Saturday, June 22, 2013

Oregon State Psychiatric Hospital Museum

Salem, Oregon is the location of one of the most famous mental hospitals in the country for two very prominent reasons:

First, the hospital was the scene of a 'Mass Killing' in 1942 and Second, it was the setting for Ken Kesey's book and Michael Douglas' movie, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest".

When my daughter, Janice, suggested we visit the hospital museum I couldn't resist. It was an eye-opening experience that I want to share even though much of the material is somewhat 'heavy'.

The hospital opened its doors in 1883,
Today it houses close to 1000 patients including some of the criminally insane from the nearby penitentiary. In years past it also included a school for the deaf and the blind, a girl's school and a 'soldier's home'.

Much of the information below was copied from the exhibits.

''Restraint greets the new patient soon after admission and may be his lot at anytime during his stay.  Its general acceptance may be noted in this sentence taken from a patient history,  'She is lying in bed without restraint,' as if this were a somewhat uncommon situation.  Many of these patients are tied to their beds, others to chairs, and one occasionally to a pipe.'--from a US Public Health Service Survey Report on Oregon's Mental Institution--1940

''Here I am in an Insane Asylum.  They put me in a corner room in Ward C.  Every patient that comes to the hospital goes first to Ward C.  According to the hospital gossip, the second best ward in the institution...almost like a well-regulated but too fancy hotel.  My room was small, but very clean and tidy; very much like a room in a hospital except that the windows are barred."--1945

What I found the most touching of all the exhibits was the 'everyday life' displays.

 For so many of these residents they lived their whole adult lives in this institution.  Many came as children and one even as young as eight.  I was surprised to learn a number of children were born and raised here.

"Shyly, the tall dark boy asked the girl in the billowing skirt to dance.  She hesitated while she looked him over, then nodded with a smile and rose into his arms. They glided about the room, occasionally bumping into other couples, the meanwhile talking and laughing with each other.  For these two, they might have been in a fancy ballroom in front of a name band instead of in a mental hospital ward dancing to records."
December, 1955

"31 year old housekeeper Nancy Cox was admitted to the hospital from Union on March 15, 1884.  She had a diagnosis of 'Acute Mania' caused by 'Masturbation.'
Census records show that she went from married, but separated to divorced during her forty plus years at the hospital.  She was transferred to Eastern Oregon State Hospital...and lived there through the 1920s."

"On November 18, 1942, a dinner of ham and eggs was being prepared in the kitchen when the cook sent a patient-worker to the cellar for powdered milk to add to the eggs. Six pounds of the powder was mixed with the eggs and served in the dining room and patient wards.  Within minutes 500 people became ill, falling to the floor, turning blue, and vomiting.  Forty patients were dead by dawn and seven more dead within a few days.
At first, the poisoning was feared to be sabotage because the eggs were military surplus and had also been distributed to institutions around the country.  Testing showed that the eggs themselves were fine but something had been added during the cooking.
After five days, two cooks admitted that they knew what had happened.  The patient they sent to the cellar for milk had accidentally brought up roach poison instead.  The district attorney had the kitchen staff taken into custody and brought before a grand jury.  The patient-worker was assumed not to have known any better.  Although no one was indicted, the patient would live out the rest of his life in the state hospital in infamy with a reputation as a mass murderer."

"Frank and Mollie Hurt were followers of Franz Edmund Creffield religious sect, known by many as the "Holy Rollers".  Creffield's religious practices, with included unorthodox dress and worship ceremonies, led to much conflict in the Corvallis area where he practiced.  Eventually, Creffield was prosecuted and many of his followers, including Frank and Mollie were sent to the asylum.
Both were admitted May 1, 1904.  Mollie had a diagnosis of 'chron c mania' brought on by 'religious excitement'.  Both of their patient histories say that they would 'lie their faces upon the floor and pray day and night, claiming messages direct from God.'
They were discharged from the hospital within a year and moved to Seattle where they worked for a time in a department store.  Eventually they moved to a farm on the coast."

"Pyra Rudolph was a housekeeper sent to the Oregon State Hospital multiple times.  She had a diagnosis of acute mania, caused by domestic trouble."

A book that 'changed the world as we knew it' was Ken Kesey's, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest".

From the 1973 diary of Dr. Dean Brooks who was the Hospital Administrator at the time.....
"March 6, 1973, "Ken Kesey has something quite significant to say."

But a decade earlier, after reading the book for the first time Dr. Brooks reports...
"I hated everything about it!!!"
He saw it defensively, thinking it an expose of OSH, a hospital never even visited by the author.  By the late 60s, after much reflection and discussion with others, he began to see it differently.
"I saw it for what Ken intended; it's about the use and abuse of power in any of the institutions we have created--banks, schools, churches, as well as hospitals."
By the early 1970s when the producers, Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz, sought access to OSH Dean gave his full support to the project."

Dr. Brooks was offered, and performed, the role of the Doctor in the movie.
The movie won the top five Academy Awards that year.

Louise Fletcher, Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas all received awards.

If you saw the movie you will remember this contraption...

And the role it played.

"We have given over 6000 shock treatments, mostly electric, during this period.  We now use this as a routine.  In many cases this procedure brings about an almost miraculous cure.  We use this remedy on from 30 to 40 patients twice each week.  It is a considerable undertaking, but it is well worth the effort."
OSH Biennial Report, 1946

"The extreme nature of these treatments and the lack of patient say in their application made them controversial and the practice declined.  Despite its bad reputation, many argue that ECT is effective. In 2006 over 100,000 Americans went in for voluntary treatment."--2007
The following was taken from a New York Times article about the hospital....

"Dr. Brooks, now 96, and living near the hospital in a retirement home, minces no words when he says that mental health treatment in years past had its flaws. But anyone looking back, he said in an interview, should also look hard at the present. Institutions like the Oregon State Hospital, which he supervised for nearly 30 years — from the mid-1950s to the early ’80s — might not have been perfect, he said, but they were at least out there and trying to help. Today, he said, prisons have taken over the job, with barely a pretense of treatment. “Three-fourths of all mentally ill people are in jails or penitentiaries,” he said.


  1. Replies
    1. Awaiting your next post.......wanna make sure you got out of the institution. :)


  2. PHEW! I made it out. But thanks for the concern.