t state his name. While trying to uncover the identity of the boy, I came across an old document/pamphlet entitled The government asylum. Horrible and extreme cruelty to the army and navy patients, Supplement only, July 1876, written by Mary J. Van Keuren. Mrs. Van Keuren’s son, William Edgar Van Keuren, a veteran, was horribly mistreated at the Government Asylum. She wrote the piece about the testimony given before Congress that included the cases of: OLIVER D. AMBROSE, THOMAS W. WHITE, GENERAL LOOMIS, and WILLIAM EDGAR VAN KEUREN (Edgar). After reading the account of the testimony, I believe that the unnamed “lunatic boy” was OLIVER D. AMBROSE, who “became insane from the effect of the assassination of President Lincoln, who happened to be sitting near the box in which Mr. Lincoln was killed. When Booth jumped out of the box Oliver shouted “Booth!” Booth!” Although I could not find any statement regarding Oliver’s age, the account suggests that he was a minor, was not insane, was beaten and starved, and was kept in the asylum for eight weeks without ever being seen or evaluated by a doctor.

The Case Of The Lunatic Boy.

“The testimony before the Committee on Expenditures, of the House, on Thursday, as to the management of the Government Hospital for the Insane, at Washington, was certainly painful enough. The institution evidently ought to be overhauled. But we wish some committee could examine various rural hospitals for the insane throughout the country, and especially the insane wards of the county poor-houses. Such treatment as the poor crazed boy received in Washington is mild and humane compared with that dealt to lunatics in these places in every State of the Union. Such a committee would discover in these “dark places of the earth,” lunatic women, often those who had seen better days, shut up in dark cells or cages, without clothing, cold, often hungry, devoured by vermin, besmeared by filth, chained, of, if loose, associating with vagabonds, paupers, and drunkards, and frequently debauched and ruined by them. The visitors of the insane wards in the poor-houses of the United States know that there is appearing in them what might be called a new and horrible human variety – a race, the offspring of the lunatic and the drunkard, of the crazed pauper and the vicious vagrant. In these “asylums” men are known who have been in chains and cages for years, some some confined as to be deformed for life; some scarred and marked by fetters and whips, without clothing, and treated during these long years worse than the brutes. Our readers have only to refer to the reports of such associations as the New-York Prison Association, the New-York and Pennsylvania State Boards of Charity, or the reports from every State of those experts and philanthropists who have visited and studied our county alms-houses where the insane have been cared for, to convince themselves that such facts as have been uncovered at Washington are common in every State of the Union.

The truth is that the condition of the insane poor in the United States is a disgrace to our humanity and civilization. The wonder is that it has continued as it has so long. Not a year has passed for fifty years, in which reports of experts have not exposed these abuses. Such philanthropists as Miss Dix, Dr. Willard, and others have spent their lives in seeking to reform them. Our own State Board of Charities, under Dr. Hoyt, have struggled incessantly with them. And it is only within a few years that in this State, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania a few victories over stupidity and barbarism begin to crown the long contest. In the West and South, and a large part of the Middle States, the condition of the insane, where they have no money, is still discreditable to our civilization and Christianity.

It will be said that this occurrence in Washington is different from what happens in county poor-houses, in that the Washington Asylum receives pay patients. But it will be found that the management of many asylums in the country districts, for patients of means, is disgraced by the old punishment and restraint system. In England, the old barbaric methods of handling the insane have been given up. “Non-restraint” is the rule. The vigorous exertions of the Commissions of Lunacy throughout the Kingdom have cleansed the “dark places of cruelty” of their abominations. A new and violent patient is seldom confined, or at most with the camisole or shirt, but is placed between two attendants, or is put in a padded room, where he cannot injure himself. Chains and blows, cages and cells, hunger and cold, are given up as means of curing lunacy. The lunatic is considered a patient under a peculiar disease, who can be broken of bad habits by kind and wise treatment, even as a child is. No asylum in this country has carried out the non-restraint principles so far as the best English asylums; but what has been accomplished by a singularly mild and humane treatment at the Willard Asylum of this State of the wildest and most incurable cases from the county poor-houses, shows what can be done by humanity and science combined. Such a treatment as that of the poor boy in the Washington Asylum, which might occur in many others, ought to be as much a thing of the past as the pillory, or whipping, or ear-cropping of our colonial days. And yet many a reputable asylum resorts to it. It would be a happy result of this cruelty if Congress could appoint a Commission of Lunacy which might help to reform such abuses throughout all the States, until every lunatic in the country was treated – as he should be – as an unfortunate and diseased human being.”

SOURCE: The New York Times. Published: April 24, 1876. Copyright @ The New York Times

1876 The Case Of The Lunatic Boy – Part 2

1899 A Hospital Quarantined. Diphtheria Breaks Out at the Willard State Institution.

A Hospital Quarantined.
Diphtheria Breaks Out at the Willard State Institution.

Geneva, N.Y., July 5. – The Willard State Hospital, situated at Willard, N.Y., twenty miles south of Geneva, is more or less rigidly quarantined as a result of an epidemic of diphtheria, with which both patients and employes alike are afflicted. The authorities of the hospital state that, although it is a mild type of the disease, they deem it necessary to put the buildings and all those connected with the institution under quarantine.

Antitoxin has been freely used, and the authorities of the hospital now believe that they have the infection under control. No fatal cases have as yet been reported. Visitors are not allowed to visit patients, and will not be until conditions are considerably improved. It cannot be learned how many cases of the disease there are at the hospital. The cause of the breaking out of the disease cannot be accounted for as far as can be learned. The hospital is managed by a Board of Trustees of which ex-Senator S.H. Hammond of this city is the President.

SOURCE: The New York Times. Published: July 6, 1899, Copyright @ The New York Times

1886 An Insane Physician. Driven Crazy By The Loss Of His Books And Instruments.

An Insane Physician.
Driven Crazy By The Loss Of His Books And Instruments.

Elmira, N.Y., Jan 6. – Dr. Henry S. Dimock, for several years a physician at Grove Springs, a fashionable Summer resort on Keuka Lake, who for some time has been the medical adviser at Crystal Springs, and who will be remembered by many people of New-York, as well as those of Western cities, has become violently insane, and this evening was taken to Willard Asylum. On the 20th of last month he lost all his books and instruments by the burning of the hotel at Crystal Springs, and the loss so preyed on his mind that last Sunday night he stole a horse and carriage from Benson Smith, of Crystal Springs, and drove the animal to Penn Yan. He told the people that he was a Pinkerton detective and was after the man who set the hotel on fire. He insisted on making a clothier open his store and sell him a suit of clothes, and after putting them on refused to pay for them or take them off. He was persuaded to disrobe, however, and then ran through the streets. He is 53 years old, and has a wife. His condition is thought to be beyond recovery.

SOURCE: The New York Times. Published: January 7, 1886, Copyright @ The New York Times

1860 Rats At Bellevue Hospital


New York Times Rats

The Commissioners of the Department of Public Charities and Correction have promptly investigated the case of the infant of MARY CONNER, which was mutilated by rats at Bellevue Hospital, and the death of which is supposed to have resulted from that cause. Messrs. DEAPER, GRINNELL, BELL and NICHOLSON spent several hours at the Hospital, night before last; examined all who had anything to relate with regard to the occurrence, and had several of the alleged culprits, or members of their numerous family, before them, — for the rats at Bellevue are a bold and reckless race, and do not hesitate to come forth from their hiding-places, and scamper about even in the presence of men in high position. The evidence thus collated was arranged in due form, and presented before the Commissioners at their meeting yesterday afternoon. The details are uninteresting and unfit for publication. The leading points are as follows:

MARY CONNER went to the Hospital last Sunday afternoon, sent thither by the Superintendent of Out-Door Poor, Mr. KELLOCK. She was placed in the “Waiting Room,” where about twenty women slept, and by 9 o’clock all had retired. During the evening she had made no complaints, and gave no intimation of her coming confinement; in her testimony she declares that she did not expect it so soon. At 6 o’clock in the morning Dr. HADDEN, the House Physician, was summoned to attend her, and found the new-born infant lying partly under the body of the mother, dead and cold. “The nose of the child, upper lip and a portion of the cheeks seemed to be eaten off,” says Dr. HADDEN. “The toes of the left foot and a portion of the foot were eaten off, or apparently so. The lacerated portions were covered with sand and dirt.” He states that the abdomen of the child was flattened out by the weight of the mother. He is quite sure that the gnawing was done after the death of the child, and believes that it was done by rats. The mother was feeble and listless — hardly accountable, the doctor thinks, for anything she might say. She declared that it did not make any difference to her whether the child was dead or alive. From her testimony we learn that she is a servant girl, 31 years old, born in Dublin, has lived eight years in this country, and is unmarried. She perceived, on the night in question, that there was a cat or rat on the bed, but could not tell which. She was either asleep or in a fainting condition most of the night.

