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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.
Yes, Dr. Bates, there is no doubt in more minds than mine that that was your motive, and there is no doubt but what you are the man who set fire to that hospital. But there is not the least proof that you did it; no, not the least. -- But what is it that has so cast you down, and makes your hand tremble and shake as though you had the shaking palsy? You used to walk erect and could only see the stars, and now you stoop, and can only see your feet. You don't make so great a swell by much more than one half, as you used to do -- and what is the cause of it all ? Why, a guilty conscience needs no accuser -- for whether you set that fire or not you are the only person who is to blame for it. Yes, the blood of that burnt sacrifice is upon your head, and that, added to the other crimes which you have perpetrated there, is the cause of your dejection, and you will either become a maniac, or you will soon be carried down to your grave by the weight of your own iniquity.
Well, dear sir, if you set that fire, and your motives were the same that I have attributed to you, you have been most signally defeated, for I was away so that you could not fasten it upon me, and as God would have it, by the greatest possible exertions of the firemen and a favorable wind, one wing of the building was saved from the devouring element, and you were left the superintendant, and passed the ordeal of the Coroner's Jury by the want of proof against you, without censure. But the oppressor's rod was doomed to be broken, and you, like your illustrious prototype, 'Lucifer,' have fallen to rise no more. No, you have fought your last fight, you have finished your battles; no sound shall awake you to glory again.
Well, sir, you have received an appointment to visit other institutions, for the purpose of reporting the best mode of warming and ventilating insane hospitals, as you have given the world the practical part of your beautiful theories, which you delivered before the Augusta Lyceum about one year before your experiment in warming, on the fourth of Dec., and now it is beautifully ventilated. The winds and storms have nothing to obstruct their course, and their mournful sounds, added to the moanful cry of your victims, will be the solemn requiem for the dead. Surely
"God works in a mysterious way,
Now the question will naturally arise to know why Gov. Hubbard appointed Dr. Bates upon that mission of inspection of other hospitals. The reason is very obvious; for Dr. Bates has been a great Politician, and he must be sustained; for the fact had become very notorious that the public were about as hot against him as the fire which consumed the building and he would be sure to leave at the next session of the Legislature, if the trustees did not discharge him before. For that reason he received the appointment and then he made that a fit excuse for giving in his resignation, so as to set himself down as easy as possible, to save breaking his neck short off. The people so understood it. There is no doubt but what some one or more of the trustees told him that he must resign or he would be discharged, and I will give my reasons for this belief. A gentleman of the city of Augusta told me a short time after the Doctor had resigned, that he went to Mr. Williams, and told him that if Dr. Bates remained at the hospital, that he never need to expect that it would be rebuilt, and says he, "I will tell you now, Mr. Williams, if he is there when the next Legislature meets, I will oppose the rebuilding of the hospital with all the means in my power." Well, I think that that declaration was enough for Mr. Williams, for with all of his wealth, and influence, he would not be able to head off that gentleman before the Legislature, and he very well knew it; and I have no doubt but what Mr. Williams informed the Doctor that he must leave; that he could not carry such a load upon his shoulders any further, and if he did not get down himself, that he should be obliged to drop him, and the fall would be sure death, and annihilation to all of his future prospects for place and power.
Will the Hospital be rebuilt? is the question of the people, yes, undoubtedly, is the answer, for the government of the State of Maine is in the hands of a set of men who will do any thing to oppress the poor and needy, however vile the deed may be, for men that will sanction such deeds of darkness as have been perpetrated there, will bring their wealth and power to bear, to influence men against their own sense and judgement, and by caucus dictation and party influence, they will be compelled to vote for appropriations to rebuild that institution, which nine-tenths of the people will condemn, for so strong are those bonds in the State of Maine, that people dare not step over them, and by that tie alone is the Government of the State a perfectly absolute tyranny, which but few dare to oppose. It is sure political death to any who are so headstrong as to dare to be independent, and do as their conscience tells them is right, just and honest.