Friday, April 29, 2016

HGB Ep. 121 - Athens Lunatic Asylum

Moment in Oddity - The Life of Jeremy Bentham
by: Bob Sherfield

Born in February 1748, Jeremy Bentham was an English philosopher and social reformer who is regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism. A child prodigy, Bentham went to Queens College Oxford in 1760, aged 12, completing his bachelor’s degree in 1763 and his masters in 1766 aged only 18. Though called to the bar in 1769, Bentham never practised due to his deep frustration with the complexity of the English legal code. It was these concerns for legal reform that led Bentham to design a prison building he called the Panopticon. Though never built, the concepts he came up with influenced the design of many of the early American prisons, such as Eastern State Penitentiary. His philosophy was centred on the principle that "it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong." He was a leader in the field of Anglo-American philosophy of law and he promoted the politically radical ideas of welfarism, individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce and the decriminalisation of homosexual acts. Ideas that for the 18th century were highly controversial, some of which are only now being accepted and implemented. Bentham’s radical way of looking at things didn’t end when he died in 1832. He left instructions in his will that his body be dissected in front of an invited group of friends and displayed as an auto-icon. The head and skeleton were preserved and placed in a wooden cabinet called an Auto-icon, with the skeleton dressed in Bentham’s clothes and padded out with straw. In 1850, it was moved to University College London, an institution that he had ties to, and placed in the South Cloister of the College where it is displayed to this day. Unfortunately, the mummification process employed on the head was not a success, leaving it dried and darkened with skin stretched taut over the skull. This led to the auto-icon being given a wax head, fitted with some of his actual hair. For many years the skull was kept in a box within the cabinet, and then on a plinth nearby, but after repeated student pranks that involved stealing it and holding it for ransom to get charitable donations and smuggling it to a railway station in Scotland, it is now safely kept locked away. The final straw had been a prank that involved students using the skull to play soccer. As to why Bentham wanted to be displayed this way after his death, no one is sure; it may have been from a sense of self importance, or perhaps as a way of questioning religious sensibilities about life and death. Either way, it certainly is odd.

This Day in History - Joan of Arc Arrives at the Siege of Orleans
by: Jessica Bell

On this day, April 29th, in 1429, Joan of Arc arrives at the siege of Orleans. Joan of Arc, nicknamed "The Maid of Orléans," was born in 1412 in France. The daughter of a tenant farmer, she was not taught to read or write, but her mother instilled in her a deep love for the Catholic Church and its teachings. At the age of 13, Joan began to hear voices, which she determined had been sent by God to give her a mission of overwhelming importance, which was to save France by expelling its enemies, and to install Charles as its rightful king. She took a vow of chastity and stopped her father from trying to force her into an arranged marriage. In 1428, Joan made her way to a stronghold of those loyal to Charles. Initially rejected by the local magistrate, she attracted a small band of followers who believed her claims to be the virgin who according to a popular prophecy, was destined to save France. When the magistrate relented, Joan cropped her hair and dressed in men’s clothes to make the 11-day journey across enemy territory to the site of the crown prince’s palace. Joan promised Charles she would see to the expelling of the English and would have him installed as the rightful king. Joan asked for an army to lead to Orléans, which was under siege from the English. Against the advice of his advisors, Charles granted her request, and Joan set off for Orléans in March of 1429 dressed in white armor and riding a white horse. By June, the French defeated the English, and in July with Joan at his side, Charles VII was crowned the king of France, But sadly he was not fully convinced of her divine inspiration. In 1430, Joan was captured and ransomed to the English who planned on using her as a propaganda prize. Due to concerns from his advisors that Joan was becoming too powerful, Charles VII distanced himself from Joan and made no attempt to have her released. In the trial that followed, Joan was ordered to answer to some 70 charges against her, including witchcraft, heresy and dressing like a man. In May 1431, after a year in captivity and under threat of death, Joan relented and signed a confession, denying that she had ever received divine guidance. On the morning of May 30, at the age of 19, Joan was burned at the stake. Her fame increased after her death, and 20 years later a new trial ordered by Charles VII cleared her name. Long before Pope Benedict XV canonized her in 1920, Joan of Arc had attained mythic stature, inspiring numerous works of art and literature over the centuries and becoming the patron saint of France.

