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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.
I will here ask, would it not be a good idea to enact a universal law, that when any person possessing property should reach the advanced age of seventy years, that he should then be considered as dead, and himself ever shut up in a mad-house, and his property given to his heirs the same as if he were really dead? I merely make the suggestion for the consideration of those who are over anxious to possess their inheritance before their time.
Visitor, I will introduce you to one more, and then we will take our leave of this terrible abode of misery and despair. Do you see those two men walking the gallery? Yes, but hark; I don't understand their language, -- oh, you don't; well, that short man is Don Emanuel Expartiro a Spanish gentleman, who was educated at Salamanca, in Spain, for the Roman Catholic Priesthood, but not liking to enter into holy orders, and take the vows of celibacy upon him, he left Spain and went to South America, and instead of pointing out the road for sinners to enter the pearly gates of paradise, he entered the Brazilian Navy as a midshipman, and for his gallant exploits in the battles of the country whose cause he had espoused, he rose to a Lieutenant. He now carries a number of scars upon his person, as the mementos of the bloody scenes through which he has passed. -- But why is he here? Why? because, he is crazy -- or at least some people say that he is, and that is enough, you know. But what made him crazy? How inquisitive you are. Well, I might have expected it when I invited you to come in and see the 'animals;' but I will tell you all I know about it. He has been a merchant, and like many others of that unfortunate class of our citizens, he became involved in pecuniary embarassments, and his creditors said that he was crazy, and shut him up in a mad-house. The Doctor and the Trustees, to whom he has appealed a great many times for his liberty, have turned a deaf ear to his supplication, and are determined to keep him, because they are more afraid of him, if they let him go at large than they are to have him in their custody. But he appears to be a perfect gentleman and perfectly sane and rational, and a man of refinement. You say that he is a Spaniard, but he speaks good English as well as Spanish. He is a real live Yankee, but was educated in Spain, and reads and writes Spanish like a native. But why are they afraid of him if he goes away many miles from them, do they think that he will return and murder them? Oh, no: but they are afraid of those deadly weapons of his. But does he carry deadly weapons, and is he really dangerous? Why yes, he has deadly weapons, and if he should be disposed to make a use of them, they would be the sure destruction of those officers. But you astonish me, do explain. Well, then, his weapons are his pen and his tongue; and if he should be disposed to apply them for that purpose, they would be the sure annihilation of the hopes and expectations of those officers. But hark! what noise is that which sounds like the distant tolling of the funeral bell? Hark! what is it that gives such a solemn and mournful sound? It is the death knell of tyrants. But is there a bell upon the State House? The sound proceeds from that, and comes across the river. There is no bell upon it, but the sound proceeds from it sure enough; for there has a petition gone in, and the decree has gone forth that there shall be an investigation of the deeds of darkness to which allusion has been made, and the Doctor sends the Don away. Yes, he has gone, and sure enough the funeral pyre has been lighted; the victims burned; the death knell has rung in their ears, and they have sunk to rise no more.
"Come, sound the loud timbrel o'er Egypt's dark sea;
Perhaps there may be some humane man, some philanthropist, and perhaps some real Christian who may ask themselves the question; How is it, if you have suffered as you say you have, and been reduced by the malignant malpractice of those officers, to what they supposed would be incurable insanity; why is it that you have been able to arise, as it were from the tomb, and come forth again to the world, a sane and rational man? Such; -- if any there are, I will ask, if they believe in a God, who over-rules the destinies of men and nations? Do you believe that God is the same now, that he was thousands of years ago? Do you believe that he ever revealed his will to Joseph, to Pharaoh, to Nebuchadnezer, or any of the ancients, in dreams? If you thus believe, I will tell you the cause of my resurrection, as it were, from the dead. It was a dream; yes, nothing but a dream, which came to me in my troubled slumbers of the night, about ten months before I left the hospital. To me it was, and still is a miraculous resurrection; call it what you will, call it insanity if you please, call it anything your fancy may choose; but I say that that dream which is constantly passing through my mind is the cause of my coming forth to the world, and you may be anxious to know what it was. I will relate it, as it is very short and comprehensive.