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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.
On the 13th of Dec., the tenth day from the conflagration, I had returned from Boston, and taking a friend and a horse and sleigh, I went over to view the scene of desolation. Such a sight, such ruins, none can conceive without the actual observation. I went down and walked through the basement, over the then burning timbers, and fallen brick, mortar, iron and stone, and the bones of the victims, and selected a few relics of the burnt bones of the dead and fragments of the building, as mementos of my own sufferings. Yes, I passed through these ruins just as I had a few months previous dreamed of passing through them, for I trust I shall be pardoned if I tell you that it is quite a common thing with me, since my entrance into that abode of despair, to dream of, and see in my visions of the night, occurrences for days or months before they take place; and can you imagine what my meditations must have been at that moment, to be actually fulfilling that vision, by passing over the fire, and under those scorched and crumbling walls, which hung fifty feet over my head, and at the same time some dozen or more men at work, shoveling over the fallen mass, to find the remains of the dead, which, in the most of them, you might lay all that was left of them upon your hand. Yes, what think you must have been my thoughts in passing through those desolate ruins, with the fire and smoke under my feet, and the cold chilling blasts of a wintry wind whistling and howling through the standing walls, playing the last sad requiem to the manes of the dead, whose bones lay burning and consuming under the devouring element.
Well, to me, were it not for the human sacrifice, it was a sublime sight, for then and there I looked upon it as the visitation from a just and righteous God, who doeth all things well. Yes, I looked upon the scene as though the fire had been sent from heaven to open the blind eyes of the people; to show them the wilful atrocities of their rulers, whom they had chose to reign over them, and whose deeds were deeds of wickedness and blood, and whose ends and aims were wealth and power, and their own agrandizement.
As I have said, I suppose the institution will be rebuilt, and if it must be, I hope that for their strong cells, they will take as a model the new jail at Boston, and as an act of humanity let them be for the wild, noisy patients, at a distance from the peaceable and quiet ones sufficient not to disturb them, and under no circumstances should the shower bath or cold bath be permitted to be used, as it has been used, as an instrument of torture, under penalties which would consign those who thus abuse their power to the State prison. Let the people see to it that none are abused, for the insane, of all human beings, are the most to be pitied, and they should be protected from abuse, as much as the public should be protected from their violence. If the people knew that institution as I know it, they would abandon it forever, for all the good that it could accomplish in a thousand years of the very best treatment, could never repay the horrid atrocities that have been practiced there in the ten years that it has been in operation; and it should be abandoned forever, and its ground enclosed and planted with weeping willows, and its walls allowed to crumble with time, and remain as a monument to designate it as the field of blood, and the cursed of an avenging God.
ISAAC H. HUNT.
Augusta, State of Maine, April, 1851.