Athens Lunatic Asylum (Suggested by listener Tracy Martin, Research Assistant Jenni Watt)


The Athens Lunatic Asylum is an institution that operated in Athens, Ohio from 1874 until 1993. This hiospital not only has a strange and morbid history, but it has gone through a series of name changes. Today it is known as The Ridges, a name it took on in the 1990s. While it was operational the hospital served thousands including Civil War vets, children and violent convicted criminals. The Ridges are now part of Ohio University and house the Kennedy Museum of Art, an auditorium, offices, classrooms and storage facilities. The faciltiy also houses something else. Spirits of those who have died here have decided to remain. There are legends, tales of seances and unwashable stains that are all part of the paranormal happenings at this location. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Athens Lunatic Asylum!

Mound builders were the original residents of Athens, Ohio. Both the Adena Culture and Ohio Hopewell called this area home. The Shawnee moved in much later and were the primary tribe here by the 18th century. It would not be until 1797 that the first Europeans would arrive. Athens County was established in 1805 and named for Athens, Greece. The town of Athens would incorporate in 1811, but it wouldn't become an official city until 1912. The Hocking River passed through Athens and the Hocking Canal opened in 1843 to enable shipping. The railroad arrived in 1857, bringing more people and commerce.

The Athens Lunatic Asylum was built on farm land owned by Arthur Coates and Eliakim H. Moore Farms on high ground south of town. The property included over 1000 acres. For many years, the hospital had livestock, farm fields and gardens, an orchard, greenhouses, a dairy, a physical plant to generate steam heat and even a carriage shop. The architect for the original building was Levi T. Scofield of Cleveland. The designs of the buildings and grounds were influenced by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, a 19th-century physician who authored an influential treatise on hospital design called, "On the Construction, Organization and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane." We've discussed Kirkbride buildings in past asylum episodes and these designs are most recognizably characterized by their "bat wing" floor plan and often lavish Victorian-era architecture.  The main building included an administration building and two wings that included three sections. The males were housed in the left wards and females in the right. They each had their own specific dining halls. There was room to house 572 patients in the main building, which was almost double of what Kirkbride had recommended. The building itself was 853 feet long and 60 feet in width. Also built onto the main building in the back were a laundry room and a boiler house. The main building was built from bricks, which were fired on-site from clay dug on-site.

The institution provided its own utilities with electricity coming from plants on the property powered by steam turbo-generators and water came from wells there. Heat was provided by coal-fired boilers. Seven cottages were constructed to house more patients that were grouped together dormitory style. The hospital grounds were designed by Herman Haerlin of Cincinnati, who also designed the grounds for Ohio University. There were ponds, fountains and gardens, which the doctors believed would help patients recover from their mental afflictions. Eventually there would be 78 buildings built on the property and care would go from good to horrible as overcrowding and new forms of treatment were used to experiment on patients.

The asylum started with 200 patients. The first patient at Athens was believed to have been Thomas Armstrong from Belmont County and then there was Daniel Fremau. Fremau apparently thought he was the second coming of Jesus Christ. Reasons why people were considered insane varied and there were weird theories on why people became mentally ill. Many of these are quite laughable to us today and include intemperence (a lack of restraint), dissipation (wasteful spending and activities) and, of course, masturbation for men and postpartum depression, menopause and menstral derangements for women. No joke, in 1876, eighty-one men and one woman were diagnosed as having their insanity caused by masturbation. Also, fifty-six men and one woman were diagnosed as having their insanity caused by intemperance and dissipation. During this same period of time, 51 women were diagnosed with something similar to postpartum depression, 32 women with menopause or change of life issues and 29 women with "menstrual derangements."

Epilepsy was also considered a major cause of insanity and was another reason for admission to the hospital in the early years. Historically, this was not uncommon, a lot of people who suffered from epilepsy were either considered cursed by witchcraft, possessed by the devil and or insane. The first annual report lists thirty-one men and nineteen women as having their insanity caused by epilepsy. General "ill health" accounted for the admission of thirty-nine men and forty-four women in the first three years of the hospital's operation. Overall, common ailments faced today such as epilepsy, menopause, alcohol addiction and tuberculosis were cause for enrollment in the hospital.

