Moonlight view over Table Bay showing Halley’s comet, by Charles Piazzi Smyth (English), 1843


In the science of mental illness and the practice of care for it, so much has changed. Yet sometimes it seems that even over several hundred years so little has. Here are links to sites worth visiting to remember notable individuals with psychiatric disabilities and how care for mental illness was at earlier times.


John Nash, the “Six Dollar Man” with Schizophrenia Who Won The Nobel Prize

John NashNobel Laureate John Forbes Nash, Jr. was tragically killed in June 2015 in a car crash on the New Jersey Turnpike. The extraordinary life of John Nash, including his many lost years in the maelstrom of schizophrenia, was celebrated at a memorial service hosted by Princeton University’s Math Department on the Princeton campus. The keynote lecture was given by Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind, which became the subject of the Oscar nominated movie of the same name starring Russell Crowe. Nasar recounted Nash’s amazing life–and especially heralded the heroic role his dear wife Alicia played as a family member in Nash’s ultimate recovery. PsychOdyssey’s Tom Pyle attended the event and offers his own reflections of Nash here.


California Memorial Project

The California Memorial Project is a collaborative effort between the Peer/Self-Advocacy Unit at Protection & Advocacy, Inc., the California Network of Mental Health Clients, and Capital People First. People with developmental and mental disabilities share a common history at state institutions. The California Memorial Project seeks to reclaim that history.

 The Gardens of Saint Elizabeths: A National Memorial of Recovered Dignity

The Gardens at Saint Elizabeth’s is a national memorial to remember once forgotten psychiatric patients. In addition to remembrance, it will also be a place of recovery offering dignity and hope to anyone living with mental illness. The memorial, which was proposed in 2004, will include metal markers from all 50 states listing the number of patients interred and at which institutions, as well as gardens and a reflecting pool. It is being designed by the University of Georgia’s College of Environment and Design, and will be incorporated into the existing 10-acre cemetery adjacent to the new hospital.

Saint Elizabeth’s, which opened in 1855, was the first federally funded asylum. On June 10, 2009, a dedication for the memorial was celebrated at Saint Elizabeths in Washington, D.C. Saint Elizabeths has begun preparing the cemetery, which holds the graves of more than 4,500 psychiatric patients, including Civil War veterans.

Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital (NJ)

As It Was: The Kirkbridge Building at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital

Once a shining refuge on a hill for 10,000 patients, with legacy buildings and campus designed by the noted mental health reformer Thomas Kirkbride,  (including, in the 1950s, folk singer Woody Guthrie), Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital fell into abysmal neglect under state control. Two videos of Greystone, as it was and as it is now, show the stark contrast. How did Greystone come to such a fate? What does it say about societal attitudes about the mentally ill?

Trenton Psychiatric Hospital (NJ)

Trenton Psychiatric Hospital in the 1800s. Designed by John Notman according to a Kirkbridge plan.

Founded in 1848 by the legendary 19th century social reformer Dorothea Dix, once home to over 4000 patients, today with only 375 beds in service, Trenton Psychiatric Hospital is a faded, even forgotten monument to a one-time benevolent institutional care model for mental illness–and a modern-day reminder of what can become of social welfare enterprises taken over by and managed by government.

Essay:The Lost Virtues of the Asylum

St. Lawrence State Hospital, Ogdensburg, NY. Photo by Christopher Payne

There’s a new book on PsychOdyssey’s to-read list:  Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Hospitals, by Christopher Payne, a compendium of essays and beautiful photographs of the melancholy, now abandoned structures that were once grand institutions. We look forward to reviewing it soon. For now, we want share the the book’s splendid introduction, originally a 2009 essay, entitled  “The Lost Virtues of the Asylum”, from the New York Review of Books by the noted neurologist and author, Oliver Sacks.

“Mental”: BBC documentary about High Royds Asylum (Great Britian)

Not only did America experience great dislocations of disinstitutionalization. The BBC recently produced a compelling documentary, “Mental” (59 minutes), about the closing of mental asylums in the United Kingdom. Mental offers a useful comparative to our own American experience.

Oregon State Hospital: The Room of the Forgotten Souls

Corroding Cannister Containing Cremated Remains of a Deceased OSH Patient

At long last, the decrepit 128 year old Oregon State Mental Hospital was slated for demolition. As the contractors prepared for their work, they came upon an astounding discovery: a forgotten storage room holding the cremated remains of nearly 3500 patients! The lost souls had died at the hospital from 1914 to the 1970s. Now Oregon is seeking to match the remains to their relatives. The Associated Press ran a story on this sorry situation in January 2011.

Pilgrim State Hospital, Brentwood, NY 1938

Eisenstaedt 1938In 1938 when Life magazine was only two years old, legendary photojournalist Albert Eisenstaedt gained access to the Pilgrim State Psychiatric Hospital and photographed life as it was at the time for those with psychiatric disabilities under the custodial care of a state hospital. To view the entire photo essay, click here.

Navigate with others
  • Print
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Add to favorites
  • LinkedIn
  • RSS
  • Digg
  • Yahoo! Buzz

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *