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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.
"VERDICT OF THE JURY.- An inquisition taken in Augusta within the county of Kennebec, commencing on the fifth day of December in the year 1850, and ending on the 17th day of the same month, before Orrin Rowe, Esq., one of the Coroners of said county, upon view of the body of Wm. G. Linscott, of Bangor, and the relics of 27 other bodies, supposed to be those of the following named persons: -- John Foster, of Machias Port; Joseph Armstrong, of Gardiner; James Wyman, of Readfield; Abram Richards, of Camden; Eben'r Willis, of Gorham; Ephraim McLellan, of Thomaston; William Pineo, of Jonesboro; Rufus Hodsdon, of Brewer; Charles Harlow, of Bangor; Albert Fuller, of Jay; James Barry, of Portland; Elisha Atkins, of Exeter; Nathaniel Wilson, of Cherryfield; Samuel Pierce, of Bath; James Hinsel, of Waldoboro; George Dennett, of Standish; Joshua Heath, of Augusta; Ebenezer Blake, or Portland; Jonathan Carriel, of Hope; Nathaniel Flint, of Portland; Bela Jacobs, of Camden; Jacob McKenzie, of Mt. Desert; James Greene, of Topsham; Henry Jones, of Fayette; -- there lying dead by the oaths of Robert A. Cony, of Augusta; John A. Hartwell, do.; James W. North, do.; James A. Thompson, do.; Sylvanus Caldwell, Jr. do.; William R. Smith, do.; Williams Emmons, Hallowell; Andrew Masters, do.; John D. Gardner, Gardiner; George W. Batchelder, do.; Oliver Bean, Readfield; Joab Harriman, Clinton -- good and lawful men -- who being charged and sworn to inquire for the State, when, how and by what means the said persons came to their death, upon their oaths say:
That all the said persons, except the said Linscott, came to their death on the morning of Dec. 4th, 1850, by suffocation by smoke from a fire in the Maine Insane Hospital; and that the said Linscott came to his death from the same cause, at the house of Joshua S. Turner, on the following day, having been taken from the Hospital during the fire, in an insensible condition.
The jurors further find that the death of the aforesaid persons was caused by accident.
They further find that the fire originated at about 3 o'clock in the morning of Dec. 4, 1850, in the air chamber of the old South wing, on a floor timber, near the elbow of the smoke-pipe of the furnace, where it changed from a perpendicular to a horizontal position, in passing towards the chimney; and do not find any other proximate cause of ignition than the said smoke-pipe.
They further find that the materials of which the air chamber was composed, and the mode of its construction, and that of the warming apparatus, were unsafe.
The jurors are of opinion that there was sufficient supply of water in the cisterns of the Hospital to have saved the main building and new South wing, in case suitable provision had been made to reach the water from the outside.
They are further of opinion that the officers and assistants of the Hospital are deserving of commendation for their exertions in relieving the patients from their perilous condition, and that no efforts on their part could have preserved a greater number than were rescued.
Now the question to be asked, is that verdict a correct and honest verdict of the Jury, did they honestly seek for and obtain all or the information within their reach, and give the Public all the information and circumstances connected with the fire that should be given. Was their verdict all that it should have been, in order to do justice to the people of the State?
STEPHEN HOLWAY, the fireman, testified that at half past 5 o'clock P.M., previous to the fire which was discovered at 3 o'clock A. M., he put into the furnace two middling sized sticks, and one small one, upon just coals enough to ignite it. At half past nine he again visited the furnace, and found no steam in the boiler, and did not replenish the fire. Now there was an interval of nine hours from the time the fire was replenished, and of five and a half hours from the time that there was no steam in the boiler, until the fire was discovered. -- Peter Barrows, an attendant, testified that at 2 o'clock he got up and assisted Mr. Ham and Mr. Robbins to administer a shower bath to Duroc Boardman, a patient, and remained up about fifteen minutes, and discovered no sign or indication of fire at that time! He was next awakened by Mr. Weeks, and told to jump up, as there was fire under his gallery! He did so, and Mr. Weeks was throwing water into the hot air flue, from which a blaze was issuing, and told him to throw water as fast as he could, but not to alarm the patient.
I will ask all intelligent and honest men, if they can allow their imagination or prejudice to stretch so far as to believe for one moment, that the fire took from the fire which remained in the soot of that smoke pipe after so long a period from the time the fire was replenished under the boiler; and at the distance of sixty feet from the fire in the furnace? If the people will believe that to have been the origin of the fire, they will believe what I cannot. It seems to me to be impossible. Then, if it did not take from the smoke pipe, the question will be, how did it take fire? There is only one other mode by which it could have originated, and that is by an incendiary. Could any person have entered from the outside and have set it on fire? Yes, for the basement doors were never fastened, and the windows were, some of them, always open; and there was no watch to the building and any person could have entered at any time if they wished to have done so. I will ask again; why was it that the Jury, after having summoned Henry Blake, the mason who laid the brick for the furnace, and set the boiler -- why was it that they did not put him upon the stand to testify in relation to what he knew about the construction of that wooden hot air chamber? The reason undoubtedly was that they knew his testimony would crush Dr. Bates to the earth, and he had been sustained by the committee of the Legislature, and he must be spared by the Coroner's Jury; because he was a great political demagogue, and he must be provided for at the public crib, at whatever sacrifice of human life. Besides, that it would not answer to inform the public of the real facts in the matter; because if they knew them the hospital would never be rebuilt, and then Augusta would "wilt," and in a short time, if there was no hospital there, the seat of government would be removed to Portland or Bangor, and the prophecy of Habakuk would be brought to pass in this age of the world: "Woe unto him, that buildeth a town with blood, and establisheth a city of iniquity."