Within two years of its opening, the hospital was renamed The Athens Hospital for the Insane. Through the following years, the hospital would be called the Athens Asylum for the Insane, the Athens State Hospital, the Southeastern Ohio Mental Health Center, the Athens Mental Health Center, the Athens Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center, the Athens Mental Health and Developmental Center, and then (again) the Athens Mental Health Center. Obviously, they weren’t very decisive when it came to naming the place.
Treatments at the hospital were considered cutting edge at the time, but we see them as barbaric in our current era. One such treatment was hydrotherapy, in which patients were submerged in ice-cold water for extended periods of time or sometimes they were wrapped in sheets which had been soaked in ice water and restrained. Another treatment was electroshock therapy, which was administered to patients in one of two ways. The first was to submerge the patient in a water tank and apply an electrical current through the water. The other was to place brine-soaked electrodes directly to the temples. A patient held a rubber piece in his mouth to prevent him from biting his tongue off during the convulsions which followed a treatment.

And then there was the infamous lobotomy for which Athens was famous. There were two types of lobotomies performed: the original and the trans-orbital. An original lobotomy required a patient to have their skulls opened and their neural passages separated midway through the brain. This difficult and arduous procedure killed many people, but those who survived did in fact forget many of their depressive or psychotic tendencies. They also forgot a lot of other things, like how to maintain property bodily functions. It was not uncommon for patients to defecate down their legs. Doctors were more concerned with streamlining the process, than actually providing true treatment.We've discussed the trans-orbital lobotomy before, but as a refresher, it was developed by Dr. Walter J. Freeman in the early 1950s. It was a simpler process and thus became something of a craze in mental health circles up through the 1960s. Dr. Freeman's method involved knocking the patient unconscious with electric shocks, then rolling an eyelid back and inserting a thin metal icepick-like instrument called a leucotome through a tear duct. A mallet was used to tap the instrument the proper depth into the brain. Next it was sawed back and forth to sever the neural receptors. Sometimes this was done in both eyes. There is some evidence that this method actually helped some people with very severe conditions, but much more often, the patient had horrible side effects and in many cases ended up nearly catatonic. It also killed a whole bunch of people.

For many years, the hospital was the biggest employer in the surrounding area, although a large percentage of the work it took to maintain the facility, was carried out by the patients. Doctors and physicians believed this was not only therapeutic for patients, but it was also free to the hospital itself. By the end of the 1950s, most treatment incorporated drugs, which left patients unable to carry out their duties. Most of the non-patient employees at the asylum were not even trained and had little experience working with people who had mental illness. Most were employed because they were burly men who could physically control the patients. Also starting in the 1950s, the asylum became a place where people would leave unwanted relatives claiming they couldn't take care of them or they couldn't afford to have them around. These discarded people included the elderly, the homeless and “rebellious” teenagers. The situation got so bad that soon the asylum's population was at three times the recomended amount, with 2,000 people being housed there.

One of the more famous patients at the Asylum was multiple personality rapist Billy Milligan. He was sent to Athens by a Franklin County judge in 1977 for treatment after his insanity plea was accepted by prosecutors. His case was the first time an insanity plea was accepted in American history. Milligan's crimes included the kidnap and rape of three women on the campus at Ohio State University. Milligan reportedly had suffered from mutliple personality disorder since early childhood. His story was told in the book "The Minds of Billy Milligan" by Daniel Keyes, who was also the author of "Flowers for Algernon."

Many people died at the asylum and they were buried in a cemetery on the property. There are 1,930 people buried at the three cemeteries located on the site. 700 women and 959 men lay under headstones marked only with numbers. In 1943, the State of Ohio began putting names, births, and deaths, on the markers of the patients who died instead of numbers and no one knows why this switch was made. By the 1980s, the state no longer took care of the cemeteries, which made it easy for outsiders to vandalize them. And nature brought damage as well with headstones being uprooted and broken. The stones marking where patients were buried were in desperate need of repair. Beginning in 2000, the Athens, Ohio chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) started the reclamation for the cemeteries, taking on the work that was once the responsibility of the Ohio Department of Mental Health. NAMI worked to help restore the cemeteries at the Asylum to their original states. The State of Ohio had always allowed families to erect private markers at the graves of their loved ones, but very few families were made aware that they could do this, so few are personally marked in that way.

Since the takeover, more information has been discovered about the patients that are buried in the three cemeteries. Much of the recovered information is about the veterans that had spent the remaining days of their lives at the Asylum. Many of these veterans did not receive honors and only 19 have had any recognition. There are 80 veterans that are buried at The Ridges. To find these “lost” veterans, a special search was added to the broader research project that had been organized to uncover background information on the over 1,900 patients buried in the Asylum’s three cemeteries. Of these veterans, two fought in the Mexican War, sixty-eight fought in the Civil War, one was a member in the Confederate Army and another two veterans served with the United States Colored infantry. There are three veterans who served in the Spanish–American War and seven fought in World War I. Some of the other veterans that are buried here were active duty in the late 19th century and the early 20th century.

