Friday, June 3, 2016

HGB Ep. 128 - Fairfield Hills State Hospital and Charles Island

Moment in Oddity - Mother Shipton
by: Bob Sherfield

Ursula Southeil was born sometime around the year 1488 in the northern English county of Yorkshire. More commonly known as Mother Shipton, she was reportedly a soothsayer, prophetess and possibly a prostitute. Legend has it that she was able to make predictions of the future and tell peoples fortunes. One narrative states she was born an ugly child and finding a nurse for her was difficult until a woman living on the outskirts of Knaresborough agreed to take her in. Her childhood is full of tales of supernatural events, with reports of furniture moving of its own accord, plates being thrown across the room by invisible hands, and on one occasion both her and her crib disappeared. When the villagers looked for her, the story goes that they were attacked by imps in the form of monkeys, and when she was eventually discovered, she was suspend in mid air, halfway up the chimney of the house. Adulthood did not improve her looks, with one description of her stating, "Her nose was a sight to be seen in itself being of improportional length with many crooks and turnings...her stature was larger than common, her body crooked and her face frightful, she had great goggling eyes and her wreck of a nose also gave off a faint luminosity.” Despite this, she married a carpenter from Shipton by the name of Toby, and her home soon became a calling place for people from a wide area in search of her wisdom, healing remedies and powers of prophecy. As with the prophecies of Nostradamus, the vague language and obscure riddles used in her rhymes could be interpreted to predict a wide range of events and it is said that she predicted the English Civil War, the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the dissolution of the monasteries. It wasn’t until 1641, 80 years after her death, that the first book of her predictions was published. Many of the predictions contained in the book related to the area that she lived in, only two verses appeared to be prophetic, though, despite popular legend, neither related to the end of the world. And it is probable that many of the predictions they included were describing events that had already passed. During the Victorian period, Mother Shipton was again popular. An 1862 edition of her prophecies made famous the following verse: "The world to an end shall come. In eighteen hundred and eighty one." Through the years and reprints, the Armageddon date has changed. Unfortunately, this verse isn’t the work of Mother Shipton, but was created by the author of the 1862 edition, Charles Hindley. While the truth about Mother Shipton is hard to discover, perhaps she was simply a local wise woman who was good at her job, her legacy has led to her name being linked to many tragic events that occurred in the English speaking world throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. She even has a moth named after her because the pattern of its wings is thought to resemble the face of a hag. The legend surrounding Mother Shipton certainly is odd!

This Day in History - First American Walks in Space
by: Steven Pappas

On this Day, June 3rd, in 1965, the first American walked in space. Major Edward H. White II, attached to the Gemini 4 by a 25 foot tether, exited the craft and began his spacewalk. This made him the second person to walk outside of the Earth's atmosphere. The craft was positioned 120 miles above Earth and White controlled his movements with a handheld oxygen propulsion device. The Gemini program was an extension of Project Mercury, which had been the first spacecraft to put an American in space. While the Gemini program was not well known compared to many others in the US side of the space race, it was responsible for giving the US valuable education on the effects space may have on the astronauts, as well as pioneering long term space expeditions with multiple crews. The program ended in 1966, but helped NASA to perfect the docking procedures that would greatly impact the later Apollo space program.

Fairfield Hills State Hospital (Suggested by listeners Paige Sherman & Michael Rogers, Research Assistant April Rogers-Krick)

Fairfield Hills State Hospital was a state run mental health facility in Connecticut that was opened to alleviate the overcrowding in other asylums. The facility was pleasing to the eyes from the outside, but within its walls unspeakable acts were taking place. This was not a place of rehabilitation, but more a place of experimentation. Just as we have found to be the case at other asylums during this time period, barbaric practices were followed and many "mysterious" deaths were the result. This has led to the typical result: hauntings. We also will share the curse of Charles Island, which is not far from Newtown, and it involves pirates! But is there only one curse on this island or could there be more? Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of these two Connecticut locations.

Fairfield Hills State Hospital is in the city of Newtown in the state of Connecticut. Unfortunately, nearly all Americans and probably many of you internationally know this small town because of the horrific Sandy Hook School Shooting in 2012. An armed assailant named Adam Lanza, shot and killed 20 children and 6 staff members before shooting himself. He had also earlier shot and killed his mother. But long before this tragic event the Pohtatuck tribe lived in this region. Epidemics and warfare nearly wiped out the tribe and they eventually merged into the tribal group we know today as the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation. They were fishermen and farmers. The English were the European colonists that would settle here in 1705. They bought the plot from the Pohtatuck and named it Quanneapague. They incorporated in 1711. For obvious reasons, this was a Tory strongehold during the Revolutionary War. The city would grow and dwindle through the years. *Fun Fact: The board game Scrabble was created here by James Brunot*

