Saint Elizabeth Hospital,
This hospital, in Anacostia, Maryland (just outside of Washington DC) is important to Bob and Lain, because this is where they spent their honeymoon. Well, not IN St. Elizabeths, but literally a stone's throw away.
This U.S. National Historic Landmark opened in 1855 as the Government Hospital for the Insane and the name was changed in 1916 to St. Elizabeths.
Today the building shown in the photographs is abandoned and rundown. However, the Homeland Security agency is considering renovating it as its new headquarters.
In its day, in the hospital, you could find over 1,400 brains stored in formaldehyde, plus over 5,000 photographs of brains, and over 100,000 slides of brain tissue. It housed over 8,000 patients and employed over 4,000 people.
Some important medical studies took place there:
- Carl Jung's study of African-American patients to examine the concept of race in mental health.
- During American involvement in World War II the OSS used facilities and staff at St. Elizabeths hospital to test "truth serums".
- The Rosenhan experiment was a famous experiment into the validity of psychiatric diagnosis conducted by psychologist David Rosenhan in 1973. It was published in the journal Science under the title "On being sane in insane places". The study is considered an important and influential criticism of psychiatric diagnosis. The study concluded, "It is clear that we cannot distinguish the sane from the insane in psychiatric hospitals".
But, to us, the recollections of events as they intersected our lives, are these:
- St. Elizabeths was a scary place when you are a young, innocent newlywed wife, left alone, just 50 feet from the fence that surrounds the old Gothic building, in the middle of the night, when your husband is at work... and literally thousands of mentally deranged inmates begin an ominous chanting in unison that became louder than a freight train. It makes your skin crawl and raises a level of fear unmatched by any natural event.
- It wasn't so bad in the middle of the day. Our landlady said, "Oh, don't worry, none of them are dangerous", as we watched through the fence at the inmates who had been permitted on the grounds, casting their invisible rods to catch invisible fish, or knitting with their invisible knitting needles, or carring on conversations with invisible people. (However, about one-half of the patients were "forensic in-patients"—those who are adjudicated to be criminally insane or incompetent to stand trial.)
We spent the first two months of our married life next door to St. Elizabeths. So, yes, we learned how to be crazy.