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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.
Do you see that man walking to and fro, puffing, wheezing, spitting and blowing? Why yes, to be sure I do; and what makes him do so? Well, the same that makes a great many people crazy. He has been to religious meetings until he has become so much bewildered that he hardly knows whether he is a man or a locomotive steam engine, which he so much resembles. He is warm or hot, and sleeps with his window up, in the coldest and most stormy nights of winter, and is in a state of perspiration all the time. The Doctor tries to persuade him to go out and assist in sawing and splitting wood, and tells him that he will send him home in the spring, if he works well during the winter. But no, he had done no work at home for about a year, and to work there he could not with those crazy men. He said that he believed that institution was the Spanish Inquisition, or just like it. He could not get a letter home to his family; oh no, he tried that. He did not write them to suit the Doctor, and he would not send them, and those he gave to outside barbarians, would be given to the officers instead of being put in the Post Office, and there he was securely caged. Well, after a while two of the patients persuaded him to take the outside medicine, as it was called, when they went out to labor. They asked him if he was in Europe, and a ship was coming home, and he could come if he would work his passage, but if he would not, he would have to remain for life. Well, he rather thought he should work his passage, and after about three months he concluded to take the outside medicine, and in two months more he worked his passage home, and when he feels his disease approaching, he takes some strong portions of outside medicine at home, which he prefers to taking it at the hospital.
Christian visitor, would you like to attend a maniac prayer meeting? Yes, there can be no harm in that. Well, it is the holy Sabbath. The attendant has gone to meeting; the patients are left alone. Four or five of them have gone into a room by themselves. But you must pardon me for introducing you to their little circle, which I would not do but for the purpose of showing you to what a deplorable state man is in when reason has vacated her throne, for the language you will hear will shock all your reverence for sacred themes. But pardon me, and we will enter their place of worship. They are upon their knees; one of them is humbly and devoutly offering a prayer to his Heavenly Parent in all sincerity. One or two others are talking and swearing at each other. The praying one stops a moment and curses them for their noise. They cease a moment, and he proceeds with his supplications. He is once more disturbed, and the scene is continued a few minutes, the devout man becomes enraged, and mad at the others, and with horrid oaths and blasphemies, curses and fearful imprecations, and calling upon Deity whom he had been imploring for mercy upon himself and his companions, he declares that he will pray no more, and thus the meeting is abruptly closed. Such is mortal man when he is not himself. Such is his hopeless state of mind when he has lost the balance wheel of his reason, which, in very many cases has been produced by over religious meditations, when the body becomes exhausted, and his natural intellect is over-taxed in his humble devotions, and his pure aspirations to render homage to his Creator. Mortal man, remember that thy Heavenly Parent is best served in the still calm voice of reason, and not in the hurricane and the stormy whirlwind of fanaticism.
Visitor, do you see that tall intelligent looking old man who stands there leaning upon two crutches? yes; well, he has been a successful merchant, and is now worth $30,000, but he has spun out his three score years and ten, and is perfectly deaf, and the only way that you can communicate with him is by signs or writing -- yet he is perfectly gentlemanly in his deportment; but superannuated, a second time a child. He imagines that he is extremely poor; that he has no house, no home and no property. He frets and worries; thinks that he has mortgaged his soul to the devil, and he is about to foreclose his claim and take his own; that his son and daughter are fools and don't know enough to get a living in the world. He sees the musician playing upon his violin, and the maniacs dancing to keep the time; and he imagines that it is all done for his amusement and at his expense; that they are all hired for that purpose; that he must pay for it all, and that that is the way his hard earned property is gone. Poor old gentleman; he is in his dotage, and is some trouble to his family who have shut him up here to get rid of his noise, instead of hiring some suitable person to take good care of him in one of his own houses. -- But such is the ingratitude of children to their parents in numberless instances where they are possessed of property which they wish to clutch before their time. But the old gentleman has gone to his rest: peace to his troubled spirit.