When these facts had been read, the President, Mr. DRAPER, said he had not received any communication from the Warden of the hospital in relation to the matter. Mr. NICHOLSON asked whether the President had taken any action in the case. The President answered that he had sent a letter to the Warden stating what he had heard, and telling him to see that a sufficient watch was kept in the various wards, to prevent any unfortunate occurrence in future which watchfulness could prevent. The Board confirmed the action of the President.

Mr. GRINNELL said he knew nothing of the occurrence until he read it in the newspapers. He had learned that there had not been any efforts for the extermination of rats made for some years. He had been so informed by Mr. DALY, the Warden. The President then presented propositions from several rat exterminators, offering to relieve Bellevue Hospital from rats. The propositions were referred to the Committee of the Whole, with power. After the passage of a resolution to meet every Thursday at 3 1/2 P.M., the Board adjourned.

Bellevue Hospital is completely overrun with rats. Our reporter, yesterday, made the acquaintance of several of them. They are large wharf-rats, and their presence there in such numbers is attributed to the contiguity of the East River. The Hospital, most of our readers are aware, was erected nearly fifty years ago, on a site which is bounded by First-avenue, Twenty-sixth and Twenty-eighth streets and the water. The main building stands on land of natural conformation, but the “new wing,” in which are the apartments for females, is supported on piles driven into “made land.” From the Hospital through this “made land” — everybody knows how it is “made,” by piling dirt on top of rubbish and loose stones — five sewers carry off all that is waste-worthy and empty it into the river, and by these sewers the vile, gregarious, amphibious and nomad vermin, swimming in crowds from place to place, have been induced to stop, to build their nests in the substratum of loose stones, or to burrow in the grassy banks near the water-side. It must be borne in mind that these creatures are not the common rats that infest private dwellings, but monsters that devour those lesser mischief-makers, inhabit about wharves and in storehouses and granaries, will, on occasions, dive into the water and glide swiftly through it, and of whose exploits we have heard more in “thrilling tales of the nineteenth century” than in sober, matter-of-fact narrative. In the vicinity of hospitals near the water, they are always found. Blackwell’s Island swarms with them, and they have been inmates of Bellevue since a period of which “the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.’ Unsuccessful efforts have, from time to time, been made to drive them out or destroy them. Six years ago, thousands of them were poisoned, and the place got in such bad order in consequence, that at one time it was almost determined to abandon it. The unsavory remains of the dead enemies of the institution were, however, removed; but the building was alive again, in a very brief period, with their successors. Since then, many attempts upon their lives, with arsenic, strychnia, terrier and grimalkin have been made with various success, but the water-rat is exceedingly prolific. A workman employed at the Hospital informed us that a day or two ago he found a nest in which there were two old rats, with a family of eighteen little ones; and at another time a litter of sixteen was turned up with his spade. Where one has fallen a dozen have sprung up in its place. Twelve dozen of traps awhile ago were sprung upon a host of them, but after two or three such experiments the survivors found out the trick of it, and the bait was left untouched. In the interior of the edifice you find rat-holes at every corner. In the female wards the rats in the night-time run about in swarms. There are fewer of them in the male wards, but there they are plentiful, and in the private apartments of the main building those employed in the institution go to bed with a broom-stick at hand, that they may repel them when they grow too familiar. This sounds like fiction, but we are assured that it is true. Myriads swarm at the water side after nightfall, crawl through the sewers and enter the houses. In a bath-tub, last Monday night, forty rats were caught. The vermin have full possession of the building, and if, without reconstructing its interior entirely, they are removed, it will be more than amazing.

 SOURCE: Published: April 27, 1860, The New York Times, Copyright @ The New York Times

1865 New York Times – Commissioners Of Public Charities And Corrections.



1901 Detained For 15 Years As “Feeble-Minded”

Girl Then Pronounced Insane Is Declared to be of Sound Mind.
Now Under Commissioner Feeny’s Protection – Tells a Story of Ill-Treatment at Newark (N.Y.) Asylum.

