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Slideshow: Inside the Abandoned “Lunatic Asylums”

9/25/2009 12:55:49 PM

Tags: Arts, visual art, photography, slideshow, mental hospitals, abandoned buildings, mental illness, Christopher Payne

The state mental hospitals of the 19th and early 20th centuries—originally known as “lunatic asylums”—often operated within massive, majestic buildings, most of which are now abandoned or operating at a fraction of their former capacity. Christopher Payne spent several years meticulously photographing 70 of these architectural marvels, and his haunting images are collected in the beautiful new book Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals, just out on MIT Press.

“For more than half the nation’s history,” Payne writes, “vast mental hospitals were prominent architectural features on the American landscape. Practically every state could claim to have at least one.”

The location of the hospitals, in the countryside, away from the city, afforded ample privacy and an abundance of land for farming and gardening, which were integral to the patients’ daily regimen of exercise. . . . The grounds provided relief from the indoor sights and sounds of the asylum and also served as a dramatic setting for the buildings, enhancing their grandeur. As visitors to the asylums never penetrated beyond the public lobbies of the administration buildings, it was these spaces and the landscapes that acted as the chief agents of propaganda to exert a positive influence on public perception.

Neurologist-writer Oliver Sacks, who worked for 25 years at Bronx State Hospital (now Bronx Psychiatric Center), pens the book’s introduction, a lively tour through the history of these asylums’ philosophies, inner workings, and patient populations as they shifted over the years.

Source: Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals

Images copyright © Christopher Payne.



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Post a comment below.

 

Anna_5
10/1/2009 1:50:11 PM
Thank you, Utne. What would we do without writers, artists, and photographers to shine the light of truth on such difficult and dark subject matter? The buildings themselves are a juxtaposition of emotions and physical reality--beautiful, yet decaying; we all know horrible things went on inside, tortures that passed as "treatment." Telling their story may actually give those who suffered there a modicum of peace. They deserve that much. And the architecture does tell one part of that story.

Anna_5
10/1/2009 1:49:46 PM
Thank you, Utne. What would we do without writers, artists, and photographers to shine the light of truth on such difficult and dark subject matter? The buildings themselves are a juxtaposition of emotions and physical reality--beautiful, yet decaying; we all know horrible things went on inside, tortures that passed as "treatment." Telling their story may actually give those who suffered there a modicum of peace. They deserve that much. And the architecture does tell one part of that story.

Karen Phelan
10/1/2009 7:42:13 AM
Regarding Todd Lewarks's comment~~ The asylum in Weston, WV has suffered through some extremely disrespectful treatment -- and the current Halloween fright fests, paintball battles and redneck mud bogs slams home the reason the rest of the country call us hillbillies. It's so very sad -- these buildings still house the listless and lost souls and spirits of those who were confined here and died here after being abandoned by their families as "crazy". They suffered through shock treatments and other ghastly "treatments" and most if not all still lived their lives a bit left of true north until their lonely and heartbreaking deaths. I knew someone personally who was taken there in the 1950s by two of her daughters (the other daughter and son did not participate in that horror) because the daughters thought she was losing her mind. Turned out she was just bored with her life on a farm miles from nowhere with a non-existant husband and nothing to do all day. She always seemed bright and cheery whenever I saw her. Tour these buildings with caution -- a friend told me that in the middle of a tour of the Trans Allegheny Insane Asylum in Weston, WV, she began to bleed spontaneously almost to the point of hemorrhage. What the place needs is a good Native American smudging and put these poor wandering souls to rest, not to make money off of their plight. This is disrespect in the utmost. Shame.

Karen Phelan
10/1/2009 7:39:29 AM
Regarding Todd Lewarks's comment~~ The asylum in Weston, WV has suffered through some extremely disrespectful treatment -- and the current Halloween fright fests, paintball battles and redneck mud bogs slams home the reason the rest of the country call us hillbillies. It's so very sad -- these buildings still house the listless and lost souls and spirits of those who were confined here and died here after being abandoned by their families as "crazy". They suffered through shock treatments and other ghastly "treatments" and most if not all still lived their lives a bit left of true north until their lonely and heartbreaking deaths. I knew someone personally who was taken there in the 1950s by two of her daughters (the other daughter and son did not participate in that horror) because the daughters thought she was losing her mind. Turned out she was just bored with her life on a farm miles from nowhere with a non-existant husband and nothing to do all day. She always seemed bright and cheery whenever I saw her. Tour these buildings with caution -- a friend told me that in the middle of a tour of the Trans Allegheny Insane Asylum in Weston, WV, she began to bleed spontaneously almost to the point of hemorrhage. What the place needs is a good Native American smudging and put these poor wandering souls to rest, not to make money off of their plight. This is disrespect in the utmost. Shame.

Sarah Maitland
9/30/2009 1:11:13 PM
Here's a great piece in Geist by Stephen Osborne about the old Essondale mental hospital near Vancouver, British Columbia, and a mysterious photo album: http://geist.com/dispatches/hospitals-mind

Sarah Maitland
9/30/2009 1:07:03 PM
Here's a great piece in Geist by Stephen Osborne about the old Essondale mental hospital near Vancouver, British Columbia, and a mysterious photo album: http://geist.com/dispatches/hospitals-mind

Sarah Maitland
9/30/2009 1:03:35 PM
Here's a great piece in Geist by Stephen Osborne about the old Essondale mental hospital near Vancouver, British Columbia, and a mysterious photo album: http://geist.com/dispatches/hospitals-mind

Tod Lewark
9/30/2009 10:06:21 AM
http://www.trans-alleghenylunaticasylum.com/ The largest hand-cut stone masonry building in North America. After being closed by the state in 1994, it sat empty until being purchased and promoted as a tourist attraction in 2008. During the empty period, there were a few town fairs on the lawn, and once groups of off-duty police officers had a paintball battle in the halls. Now it hosts various Halloween events and redneck mud bogs for other sorts of lunatics.






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