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