Fifteen years a prisoner as feeble-minded, has apparently been the lot of Mary Lake, now an inmate of the Richmond Borough Almshouse, but about to be set at liberty. Commissioner of Charities James Feeny of Richmond Borough is largely responsible for justice being done the girl even now.

The young woman is a daughter of George Lake of New Dorp. Lake, on Dec. 5, 1883, was sentenced for a serious offense to ten years in State prison. Lake’s children were committed to the County Almshouse, and the records show that on Sep. 10, 1886, Mary, twelve years old, was committed to the State Institution for Feeble-Minded Children at Syracuse. She remained at that institution until she became of age on Jan. 4, 1896, when she was transferred to the New York Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women, at Newark, N.Y.

Commissioner Feeny on Sept. 19 last received a letter from C.W. Winspear, the Superintendent of that institution, stating that Mary Lake had become insane, and demanding that she be removed. The Commissioner found that she must be brought back to Richmond County, and preceedings were taken to have her legally declared before she could be committed to an insane asylum. Some correspondence ensued between Commissioner Feeny and Superintendent Winspear, and under date of Oct. 1 the latter sent a certificate made by the attending physician at the institution, which follows:

Mary Lake has had a number of attacks of excitement, but none so severe as the present attack, nor did they last as long. Has been very much worse the last two weeks. I have no doubt of her insanity. N.E. LANDO

Upon the receipt of this the Commissioner sent Superintendent of Almshouse Pierce with a nurse, and armed with straitjackets and other paraphernalia to bring the supposed insane and violent girl to her home county, and the Superintendent was surprised to have placed in his custody an attractive-looking young woman entirely docile, well-educated, bright, and intelligent. Miss Lake was brought to the almshouse on Oct. 2, and since that time she has been under careful inspection, and has undergone several severe examinations at the hands of Dr. Isaac L. Millspaugh and Dr. John T. Sprague, who finally certified to Commissioner Feeny that the young woman is not now insane, and perhaps never has been; that there is no evidence that she has ever been even feeble-minded, and, on the contrary, she is intelligent, well-educated, is willing to work, and is most competent in every respect.

Commissioner Feeny did not feel justified in turning the young woman out upon the world, for, while she had been educated and trained to household duties, she is unsophisticated, and with the aid of Mrs. George William Curtis and other ladies whom he has interested in the case, the Commissioner is attempting to find her a good home.

Miss Lake, when seen at the almshouse, talked freely of her life in the institutions, and told stories of ill-treatment at the hands of some of the assistants at the Newark institution. She says there are others at the institution who are sound-minded, and who desire to be and should be discharged from the asylum.

She claims the reason she was declared insane and sent back to Richmond is that she was charged with being the originator of a plan to appeal to Gov. Odell upon the occasion of his visit to the institution during his recent tour of State Institutions. The plan was not carried out by the inmates. While she was among the number who agreed to speak to the Governor, she was not, she says, the leader or the originator of the plan. She declared her determination to leave, however, and fearing that she would make some trouble, the authorities at the institution, she says, took the above-mentioned method to get rid of her.

Of the other Lake children, one son has been lost sight of, another is in an institution for the blind in Brooklyn, and one daughter is said to have been brought up in a private family in ignorance of her parentage, and to have been happily married very recently.

SOURCE: Reprinted from The New York Times, Published: October 26, 1901, Copyright @ The New York Times.

1914 Destroy Bad Food Of State Asylums

Shocking Conditions Found by Federal Inspectors in a Sweeping Inquiry.
Condition “Bordering on Savagery” at Binghamton
Milk from Tubercular Cows at Poughkeepsie.
Special to The New York Times.

ALBANY, May 8. – For eighteen months, according to information received to-day by Commissioner John H. Delaney of the Department of Efficiency and Economy, the insane patients of the Hudson River State Hospital at Poughkeepsie were supplied with milk from tubercular cows belonging to the institution and purchased with the State’s money. Mr. Delaney learned that in that period twenty-three gravely afflicted milch cows of the hospital’s own herd were condemned.

An investigation at once will be made by Commissioner Delaney to ascertain whether the animals were suffering from tuberculosis when they were purchased or whether the disease developed among them after they became the property of the institution.

