Insane Asylums
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Chelsea Lawler
S. Tyger
EN313.C4 Professional Communications
7 August 2007
Define Normal: The Tales of Mental Asylums in Pennsylvania
Once upon a time, long ago in the mists of time, sprawling brick structures housed countless individuals with mental disturbances. These massive structures were known to the world as mental asylums for the insane. In reality, the majorities of these individuals were not insane, but in contrast were suffering from mild mental problems such as depression or anxiety. These people were looked down upon in society and were labeled as “freaks” or “batty” because of their mental disorder. In the early twentieth century, mental issues were considered taboo. If a family had a sibling or relative who was suffering from a mental disorder, they were swept under a rug; to be taken care of at another time. These days, these immense structures are an object of the past, a bygone era. Many asylums still stand tall as monuments to the world of health care, while many do not stand at all.

Two hundred years ago, Pennsylvania revolutionized the mental health care movement. Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia doctor made a suggestion to his fellow colleagues about individuals suffering from mental disorders. Instead of treating individuals with mental disorders as a sign of demon possession or confused soul, treat their disorder as an illness. In the late 1800s, another Philadelphia doctor caught wind of Rushs idea to treat mental illness. Thomas Kirkbride believed the insane, as they were called in nineteeth century, deserved humane treatment. After this realization, the asylum

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movement took place in Pennsylvania. Individuals suffering from mental disorders were taken out of their inhumane circumstances and placed in safe, comfortable institutions. For many patients, these institutions or asylums, were a safe haven. Thomas Kirkbride managed a private hospital for the mentally ill just outside of Philadelphia. He implemented different plans for countless asylums across North America. Kirkbride thought by having the asylums surrounded by a serene environment would be more calming for recovering patients.

Like many of Americas oldest asylums, Pennsylvania asylums were built according to a model designed by the physician Thomas Kirkbride. The main component of the “Kirkbride buildings,” as they have come to be called, was a large, domed central administration building flanked on both sides by wings for patients. The patient wings were constructed in step-like tiers so fresh air could reach each ward from all four sides and so they were not observable from other wards. With a glimpse at these glorious asylums, the Pennsylvania government decided it would be smart to have a few mental asylums of their own. There were many asylums built in Pennsylvania, but there are two which stand out in the history books: Philadelphia State Hospital and Pennhurst State School and Hospital.

Philadelphia State Hospital or as its known to many as Byberry, The Berry, and Boo Berry originally started as a small work farm for the mentally challenged. Byberry was built in at the rural area of Byberry, a town near Philadelphia in 1906. From 1910 to the mid 1920s, construction on the rural aslyum began to progress greatly. The new renovations and additions included an infirmary, kitchens, several dormitories, laundry,

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administration, and two coal power plants. More than ten massive structures were built to house the countless number of patients that were flooding into Byberry. The official title of the asylum was The Philadelphia Hospital for Mental Diseases, which officially opened in 1907. The population of patients quickly grew, but with this increase came tales of neglect and abuse. Insufficent funding posed problems for Philadelphia Hospital, which began to quickly deteriorate in its early life. Patients began sleeping in hallways due to overcrowding and raw sewage was found on the floors of the bathrooms upon inspection of the facility.

In 1936, Philadelphia Hospital for Mental Diseases was signed over to the state. The name of the asylum was then changed to Philadelphia State Hospital, now under the complete control of the Pennsylvania government. After the change, Philadelphia State had sufficent funding to get its feet back on the ground. With the sufficent funding came renovations and expansion of the facility to the current needs. Throughout the 1940s, Byberry underwent an enormous expansion at the rate of one building each year until 1953. Once the 1960s rolled around, Byberry consisted of more than fifty buildings, seven thousand patients, and eight hundred staff members. By the early 1970s, Byberry experienced a massive shortage in staff and volunteers. The staff members were giving their two week notices left and right. Deinstituionalization took its hold in the 1980s due to horrid living conditions and mistreatment of patients. The incidents of mismanagement, inadequate treatment, and patient abuse such as sexual exploitation and starvation were widely publicized.

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Philadelphia State Hospital was ordered to close shortly after the late 1980s and in June of 1990, the last patient left the doors of Byberry forever. After its closing in 1990, Byberry was stripped clean. Salvagers and looters had their fun by stealing copper and countless other objects for money. Demolition of Byberry was scheduled for the year of 1991, but halted due to large amount of asbestos found within the entire facility. The state had calculated it would cost sixteen million dollars to rip out the asbestos without the actual demolition of the whole asylum. The demolition of Philadelphia State never materialized and now the massive asylum remains to rot. It is now a popular hangout for countless bums and individuals alike. Satanic cults, parties, and bonfires have been held within the

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Tales Of Mental Asylums And Philadelphia Doctor. (June 14, 2021). Retrieved from