Friday, June 14, 2019

Danvers State Hospital

Warning: This post is about a disturbing subject. Upsetting pictures are used as well.

People tend to not believe in monsters—but unfortunately they do exist.

Danvers State Hospital

Danvers State Hospital opened in 1878. Its first name was the State Lunatic Hospital.

Danvers Sunroom
This hospital’s design was based upon Dr. Thomas Kirkbride’s concept that if mental patients were provided with sunlight and fresh air, more would experience recovery.

Early in its history, the hospital did help many patients who then were released.

Danvers’ history is similar to several other mental hospitals I have written about. It was designed to house five hundred patients, but by the 1920s the population had grown to well over one thousand.

This and a lack of funding resulted in the hospital being extremely short-staffed. Patients were often left sick and living in filth.

Cuffs instead of nurses.
The staff, in efforts to manage the patients, turned to inhumane practices. “Straitjackets, solitary confinement, and restraints were used. Patients were also subjected to hydrotherapy and electroshock treatments.”

But the worst method used was a new invention pioneered by Danvers’ own Dr. Walter Freeman in 1936. The ‘good’ doctor was a surgeon who would cut into a patients’ brain and sever the frontal lobes and the thalamus---a lobotomy.

Keep in mind--not all mental patients were violent, etc. But this surgery tragically was used as a “cure all.”

Dr. Feeman performing a lobotomy.
Click to enlarge.
The goal was to make patients more manageable. This procedure’s results were mixed at best. Many patients died, and those left would often commit suicide later.

Dr. Freeman decided this surgery took too long, so he adopted a method used in Italy that eliminated the need to cut or drill. (Warning this is not for the squeamish).

Lobotomy tool
He instead, would take an icepick and shove it into the inner corner of a patient’s eye he then would punch it through their skull to reach the brain.

He finally would just scramble or stir the frontal lobe until it was no longer functional.

He did this without giving his patients an anesthetic.

Patient After and Before
He became so proficient at this procedure that he took it ‘on the road.’ He traveled in a vehicle he called his Lobotmobile and visited other mental institutions where he would train staffs on how to do this technique.

At every institution, he visited he offered to perform lobotomies, for the low price of just $25 a patient. Many of these patients lost their ability to feed themselves or use the restroom on their own.

Fifteen percent of these patients died. Others relapsed so Freeman would then just do the procedure again.

In 1951, at Iowa’s Cherokee Mental Hospital, reporters were there to cover this miraculous surgery. Freeman stopped in the middle of a procedure so he could pose for the cameras. His icepick slipped—going too deep—which immediately killed the patient.

He never wore gloves or a mask, his son later in a PBS interview admitted the icepick he initially used was from their family kitchen.

Before lobotomies--they are smiling-- and After pictures
of victims.

Freeman performed thirty-five hundred lobotomies in twenty-three states during this obscene sideshow. Many of his victims were minors—one being just four-years-old.

The use of lobotomies at Danvers ended in 1954—because the controversial drug Thorazine a “chemical lobotomy” was developed.

By 1992, this hospital was abandoned. For the next ten years, its only residents were the homeless.

With this horrible and sad history, it is not surprising some believe this site is haunted.

While the old hospital still stood, many paranormal groups tried to obtain permission to do investigations. But the state of Massachusetts prohibited this.

In 2005 a developer purchased the property, and the remaining buildings were demolished. Then several apartment complexes were built.

But people’s curiosity remained, is this site haunted?

The state still maintains the Danvers’ cemetery that remains on the property. Hundreds of small stones with just “a number” on them mark the location of each patient that went unclaimed by relatives. At the entrance, a large boulder stands, with the engraving—“The Echoes They Left Behind.”

There has been no indication this cemetery is haunted. In a recent effort, people worked to “reclaim” these patient’s names and now a stone stands with this list.

Danvers Cemetery
One eyewitness account shared by Jeralyn Levasseur indicates that one ghost does linger. Levasseur lived at Danvers as a child.

At night, as she slept, a ghost would pull the sheets off her bed. This spirit would then appear. Levasseur described this entity as an “old lady.”

Despite the fact this ghost would glare at her, Levasseur states she was never afraid. She saw this spirit several times, and then it never returned.

The source material used about Dr. Freeman came from Aaron Mahnke’s book, The World of Lore, Dreadful Places.

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