The State Hospital Commission, which is responsible for the management of the State Hospitals for the Insane, has as yet made no official answer to the accusations contained in the reports of Inspectors of the Department of Efficiency and Economy. It was learned to-day, however, that when an inspection of the food supply at the various institutions was made some weeks ago by experts from the Bureau of Animal Industry of the United States Department of Agriculture, the Hospital Commission started to make some inquiries about conditions at the fourteen institutions under its supervision.

According to information obtained to-day complaints were received from several institutions regarding the quality of the beef after the commission contracted for a three months’ supply of Argentine beef. Inspector Phillips then urged the commission to have an inquiry made by two Federal Inspectors, and his advice was followed.

The reports of these inspectors have been in the hands of the State Hospital Commission since early in April, but have not been made pubic. The inspectors reported deplorable conditions at nearly every institution they visited.

At the Utica State Hospital the Federal inspectors were compelled to order the destruction of a large quantity of lard used in the making of bread because it was rancid. The bakery at the institution, they said, was “unclean beyond belief.” The floor and walls they found “in a vile state.” Conditions, they said, were “a grave menace to employes and inmates of the institution.”

They found 500 pounds of pork and seven carcasses of mutton which were unfit for food. After discovering that forty dozen of eggs out of a total supply of seventy-five dozen were decayed, they were informed by the kitchen employes that it had been the practice to feed the patients with such eggs.

At the Buffalo State Hospital the Inspectors ordered the destruction of meat unfit for human consumption; at Central Islip they condemned eggs and 200 pounds of beef; at Willard a barrel of fat, intended, it was asserted, for cooking purposes, was condemned.

Similar conditions were reported at the Binghamton State Hospital. A condition described as “bordering on savagery” was found by the Federal Inspectors in the storeroom of the Mohansic State Hospital at Yorktown Heights. At the Rochester State Hospital the inspectors ordered the entire supply of eggs on hand, 320 dozen, destroyed as unfit for food. A supply of bacon and beef in the storeroom, the inspectors said, should not be used for food. Employees at the Middletown State Hospital told the inspectors most of the eggs used for the patients at the institution were decayed.

Commissioner Delaney said to-day that reports from investigators of this department who have been inquiring into conditions at the Long Island State Hospital in Flatbush show “dreadful” conditions at that institution. The investigation of the Efficiency and Economy Department thus far has been confined to the mechanical equipment of the hospital, but Federal Inspectors have made inquiries regarding the food.

The Federal Inspectors report that many of the eggs at this institution are classified in the trade as “rots” and “spots” and “weak and cloudy” eggs. Employes said that the grade of eggs furnished to the institution was extremely poor. The Federal Inspectors found 200 pounds of moldy bacon and two tubs of rancid lard.

An engineer employed by the Department of Efficiency and Economy found the floors and ceilings of the institution in a bad and dangerous condition. The menace to the inmates in case of fire, the engineer said, was very grave, owing to a defective fire alarm system and improperly marked stairways and exits. The sanitary conditions of the institution the expert called “a mockery” of conditions that should obtain.

SOURCE: The New York Times, Published: May 9, 1914, Copyright @ The New York Times

1874 Dr. John B. Chapin

Just to be clear, I have never stated that insane asylums or state hospitals were great places to live; nor have I ever stated that I approve of the incarceration of people who live with a mental illness. I find the subject fascinating and disturbing at the same time, and only wish to share with you the historical views of the nineteenth century, and, on occasion, articles, books, movies, documentaries, photographs, and laws that pertain to the twenty-first century. Thank you for reading!

John Bassett Chapin, M.D., LL.D., was the first Medical Superintendent of The Willard Asylum for the Insane. I finally obtained a photograph of him from the American Antiquarian Society of Worcester, Massachusetts. I also found some articles of interest pertaining to Dr. Chapin from The New York Times.

John B. Chapin, M.D., LL.D.

John B. Chapin, M.D., LL.D.


“In connection with the meeting of the Social Science Association, a conference of the Public Boards of Charities in the United States, at which Hon. John V.L. Pruyn, of Albany, presided, was held yesterday morning. There were present Dr. Nathaniel Bishop, New-York; William P. Letchworth, Buffalo; Samuel F. Miller, Delaware County, N.Y., Dr. Charles S. Hoyt, Albany; F.B. Sanborn, General Secretary; Dr. John B. Chapin, of Willard Asylum; Mrs. W.P. Leynde, Wisconsin; Mr. H.H. Giles, Wisconsin, and Mrs. M.R. Pretlee, Connecticut. Dr. Chapin read the following paper on “The Duty of the States Toward Their Insane Poor.”


