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


1906-1907 Elopements, Suicides & Accidents at New York State Hospitals

“The Commission is pleased to report an unusually small number of untoward occurrences at the State hospitals during the year. At the Utica State Hospital a somewhat unusual case was that of a woman patient who, escaping from the institution, found means to reach Albany where she obtained employment as a clerk in a department store. Here her peculiarities were noticed after a few days and her services were discontinued. She also received notice from the mistress of the boarding-house in which she had found domicile that she must look for quarters elsewhere. The excitement which followed these events brought on an attack of considerable violence necessitating her commitment to a local institution for safe keeping. When she became quieter efforts were made to send her to the home of her husband but she declined to consider this, alleging that he was, in the first instance, responsible for her unjustifiable commitment to a hospital for the insane. Through the good offices of a local attorney she consented to return to the Utica State Hospital, upon condition that she would be granted a parole within a short time. As she was able to exhibit considerable self-control she was discharged upon the hospital books within a short time afterward and has not, up to the close of is report, required recommitment. A woman patient at this hospital was paroled by the authorities for the purpose of spending Thanksgiving with her husband at home. Although she had not at any time previously exhibited suicidal tendencies she seized the opportunity thus afforded her to swallow a powerful drug, and although prompt measures were applied she died in a short time.

At the Willard State Hospital a patient secreted binding twine about her clothing and seizing a favorable opportunity hanged herself from the door of a room. At the same institution a male patient died from asphyxiation due to the lodgment of meat in the larynx.

At the Hudson River State Hospital a male patient left the grounds without permission, and was afterward found dead on the railway tracks near the hospital pumping station, his skull having been fractured evidently by contact with the locomotive or cars.

At the Middletown State Hospital a male patient committed suicide by drowning. It appears that he carried a pail of water to his room and held his head far enough in the pail to become asphyxiated. At the same hospital a male patient left the institution without permission or notice and remained for some months about the neighboring counties enlivening the situation at different times by transmitting to the authorities of the institution souvenir postal cards. At the same institution a male patient committed suicide by wading out into a small ice pond in the rear of the institution and lying down in the shallow water until this reached over his head.

At the Rochester State Hospital a woman patient committed suicide by suspension, using a bed sheet, one end of which was attached to the window guard. At the same institution a male patient committed suicide by drowning subsequent to an unsuccessful effort to persuade his wife to remove him from the institution.

At the Kings Park State Hospital a male patient met his death under somewhat unusual circumstances, and the hospital authorities called upon the local coroner to make the usual investigation. The patient’s relatives, not being satisfied with his report, requested the Commissioners to make a special inquiry which was done. Physicians and attendants were placed under oath, and all testimony that could throw light upon the patient’s death was adduced, but nothing was found to contradict the findings of the coroner.

At the Long Island State Hospital a woman patient, while on parole and in the charge of her friends, was accidentally killed by a trolley car.

At the Manhattan State Hospital a woman patient after leaving a dining-room started straight for the river. A nurse went in immediate pursuit and a hospital watchman also tried to intercept the patient, but she outstripped her pursuers and plunged into the river. No trace of her body was afterward discovered. At this same institution a male patient becoming very noisy in a small dormitory to which he had been assigned was attacked by a fellow patient whose rest he had disturbed and struck on the head with a small serving table. The patient died in a few days as a result of the injury. At the same institution a woman patient secured a poisonous drug, died, and upon investigation by the coroner evidences of mercurial poisoning were found. At this institution a male patient was found hanging in the closet in which are usually stored the brooms, polishers, etc., of the ward. The patient had placed a broom handle across the top of two shelves, and with the girdle of his dressing gown about his neck had produced asphyxiation. At this institution a male patient succeeded in throwing himself into the river. His body was taken to the Fordham Hospital, and afterward identified by the institution clothing. Another male patient committed suicide in the same way. At the same institution a woman patient eluded observation while patients were preparing for bed. The premises of the institution were searched throughout the night and the following day, but no traces of her was found. It was supposed she was drowned while attempting to swim the river. A Russian patient, while walking about the exercising court with other patients, eluded observation and rushing to the point of the grounds opposite Hell Gate plunged into the river, and after swimming a few strokes was carried away by the strong tide and soon disappeared. A second patient who had observed the first one escape attempted to throw himself into the river at the same time, but was prevented by the nurse who had started out to overtake the Russian patient.

Owing to the situation of the Manhattan State Hospital on Ward’s Island, it is at all times necessary to detail several attendants to specially guard the river banks and an attendant is also detailed to patrol the river near the shore in a row boat. Almost daily attempts are made to break through this line, but the escapes are relatively few in number. Owing to the proximity of this hospital to the city of New York, and the fact that all occurrences of an unusual character in an institution for the insane are seized upon eagerly by metropolitan dailies, occurrences of this kind are frequently exaggerated as are also injuries received by patients though these may not be actually serious. Charges were made against the Manhattan State Hospital in connection with the somewhat sudden death of a patient named Rodesky. Allegations of cruelty and maltreatment were made by the relatives of this patient, and the managers and the coroner made an investigation of the circumstances attending his death. It appears that he was a bed-ridden paretic and a few days prior to his death, on the thirtieth of July, was found to be suffering from a fracture of the sternum and three fractured ribs. The coroner reported the cause of death as septic poisoning from several large abscesses owing to the patient’s general septic condition. The managers at the close of their special inquiry reported that the patient was not handled in any rough manner.

At the Central Islip State Hospital a male patient who had been given parole of the grounds and was in the habit of taking long walks about the premises was found hanging by the neck in the woods some three miles distant.

At the Gowanda State Hospital two women patients committed suicide by hanging.”

SOURCE: Reprinted from State Commission in Lunacy, Nineteenth Annual Report, October 1, 1906 – September 30, 1907, Albany: J.B. Lyon Company, State Printers, 1908, Pages 39-42.  http://books.google.com/