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A Mind That Found Itself: An Autobiography

Creator: Clifford Whittingham Beers (author)
Date: 1910
Publisher: Longmans, Green, and Co., New York
Source: Available at selected libraries

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Page 24:


My simple and easy plan was to hide behind a piece of furniture in the corridor and there remain until the attendant had locked the doors of the rooms and retired. I had even advanced so far in my plan as to select a convenient place. This was a nook within twenty feet of my own room. Should the attendant, when about to lock the door, discover my absence, I should, of course, immediately reveal my hiding-place by leaving it; and it would have been an easy matter to convince him that I had done the thing as a test of his own vigilance. On the other hand, if I escaped discovery, I should then have nine hours at my disposal with little fear of interruption. True, the night-watch passed through the ward once every hour. But death by drowning requires a time no longer than that necessary to boil an egg. I had even calculated how long it would take to fill the tub with water. To make sure of a fatal result, I had secreted a piece of wire which I intended so to use that my head, once under water, could by no possibility be raised above the surface in the inevitable struggle.


I have said that I did not desire death; nor did I. Had the supposed detectives been able to convince me that they would keep their word, I would willingly have signed an agreement stipulating on my side that I must live the rest of my life as an inmate of an asylum, and on theirs that I should never undergo a trial for crime.


Fortunately during these dismal preparations I had not lost interest in other schemes which probably saved my life. In these the fellow-patient who had won my confidence played the role of my own private detective. That he and I could defeat the combined forces of the Nation hardly seemed probable, but the seeming impossibility of so doing only lent zest to the undertaking. My friend, who, of course, did not realize that he was engaged in combat with the Secret Service, was allowed to go where he pleased within the limits of the city where the hospital was situated. Accordingly I determined to enlist his services. It was during July that, at my suggestion, he tried to procure copies of certain New Haven newspapers, of the date of my attempted suicide and the several dates immediately following. My purpose was to learn what motive had been ascribed to my suicidal attempt. I felt sure that they would contain at least hints as to the nature of the criminal charges against me. But this purpose I did not disclose to my friend. In due time he reported that no copies for the given dates were to be had. So that quest proved fruitless, and I attributed the failure to the superior strategy of the enemy.


Meanwhile, my friend had not desisted from his attempt to convince me that my apparent relatives were not spurious; and one day I said to him: "If my relatives still live in New Haven, their addresses must be in the latest New Haven Directory. Here is a list containing the names and former addresses of my father, brother, and uncle. These were their addresses in 1900. Tomorrow, when you go out, please see whether they appear in the New Haven Directory for 1902. These persons who present themselves to me as relatives pretend to live at these addresses. If they speak the truth, the 1902 Directory will corroborate them. I will then have hope that a letter sent to any one of these addresses will reach relatives, -- and surely some attention will be paid to it."


The next day, which was August 27th, my own good detective went to a local publishing house where directories of the several important cities throughout the country may be consulted. Shortly after he went out upon this errand, my conservator appeared. He found me walking about the lawn. At his suggestion we sat down. Bold in the assurance that I could kill myself before the crisis came, I talked with him freely, replying to many of his questions and asking several. My conservator, who had never fully understood that I denied his identity, commented with manifest pleasure on my new-found readiness to talk. He would have been less pleased, however, had he been able to read my mind.


Shortly after my conservator's departure my fellow-patient returned and informed me that the latest New Haven directory contained the names and addresses I had given him.


This information, though it did not prove that my morning caller was no detective, did convince me that my real brother still lived where he did when I left New Haven, two years earlier. At this time my physical senses were less perverted than they had been previously, and in that fact lay my salvation. Now that my senses no longer lied to me, my returning reason enabled me to construct the ingenious scheme which, I believe, saved my life; for, had I not largely regained my reason when I did, I am inclined to believe that my distraught mind would have destroyed itself and me, before it could have been restored by the slow process of returning health.


A few hours after my private detective had given me the information I so much desired, I wrote my first letter in twenty-six months. As letters go it is in a class by itself. I dared not ask for ink, so I wrote with a lead pencil. Another fellow-patient in whom I had confidence, at my request, addressed the envelope; but he was not in the secret of its contents. This was an added precaution, for I thought the Secret Service men might have found out that I had a detective of my own and would confiscate any letters addressed by him or me. The next morning, my "detective" mailed the letter. That letter I still have, and I treasure it as any innocent man condemned to death would treasure a pardon or reprieve. It should convince the reader that sometimes an insane man can think and write clearly. An exact copy of this -- the most important letter I ever expect to be called upon to write -- is here appended:

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