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Astounding Disclosures! Three Years In A Mad House
In 1851, a former patient at the Maine Insane Hospital published a scathing attack on his treatment by the institutionís attendants and doctors. Isaac Hunt describes all sorts of abuses and mistreatment. His account makes people wonder whether or not the asylum offered conditions better than those uncovered in local almshouses and jails by the investigative reports of Dorothea Dix. Out of Huntís complaints came an investigation by the Maine Legislature into conditions at the asylum. The testimony of three witnesses is included here. As Hunt was writing his exposť, a fire, partially described here, destroyed the institution in Augusta, Maine, with the deaths of 27 patients, many confined and unable to escape, as well as one attendant. This is an autobiographical voice apparently impaired by his disability, but it is valuable evidence on what life could be like in one the institutions favored by Dix.
Dr. Simonton says in his report that witnesses were allowed to testify who would have been excluded from Courts of Justice. I admit that fact, for who ever before heard of culprits, charged with crime, being allowed to take the stand and testify in their own behalf? Dr. Harlow went on the stand and swore that those charges were all false, or about all; and he was one of the parties accused; and Dr. Bates summoned his own son, which was about the same as taking the stand himself, and if the other things that he testified about had any resemblance to what he said in regard to me, it was astonishing testimony, for he had a very remarkable memory. He had a very distinct recollection of conversation with me that never took place, and of that which did actually occur he could not remember one word, and Dr. Simonton asked him some questions that none but a simpleton, or a man driven to the avail, would have ever asked him; which none but a man determined to conceal and varnish all of that horrid iniquity, would have allowed himself to ask; yes, none but a man who would violate his trust as a servant of the public, would ever descend to such meanness and perfidity to his constituents. Notwithstanding the assertions of Dr. Simonton, that the purse-strings of the State were at my disposal for summoning witnesses, and every facility and opportunity granted for doing so, I will inform the citizens that I had intended to have summoned the wife and daughters of Dea. Turner, the Steward, if I could have had the privilege ; and I will assure them that I should have been able to have proved some things that would not have been very palatable to Dr. Bates, but which, so far, he has been able to conceal, and would have convinced them that he was not what he appears to be.
COL. SAWYER testified that Bartlett told him that, on one occasion, when the trustees made their visit, in passing through the gallery, Dr. Bates called their attention to a very nice pudding that was on the patients table, and told them that was such fare as they gave their boarders, and then, instead of the poor patients having it to eat, it was removed to the officers' table for the trustees to eat themselves, thus not allowing the patients to have a taste of any thing so nice, but at the same time most essentially deceiving and humbugging the trustees. There are but few that could surpass Dr. Bates in that art and science.
I wish to state one fact in proof of all the assertions and testimony before the committee, that no tales were to be told or secrets revealed out of that Institution, was proved by Dr. Bates himself, by his immediately discharging Mrs. Denning, one of the witnesses from the hospital, as soon as he found out he himself was not discharged, and some of the investigating committee said that if it could be proved that no secrets were allowed to be revealed by the hired help, that one thing of itself could be a sufficient cause for the removal of the officers. She revealed the truth and had to leave, and the steward has said they never had a better woman in the service of the Institution than this same Mrs. Denning.
I have stated that they instilled into my mind the first winter I was at the Hospital, that it was a Roman Catholic Inquisition; but I now wish all to understand that it is a perfect inquisition, to rob people of their property, their liberty, and their lives; that it is a human slaughter house, where physicians experiment upon their victims, and that humanity with some few exceptions is not known; and that those modern Inquisitors are members of Protestant churches; that they are public praying hypocrites, wolves in sheeps' clothing. I wish it to be distinctly understood that I do not accuse the churches of which they are members of aiding or abetting such iniquity, any further than some few individuals of those churches have done all in their power to crush the investigation and conceal the truth. But in regard to its being a Roman Catholic Inquisition, I will say that of all the accounts I have ever read of the Spanish, or any other Inquisition, they never surpassed the Maine State Inquisition, called the Insane Hospital, and conducted by professed Protestants, for deeds of darkness and cruelty, and yet these public officers of the State are the first to raise a hue and cry against the bloody Roman Catholics, as they term them. There are within those bloody walls many members of the Roman Catholic Church, and I trust that I am not quite so bigoted but what my sympathy for suffering humanity, would allow me to raise my voice in behalf of all who are abused, whether Catholic or Protestant, to aid them if in my power; and I will say that if the Roman Catholic Priest attached to Kennebec Mission would visit their lonely Prison, I think he might be the means of mitigating their sufferings in some small measure, as I have good reason to believe that some of them have been barbarously abused, not because they are Catholics, but because they are deranged men and women, and humanity is not known at that citadel of oppression and despair.