11/08/09 279 W, 1 I - + 16 - 19 Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals

Browsing at Quail Ridge Books last night, we came upon a splendid book by photographer Christopher Payne titled Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals. The 216-page hardcover, published by MIT press in coffee-table size, collects his photos of these beautiful, decaying institutions. Cherry Hospital (Goldsboro) and Broughton Hospital (Morganton) are included. Didn't see Dorothea Dix in there, but might have missed it. The book includes a number of historical postcards and a handful of historical images. The rest-- the bulk-- were shot in recent years by Payne, and document all aspects of asylum infrastructure.

As the author notes, these hospitals were designed as self-sustaining communities, with facilities for growing food, treating water, and even fighting fires1. One piece of hospital fire apparatus is pictured. Oliver Sacks provides an introduction and cautions against romanticizing the images. These were sad places that served the nation's needs as best as medical knowledge knew. The book is a must read for anyone with a historical interest in such places, and their buildings. And it's a good reality check. The brain is a delicate instrument and one that often requires adjustment or accommodation at some point in our long lifetime. 

1 Broughton Hospital formed a fire department by the 1900s, with hand-pulled equipment followed by a 1920s American LaFrance pumper. They stayed in operation until around 1970. Their old station is still standing. Cherry Hospital had a fire department by 1924, with nine members and three hand hose reels. No further information known. Dorothea Dix had a fire department by 1895, with two hand hose reels. That department was likely disbanded within a couple decades.

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