In 1931 to help alleviate the overcrowding at other state mental hospitals, the Fairfield Hills State Hospital for the criminally insane opened in Newtown, Connecticut.  The hospital was built on 100 acres with 670 bucolic acres surrounding the buildings.  The facility consisted of sixteen buildings connected above ground by a circular network of roads.  Below ground, an intricate network of concrete tunnels connected each building. Walter P. Crabtree, Jr. designed the structure, which was built in the colonial style out of brick. This allowed for ease of movement by staff and patients. Fairfield Hills had its own psychiatric residency program. It also had its own dedicated cafeteria building, movie theater, tennis court, soccer field, baseball diamond, gymnasium, laundry, and staff housing facilities. They had their own self-contained power plant and water treatment facilities.

When Fairfield opened, patients were quickly transferred from the other state hospitals like Connecticut Valley Hospital.  In the early days, no more than 500 patients were housed at the property. Staffing was an issue even then with only three doctors on staff.  In the 1940s and 1950s, the hospital was expanded and more buildings were added to accommodate the growing patient population. By the 1960s, Fairfield Hills was becoming overcrowded, with more than 4000 patients and only 20 doctors, 50 nurses, and 100 other employees carrying out various duties.

Patients at the hospital were generally either temporary or involuntary residents. Several were long term residents however. Sadly, a large number were mentally handicapped wards of the state who could not live independently and had no one to take care of them. Patients who did not need to be confined all the time were allowed to walk around campus and its facilities freely.  Those who were deemed able, could take on basic jobs around the campus and in return they received a small stipend.

Patients were treated with many different and often controversial therapies as was the case at the time.  Electric shock therapy was used. We've discussed this several times in other asylum episodes, but another controversial treatment we don't we have discussed before was the use of insulin shock therapy. Patients were repeatedly injected with large doses of insulin in order to produce daily comas over several weeks.  Mainly it was used to treat schizophrenia. Another highly controversial treatment was Metrazol shock therapy, in which a person was injected with Metrazol to cause convulsions. Hydrotherapy was another treatment used by doctors to stimulate blood circulation and treat the symptoms of certain diseases.  It is a part of medicine and alternative medicine, in particular of naturopathy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy, that involves the use of water for pain relief and treatment.It was not necessarily a bad thing, but at times, patients would be left too long in the water.

Fairfield Hills doctors sometimes used psychosurgery, also known as Lobotomy, to treat patients they deemed severally mentally ill and or insane.  Psychosurgery is performed by both psychiatrists and neurosurgeons. During the operation, the brain is permanently damaged or destroyed. Frontal lobotomies were also performed on patients at Fairfield Hills, which meant the connections to and from the prefrontal cortex were scraped away or disconnected from the anterior part of the frontal lobes of the brain.  More than 100 psychosurgeries were performed on patients in the first year of its use.  This and other reprehensible treatments were not approved by the state, at least not officially.

Fairfield Hills was more of an experimental institution than a rehabilitation center.  Large numbers of patients were essentially tortured for the ‘good of the medical practice’.  Eventually, a decreasing emphasis on institutionalization and greater emphasis on community based models of care came into favor and long term in-house patients started to decrease.  Fairfield Hills fell victim to cuts in public funding, soaring costs of maintaining inpatient mental health facilities, and maintaining thousands of employee benefits. Patients were transitioned to outpatient psychiatric care or to community care and some that could not live on their own where placed in adult foster care or temporary “halfway house,” where they received outpatient psychiatric services.

In 1995, Fairfield Hills State Hospital was closed down by the state. After closing, it was used for the filming of the movie Sleepers as well as an episode of MTV’s “Fear.”  In 2009, the town of Newtown, Connecticut had the underground tunnels sealed off.  Attempts to visit Fairfield Hills today are incredibly difficult, if not all together impossible to sneak past the patrols. Numerous police cars patrol the area on a nightly basis. They vigorously guard the facility on all sides and are ready and willing to arrest anyone attempting to sneak onto the property. The goal of the current management team is to turn the site into a place for recreational, cultural and government activity.

Fairfield Hills joins the ranks of the countless other asylums reputed to be haunted by those no longer living. Former employees and patients have told stories of strange, paranormal activity that went on there when the hospital was open. One employee wrote that the nightmares had become a way of life after witnessing the actions of the insane and the mistreatment of them by employeees not well versed in their care. Strange noises have been reported from all over the property. Whispers to moans to outright screams echo through the hallways. Some have reported hearing the rattle of old gurney wheels traveling the hallways and the underground tunnels. The morgue is said to be filled with inexplicable and unexplained noises. Rumors abound that during the last few years of operation, various electronic machines and appliances were rumored to turn on and off of their own accord.