Underlying the initial legislation pertaining to the insane is the apprehension of danger to person and property which may arise from their irresponsible condition. If it is conceded that the safety of the community requires the personal liberty of the insane should be restrained, it follows that an obligation rests upon the State to direct, in its sovereign capacity, that the restraint should be properly and humanely exercised, and the custodial care combined with such remedial measures as will afford the greatest probability of recovery, which the individual in his condition cannot direct intelligently for his advantage. The state of helplessness and dependence which insanity at once produces, excites commiseration and pity, and prompts to sympathetic impulses, which move a community to give them expression in legislative acts for the relief of persons thus unfortunately afflicted. It may be a question whether the exercise of legislative functions to accomplish humanitarian purposes comes strictly within the objects of a Government, when these legislative acts require for their full execution the collection of taxes for objects which it is not alleged will add to the prosperity financially of the State, or enhance appreciably the value of the property of its citizens. Illustrating this view, it may be observed in this connection that taxes for purposes purely benevolent in their character are among the last to be levied and paid with reluctance, while those provided for internal improvements are more freely, and, sometimes, even liberally, voted.

Our whole duty to the insane, as well as to all the dependent classes, may not appear from the nature and objects of human Governments, but it does appear when we consider and accept those higher principles which it was the province of the Divine Master and Teacher to inculcate, the practical application of which distinguishes Christian from pagan civilization.

If, then, the safety of society imposes a necessity of exercising a salutary control over the personal liberty of the insane, then those reciprocal obligations which exist and bind together the members of a community also require that the State should make special provision for the medical treatment and supervision of its insane poor, whose helplessness, dependent condition, and hope of recovery append to our sympathy and higher sense of duty, without which aid they must inevitably seek that last refuge – the refuge which the jail and almshouse afford.

The existing institutions for the care of the insane, whether corporate or erected under State auspices, may be regarded as a recognition of these obligations. If we examine the history of the early efforts to establish each one of these institutions, we will find they had their origin in the hope of improving the condition of the insane poor; that these efforts have been materially aided by “memorials,” petitions,” and official reports, representing the neglected condition of the insane in jails and almshouses, and that the favorable action of Legislatures has seemed to be the direct result of these representations.

In view of the many official recognitions of the claims of the insane poor, what becomes the duty of the States to this class?

Recognizing the fact that the sentiment of a community conforms itself to its written statutes, it is of the first importance that the State, in its sovereign capacity, should clearly define the legal status of an insane dependent in accordance with the principles we have stated. It should not be discretionary with a public officer, before whom a case is presented for action, to send an insane person to an asylum, or to an almshouse and jail. With such formalities as may be deemed requisite, there should be no discretion in the case, but the public officer should in unmistakable language be required by the statute to order the transfer of the insane dependent to a public asylum established and managed upon accepted and approved principles. The insane poor should be removed as far as possible while there, in all that pertains to their daily surroundings and maintenance, from the various baneful influences of political changes, and the mercenary economy which sometimes afflicts localities.

The State institutions should be held strictly to their originally-designed purpose, so that the class for which they were, and are, intended, should have the fullest benefit of the establishment, and not be excluded by any policy of internal administration.

In the earlier history of this subject it was usual to officially designate institutions for the insane as asylums, which conveyed to the popular sense the idea of permanent residence during a state of disability. Latterly it has been the practice of our Legislatures to create establishments for the insane under the name and style of hospitals, which would seem to serve the purpose of a medical idea. No exception ought to be taken to a name did it not come to subserve in practice the purpose of the idea that such institutions were places of temporary abode for patients who were ultimately to find an asylum or refuge elsewhere, when pronounced incurable. Having a firm conviction that this practice has depreciated the value and importance of asylums, we believe the State establishments should be called, and actually become to the insane, asylums or homes, and the practice of discharging and removing incurables to the almshouses be abandoned.

