Sunday, 16 May 2010

Mad in Buffalo

A couple of weeks back Chris and me drove over to Buffalo to visit Chris's sister and her family. Terry and Josh made my day when they agreed to drive us over to see the remains of the old Buffalo psychiatric centre, or, as it was known when it first opened in 1895, the Buffalo State Hospital for the Insane. This National Historic Landmark was designed in 1870 by the famous Henry Hobson Richardson, and its design is characteristic of 'Richardsonian Romanesque'. What made our visit to the complex exteremely interesting to me was the fact that I had never seen a Kirkbride Plan asylum before. T. S. Kirkbride gave his name to an asylum type that became popular in the mid-1850s: the typical structure resembles a shallow V, with a central administrative building in the middle and wards progressively set on each side like wings. This floor plan is not of the Buffalo asylum, but you get the idea:

Like in all Kirkbride buildings, patients were segregated according to sex: male patients were located on the east side wards, females on the west. The most well-behaved patients were located close to the administrative building at the centre of the complex, violent and noisy ones at the end wards. The logic behind these asylums was based on the principles of Moral Treatment (moral meaning psychological). It was believed then that mental illness could be cured by placing the patient in a peaceful, well-structured, orderly environment that the asylum provided. The architectural plans were drawn in order to support this view. At the time of their popularity the Kirkbride buildings were extremely progressive in terms of ventilation, plumbing and heating. Carefully designed asylum grounds and gardens offered the possibility for the patient to be close to nature, and to take part in agricultural work. Some asylums had golf courses, theatres and libraries for their patients. The superintendents visited every patient daily, and sometimes patients and staff dined together.

The golden age of Moral Treatment lasted for a couple of decades, during which dozens of asylums were built in the United States according to the Kirkbride plan. As institutionalization of the mentally ill became the norm, the admission rates soared. Due to non-existent financial planning and lack of cohesive social policy, the asylums soon became over-crowded and unsustainable. Moral Treatment was abandoned, and Kirkbride asylums started to serve the purpose of mass-confinement. The original Kirkbride Plan promoted small, secluded asylums (the original recommendation was 250 patients per asylum), but by the time this asylum in Buffalo was built, it was designed to host somewhere around a thousand patients.

In 1948 it was estimated that one in every 263 US citizens was institutionalized. The Buffalo asylum hosted patients until 1970s, and the building was used for administrative purposes until 1994. It is now closed (like almost all Kirkbride asylums) and its future remains uncertain. Its sheer size (not to mention its gloomy history) makes one feel awfully small.

T-shirt: Gina Tricot
Cardigan: second hand / Plato's Closet
Linen trousers: Benetton sample sale
Shoes: F-Troupe / Beamhill


Charlotte said...

After her husband died in 1918, my great-grandmother became a matron at the Columbus State Hospital for the Insane, also a Kirkbride structure I think--I have only seen it from the street (now the less frighteningly named Central Ohio Psychiatric Institute). This is fascinating. Can you imagine this place in a Buffalo winter?

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I'm in Britain, but my best friend did her dissertation on asylums that were in Lincoln and York. She also covered a fair bit on Moral Treatment. She needed some help with reserach, so we spent a day doing archival research the Lincoln Archives. It's very strange, but interesting reading through the records of people that are long gone; but you find yourself wondering who were they? What were they like? And on occasion, some of the things that they were admitted with, they certainly wouldn't admitted with today. It really did make me think.

tigerteacher said...

I loved reading this post - fascinating! And the pictures are so great, they almost don't look real, the sky being at once so very bright but deep blue. Cute outfit too.
-Mary :-)

Velma Vex said...

About a month ago, I noticed that one of your commenters gave you bad grammatical advice, telling you that it is rude to mention yourself first ("I and Chris"), and that you should name the other person first. The commenter suggested "Chris and me." Since then, you have switched to using "XX and me" in all positions in your sentences.

This phrase is only correct, however, if you two are the objects of the sentence ("Susan drove Chris and me to the asylum"--Susan is the subject, and Chris and me is the object). If you two are the subject, you need to use "Chris and I" ("Chris and I took a trip to the asylum").

I don't mean to harp or criticize at all. Your English is splendid, and you are a lovely writer--especially given that English is your second language--so I hate to see you learn from an incorrect suggestion.

Write on! I'm a big fan.

Anonymous said...

"Me katsomme ihmetellen valoa ja kannamme sen lämpöä mukanamme kuin kallisarvoista esinettä.Kuitenkin, objektiivisen linssin läpi katsottuna, mitään inhimillistä lämpöä ei ehkä koskaan ollutkaan muualla kuin yksilön kokemuksessa. Pölyiset kadut ja puut, pilvet jotka pusertavat helmoistaan muutaman kuivan lumihiutaleen, aasit jotka huutavat äänessään himo ja mieltä vihlova alistuneisuus,postimies joka utelee miksi senorita yhä vain elelee yksin, koko kylä keskusaukion suihkulähdettä myöten saavat sävynsä minulta, ovat juuri sellaisia kuin ovat vain minulle, minun tajunnassani.Ja nämä kasvotkin- niiden kalpea murhe pelästytti minut niin että olin hajottaa peilin- ovat surulliset vain minulle... ja jollekin toiselle mietteliäät, levolliset, elämää nähneet. Kuka minä siis olen? Olen jo toinen, ja nyt toinenkin on jo toinen. Perimmältäni en kai ole kukaan, tai olen niin kuin joki joka levittää yksilöllisyytensä mereen ja sekoittuu siten äärimmäisen persoonallisuuden kautta epäpersoonalliseen nimettömyyteen."

Helena Sinervo: Runoilijan talossa
Hmm, tääkin sun pitäs lukea.Eeva-Liisa Mannerista, pöpihän sekin oli..

Peta said...

Just wanted to say how much I love your posts on asylums. I'm currently writing my honours thesis on an archaeological approach to mental health institutions in Australia, so it's really interesting to see some American examples.

Eyeliah said...

That sounds like a lovely way to treat the insane with some dignity and respect, it is so sad that their care went backwards again.

Julianna said...

This was the view from my best friend's old apartment! We would sit on the porch and this was right in front of us basically.