Several sightings have occured of a young woman dressed in white - our infamous Lady in White - being seen inside of a window with an unearthly glow about her. And rumors have circulated that a Satanic cult practiced rituals in one of the buildings. The managers of the property turned away Ghost Hunters when they asked if they could come investigate. Mary wrote a comment on the Roadtrippers website that her mother had worked there as a secretary and that she can confirm that disembodied screams could be heard. John wrote, "I have been there numerous times. I hope I dont get in trouble for saying this but that place made me a believer. I lived in Ct my whole life and used to go there when I was a teenager. From under ground tunnels from building to building totally incredible...Trust me I was a skeptic and stayed there all night. I didnt have permission to go but I promise you Ill never go there again. Shadows to coughing to doors swinging open, I got to tell you, I know something wasnt right...I got pics that are insane. I heard talking clear as day and moaning of insane patients. Too much to list."

One building, the Greenwich House, is said to bring on an overwhelming feeling of despair and suffering.  This building was destroyed in a massive fire that is said to have been started by a man who took a bottle of lighter fluid to a linen closet and tossed in a match. Full bodied apparitions wearing hospital gowns have been seen in hallways. There are the typical cold spots and orbs as well.

About thirty minutes southeast of Newtown is the town of Milford and there are interesting legends of curses here on Charles Island. The island is named for Charles Deal who bought the island in 1657 from the native tribe there and he tried and failed to start a tobacco plantation there. It is only 14 acres and sits along the shore of Conneticut's Silver Sands State Park. It's a neat little natural environment that visitors can reach by foot when the tide reveals a sandbar. But visiting this island is not a good idea because there are stories of multiple curses.

The first is a curse connected to the pirate Captain William Kidd. Captain Kidd was a Scottish sailor born in 1645. He worked mainly as a privateer and many historians claim he was nothing more than a privateer. But his legend tells a different story and that involves piracy. Privateers were hired to round up "goods" for their country, but pirates ransacked ships and villagers for there own enrichment. Captain Kidd is said to have buried treasure at Charles Island and that would seem to mean that he crossed over into piracy. The Captain made his last voyage in 1699 and at that time he stopped in two locations near to each other. One was Gardiners Island off Long Island and the other was Charles Island in Connecticut. The story goes that Captain Kidd hid treasure in both places. At Charles Island, he hid his loot under Hog Rock and then he proclaimed a curse to protect that treasure. He was later tried and executed for piracy.

The next curse is courtesy of the Paugussett tribe. Charles Island was sacred to them and they  believed the island was a home to spirits. When the Europeans arrived and drove them back away from the island and started building on the island, the tribe cursed any structure that was erected on the island. They cursed the settlers as well. The first home was built here in 1835 by John Harris, who died shortly thereafter. By the 1850s there was a resort here known as Charles Island House and then later as Ansantawae House. Steamboat service was available here. In the 1930s, the island was home to a religious retreat. Six workmen constructing the retreat drowned one day on their return trip home. Later the monastery was destroyed in a storm. Today, the island is inhabited only by wildlife. Did the curse work?

The third curse involves some Connecticut sailors who came upon a treausre in the 18th century belonging to the Mexican Emperor Guatmozin, who had succeeded Montezuma. The treasure was in a cave. Spanish conquistadors had tortured Guatmozin to get him to tell them where the Aztec treasure was and he never told. They finally executed him, but legend maintains that these sailors found that treasure in a cave where the emperor had hidden it. They were returning to Connecticut when several disasters killed four of the five sailors. The last sailor knew that they must have a curse following them for taking the treasure, so he buried it on Charles Island and now that curse is there with the treasure.

Could this be why so many accidents, including drownings, have happened near the island? A newspaper article in 2011 told the story of a man swept out to deeper water when he attempted to cross the sandbar to the island. Countless other stories are told of teenagers and others making the trek, losing their footing on the slippery rocks and washing away into strong rip currents. Could this just be Mother Nature having fun with humans?

The island seems to be haunted as well and this is no surprise because of the deaths connected to the island. People claim to see full bodied glowing apparitions on the beaches or among the trees. Disembodied voices are heard by visitors. Eerie lights move about, even in the daytime. No treasure seeker has been able to find any treasure. Has it been protected by these spirits or the curses? One group of treasure seekers claims that a burning specter of fire chased them from the island after they found something.

Are the distant echoes of gurney wheels in the abandoned hallways some form of paranormal activity? Have the spirits of those lost to society, truly found a place of comfort in death? Is Fairfield Hills State Hospital haunted? Is Charles Island cursed and haunted? That is for you to decide!

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