While great additions have been made to our knowledge of the nature of insanity, its proper medical and moral management, we must ask ourselves the question whether the present state of medical science will warrant us in believing the percentage of recoveries will increase. We must regard actual results, and not take counsel of our medical enthusiasm and hopes, and confess that official reports do not justify the belief that this percentage is increasing. This statement should not be made without acknowledging the fidelity and earnestness with which so many members of the profession are laboring in this department of medical research.

Would that we could realize the results that have been hoped for! Much as we love our profession and its noble offices, it is of more importance that the people of the several States be impressed with the results which actual experience develops, and prepared to discharge their whole duty to the large class of incurable insane persons who will remain a life-long public charge, as well as to the recent and curable cases.

To recognize the fact, as we must, that a small portions of the insane poor are well cared for in the existing State asylums, while the mass are provided for in the almshouses, is a sad commentary upon the existing system. To propose that we must erect more hospitals, when we are yearly struggling for appropriations to complete those we have commenced, or to keep those we have erected in a proper state of repair, does not solve the problem, but postpones it.

What our duty may be to the insane poor may be easy to determine for ourselves. If we would witness some results of a scheme of relief it must be adapted to the appreciation of the popular mind, to the pecuniary ability of tax-payers, and have the merit of comprehensiveness.

In reference to the disposition of recent cases with whom the hope of restoration mainly lies, no question can occur. There should be ample asylum accommodation prepared for their prompt treatment. The only question that we think can possibly arise is the proper disposition of the chronic and incurable cases. As we have before stated, it is our opinion that the discharge of incurables from the asylums should cease. We believe it is entirely feasible to attaché to all the asylums supplemental departments in which the tranquil and manageable cases can be made more comfortable than under an almshouse organization and on plans acceptable to tax-payers.

We believe great concessions may be made in the plans, style of architecture, and cost of construction of asylums, so that additional structures will be entered upon with less reluctance. It is not necessary that these structures should be built to endure for ages. It is quite possible and probable that the changes of a single generation may cause a departure from present plans to be highly desirable.

A word is necessary on the subject of the maintenance of the insane, and here, again, we are confronted with the financial aspect of the question. In those States where the expense of maintenance of the insane poor is a direct charge upon the counties or towns, there is a manifest reluctance, except in extreme cases, to transfer them to the State asylums, where the views as to their requirements differ, and the expense is greater than in the county poor-houses. We do not believe the differences which prevail on this point can be reconciled except by positive legislation.

In conclusion, we deem it of the highest importance that entire harmony should exist and be cultivated between the Boards of Public Charities of the several States and the medical profession as to the best policy to be pursued.

On motion, Mr. Sanborn, of Massachusetts; Mr. Giles, of Wisconsin, and Mr. Letchworth, of New-York, were appointed a committee to report a plan for unanimity of action as regards the treatment of the insane.”
SOURCE: Reprinted from The New York Times. Published: May 21, 1874, Copyright @ The New York Times. 


“PHILADELPHIA, May 27. – The members of the association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane reconvened this morning, in the third day’s session, with Clement A. Walker, Superintendent of the Insane Hospital of Boston, presiding. Previous to the convention being called to order, the Chairman presented to the members of the association Miss Dix, of Trenton, a lady well and favorably known for her extensive philanthropic disposition, having been instrumental in the establishment of a large number of institutions for the insane in America and Europe. Invitations to visit several public institutions were received. Dr. John B. Chapin, of Willard, N.Y., read a paper on “Experts and Expert Testimony in Cases of Insanity,” and the subject was discussed by Dr. Kempster, or Northern Wisconsin; MacDonald, of New-York City, and other members of the association. Dr. R. Gundry, Superintendent of the Maryland Hospital at Catonsville, Md., read a paper on “The Insanity of Critical or Transitional Periods of Life.” In the afternoon the members visited Girard College.”
SOURCE: Reprinted from The New York Times. Published: May 28, 1880, Copyright @ The New York Times.