NAMI implemented other practices to honor the dead buried in the cemeteries at The Ridges. Besides helping replace grave stones and keeping the grounds in proper condition, starting in 2005, The Ridges Cemeteries Committee has been organizing Memorial Day Ceremonies for the many veterans buried at the asylum. Prior to 2005, the veterans had never received such honors. NAMI started the Memorial Day Ceremonies to help restore dignity to the patients and recognize the sacrifice of the veterans, many who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as well as other post war symptoms. With the Help of the Athens County Veterans Service Office and a special appropriation from the Athens county Commissioners, flag stands and flags have been placed at the graves of all the veterans in the three cemeteries.

In 1972, the last patients were buried in the asylum cemetery and by 1981 there were only 300 patients at the location. The hospital was eventually decommissioned and in a land swap between the Department of Mental Health and Ohio University, the hospital's property was deeded to Ohio University. Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare, Athens Campus (as Southeast Psychiatric Hospital was renamed), still serves as a psychiatric hospital in Athens. With the original Athens Lunatic Asylum situated on a hill south of the Hocking River and the newer hospital on the north bank of the river, the two facilities are still within sight of each other. A naming contest was held in 1991 and the name The Ridges won. The asylum officially closed in 1993. The buildings were remodeled and the main hall is now known as Lin Hall and houses the music, geology, and biotechnology offices, as well as the Kennedy Museum of Art. Most of the buildings have been remodeled and are used by the University. There are walking tours of the The Ridges on the third Sunday of every month with extra hours added in October.

Reasons abound for asylums to be breeding grounds for paranormal activity and Athens Lunatic Asylum is no different. Restoring and introducing a new use for a location only seems to feed spectral activity. The asylum is one of the most haunted locations in Ohio, if not in America. There are many weird ghostly stories centered around the cemeteries, particularly on the strange circle of graves that is taking up the corner of a tombstone layout. Perhaps there was a center stone in other times, but all that is distinguishable today is a ring of graves. The local legends claim that witches make use of this circle for holding séances. The official Ohio University explanation is that the circle was created by some pranksters several years ago and this might be the most reasonable explanation, although it is less fun. The place is reportedly visited by ghosts, especially at night. There is a little creek and woods that are part of the cemetery and people have reported seeing strange lights and hearing screams in the cemetery at night.

On December 1, 1979, a patient by the name of Margaret Schilling went missing. The hospital staff made a half-hearted attept to find her, but Margaret was nowhere to be found. Her body would be found forty-two days later. She had been locked into one of the abandoned infectious disease wards. Testing was done on the body to determine why she died. The conclusion was heart failure, but she had been found in a weird state. She was found completely naked with her clothes neatly folded and placed next to her body. Worse yet was the fact that because she had been there for so long, her body had started to decay and the gooey bodily fluids leached on to the floor and left an imprint of her body. Much to their dismay, the stain couldn't be scrubbed out no matter how hard they tried, and to this day the lonely outline of her body can still be seen on the top floor of the asylum. Some say that on clear nights, Margaret can still be seen trying to escape the room where she died. People report seeing her through the windows of the top floor of Ward N20.

Not many investigators have had a chance to explore the buildings. There are no overnights allowed and trespassing became so bad that the abandoned turburculosis ward was finally torn down.  PJ Rogers posted this at the Haunted Athens Ohio website:
"Was in Athens in 1999 with husband checking out campus/ college for oldest son and stopped to eat at restaurant down below front of building. As we left to go to car,we decided to walk closer to building, so strolled around it. As we approached, we thought we saw a disheveled, middle aged woman in a window on the second floor looking out at us. Did not find out until much later, what the building was and its history. Had eerie feel to it."
People report hearing disembodied voices, feelings of being watched, an oppressive feeling in the chest making breathing difficult and the very chilling disembodied screams of those receiving treatment so many years ago. One nurse who had worked in the electro-shock therapy ward claimed that it got to a point where she was never sure if the screams were coming from an actual patient being treated or some kind of paranormal experience. EVPs have been recorded and we have an example of one that I heard while watching a video of some urban explorers on the property.

What would cause a stain to permanently stay within the fibers of wood even when cleaned with acid.? Is this a paranormal event? Do the spirits of dead patients still remain at the asylum? Is the Athens Lunatic Asylum haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
For more information you can visit http://athenshistory.org/asylum-walking-tour/

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