1882 The Shooting of Dr. John P. Gray

1882 The Shooting Of Dr. Gray.
The Force Of A Presentiment – The Assailant Held For Trial.

“WASHINGTON, March 17. – Dr. John P. Gray, who was shot at Utica on Thursday night, has made many warm friends and acquaintances here during the last five months. He was the chief medical expert on the Government side in the Guiteau trial, and his advice was relied upon almost implicitly by Col. Corkhill, the Government’s attorney. Coming here early in the present week, he was occupied until Thursday going over the bid of exceptions filed by Mr. Scoville, examining it particularly with reference to the medical parts. On Wednesday night, with Col. Corkhill, he went to the theatre, and walked from Ford’s Opera-house along Pennsylvania-avenue to Willard’s Hotel after the performance. On the way Dr. Gray remarked to Col. Corkhill that it was, perhaps, a very imprudent thing for them to be strolling about in the city so late at night, as they were exposing themselves to the attack of any “crank” who might entertain a judge against them for the part they had taken in the conviction of Guiteau. Col. Corkhill says he paid little attention to the remark at the moment, but last night, when he received a dispatch from Utica informing him that Dr. Gray had been shot, it recurred to him with something of the force of a presentiment.

Dr. John Perdue Gray

Dr. John Perdue Gray

UTICA, N.Y. – March 17. – Remshaw, who shot Dr. Gray, Superintendent of the State Lunatic Asylum, was brought before Recorder Bulger this morning, and committed to await the action of the Grand Jury, which meets on Monday. Remshaw is judged insane by those who conversed with him last night and this morning. Dr. Gray is in bed but comfortable. A slight rise in temperature is reported. It is not thought that the pistol wound will much disfigure his face. There will be a small scar under the left eye where the ball entered, but the place whence it issued will be hidden by the Doctor’s beard.”
SOURCE: Reprinted from The New York Times. Published March 18, 1882, Copyright @ The New York Times.

Dr. Gray’s Would-Be Murderer.

“UTICA, May 8. – Dr. McDonald, of Auburn; Dr. Flandrau, of Rome, and William H. Bright, of Utica, the commission appointed by the court in the matter of Henry Remshaw, who shot Superintendent John P. Gray, of the State Lunatic Asylum, reported that Remshaw is insane, and recommend that he be committed to some asylum. They sharply criticise the Directors and others who heard Remshaw make threats against Dr. Gray weeks before the shooting occurred and did not report the fact to the proper authorities. Dr. Gray is again able to be out.”
SOURCE: Reprinted from The New York Times. Published May 9, 1882, Copyright @ The New York Times.

To learn more about Dr. Gray, click on the “Interesting Articles & Documents” page to read his obituary.

1882 High Expectations Disappointed

High Expectations Disappointed
From the Rochester Democrat, November 19, 1882.

Willard State Hospital, Main Building, circa 1898.

Willard State Hospital, Main Building, circa 1898.

Willard Asylum for the Insane, at Ovid, has among its inmates a Danish lady of good education, and who, previous to the loss of her reason, occupied a respectable position in society. Her delusion is that she is immensely wealthy – the Queen of the universe. On all other subjects she is rational, and converses with ease and fluency. She has an idea that the asylum is her castle, built for her special benefit, and that the attendants and inmates are her servants. Recently she managed to elude the vigilance of the attendants and mail a letter to a brother in Denmark, stating that she had become wealthy and was living in a magnificent mansion surrounded by luxury and attendants, and had abundance to provide for himself and family, and closed by urging him to accept her hospitality and spend the balance of his life with her. Having frequently heard of the good luck of his countrymen in the land across the sea, he did not have a suspicion but what fortune had favored his sister and that she had actually become rich. He therefore proceeded immediately to close out his little tailoring business, in which he had managed with difficulty to support his family, and with the proceeds purchased tickets for the transportation of his wife and five children to Central New York. Allowing the letter announcing his intention of coming only a few days’ start, the little family took ship for America with light hearts and great expectations. Arriving in New York, they set aside barely sufficient to take them to their destination and spent the remainder in improving their appearance so that they should not bring discredit upon their rich kinswoman. On reaching Ovid they recognized Willard from the description given in the sister’s letter. At the asylum, nobody being able to talk Danish, the attendants were in a quandary what to do. Finally an old Dane was found, and the true state of affairs was made known to both parties. The cruel disappointment of the brother and his wife was pitiable. Instead of finding a wealthy sister to welcome them to her palatial abode, they found her in a hopeless condition and an inmate of an insane asylum, and they penniless in a strange land. The hearts of the managers were touched by the piteous scene, and a snug sum was made up and a situation was provided for the man in the laundry of the asylum.
SOURCE: Reprinted from “The New York Times” Published November 27, 1882, Copyright @ The New York Times.