Monthly Archives: September 2016

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (Part III of III)

trans-allegheny-overviewThis is Part III of three parts. To catch up, here’s Part I and Part II. Yesterday, when we stopped working on Part II in order to post it up, we promised:

  • A deeper dive into the doctors’ and familes’ comfortable quarters;
  • A look in some of the wards;
  • The tension between treating people who just need help, and keeping dangerous people locked up;
  • Some more stories from the place’s long history; and,
  • OTR’s a creepy — or was it paranormal? — experience.

Before we go too deep into those details, we’ll look at some of the other buildings’ exteriors, and we may circle back to more exteriors at the very end of this post.

Here’s the original, Civil War period, building. It was the subject of a dispute between Virginia and West Virginia over funds. West Virginia spirited the money off, as it was seceding from VA which was seceding from the Union — or trying to.


This later building behind the main structure was a medical center, or “hospital for the hospital,” built 1930, later repurposed as a tuberculosis isolation ward.


To continue, through the bullet-listed items above, take the jump by clicking “more”!

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When Guns are Outlawed, Only Outlaws will have Marriage Proposals

s-dhanya-hacked-to-death-video-shotWell, technically, the woman on the left of the double picture here, a Miss S. Dhanya, wasn’t killed by the marriage proposal. She was killed by a sickle, which may be that the first appearance of that archaic agricultural implement (and half-a-communist-symbol) in a story.

Of course, sickles don’t kill people, people kill people, and the killer-type people in this case was the man on the right, one Zahir, who sicced the sickle on the victim after she turned down his marriage proposal.

See, she’d already accepted a proposal from another guy. One who didn’t come to the proposal with a sharp sickle and a Plan B comprising mayhem.

A 23-year-old old woman identified as S Dhanya was hacked to death in India on Wednesday after rejecting a marriage proposal from a 27-year-old mill worker.
The murderer was known to the family and had known Dhanya for more than a year and asked for her hand in marriage. According to India’s NDTV, she rejected him because she was engaged to someone else. The woman “was alone at home when Zahir allegedly entered through the rear door of the house and attacked her with a sickle after she refused her [sic] advances. Her parents had gone out for shopping and had locked the front door, police said.”

Following the attack, the alleged killer – identified only as “Zahir” – attempted to commit suicide by ingesting poison. His attempt to kill himself was unsuccessful, and he was taken to the hospital, where he is currently in the intensive care unit. Police are waiting until he is out of ICU before they arrest him, but they have already registered the murder charge.

While some aspects of this homicide seem uniquely Indian, others are more universal. Relationships and rejections are at the core of cases on the whiteboard of the Homicide or Major Crimes squad in every major metro PD in the USA and probably, the world.

But the Indians do think their situation is unique, and there is that aspect to it.

NDTV points out that attacks like these are becoming increasingly frequent. Last month, NDTV reports, “A 24-year-old teacher, N Francina was clubbed to death inside a church.” Before that, “24-year-old Swathi, employed with software giant Infosys, was hacked to death around 6.30 am on June 24 while waiting to board a train at Nungambakkam Railway Station to her workplace on the city outskirts.”

Violent attacks in India on both men and women, but more predominantly on women, have become more frequent in the past year. Breitbart News reported in March, “Brothers in India burned their sister alive after she married a man in a different caste (social class) in the nation’s most recent honor killing.”

via Woman Hacked to Death When She Turned Down Marriage Proposal.

You have to wonder just what is ailing in a culture that a guy responds to a “no, thanks,” with a swinging sickle, and a bunch of brothers express their disapproval of  their sister’s marital choices by setting Sis ablaze. Not that our culture is in any position to cast Jovian judgmental jolts at the unworthy masses, teeming somewhere east of Suez.

3D 3Deal on Autodesk Fusion 360

Just got done buying this, and it dawns on us that you, too, might benefit from this one-day deal offered by Autodesk on the Fusion 360 design software.

How good is the deal? One year for $50, and two for $80. That second deal comes up to 87% off.

Autodesk sent us:

Don’t miss our incredible offer today, where you can get Fusion 360 at just $80 for a 2 year subscription or $50 for 1 year — giving you a savings of up to 87%!

Fusion 360 is 3D CAD reinvented. Get industrial and mechanical design, simulation, collaboration, and machining in a single package. Fusion 360 connects your entire product development process and works on both Mac and PC.

This amazing offer allows you to get the first tool of its kind — an integrated, complete product development platform available on PC, Mac or mobile — at 87% off.

This is only available for one day only, Today, September 28th HERE.

And we immediately bought. We missed an even sweeter offer back during Amazon’s Prime Day, and have been kicking ourselves ever since. We have some other, excellent, 3D Design software but it only runs on Windows, and we’d just rather not when it can be avoided.

We still have to boot up the Windows box or emulator to generate tool paths. That’s the nature of life.

It’s also available FREE to students or teachers at this link, but we’re not in any school at present.

If you join us in buying this thing, there’s a learning curve. Fortunately, there are plenty of tutorials available (and Autodesk webinars, plus 3rd-party stuff, on Yoot Oob also; we like NYC CNC’s videos, and he’s not even in NYC any more, good for him):


VA Apologies for Art-Buying Spree. Then Buys More Art

VA-veterans-affairsYou remember the art scandal, including 2/3 of a million dollars squandered on art for a VA facility for the blind? As Adam Andrzejewsji writes at Forbes,

Just last month, a VA spokesperson stood in front of the infamous $1.2 million “cubed-rock” sculpture in Palo Alto, CA and argued that this type of artwork “creates a healing environment.” Yes, nothing creates a healing environment quite like long waiting lines that are in part the result of resources being misallocated.

The VA issued an apology…

And stopped the spree, right? Uh, wrong:

…and instituted new rules governing artwork purchases going forward.

Oh, great. At least they fixed their previous habit of selecting only non-veteran artists for their largessed, right? Er, no, they:

…ignored a proposed policy that veterans’ art be displayed in VA medical centers.

So what do they do? Andrzjewski explains:

the new rules are weakly designed, and don’t stop future luxury art purchases. The VA now merely requires just a few more administrators to sign-off on the transactions.

So, why didn’t the VA institute a permanent moratorium on pricey art?

Well, it could be personal to the top administrators. Oil portraits, busts, and self-named buildings have a certain appeal to bureaucrats.

We can see a sculpture of George Washington in a Federal building. Maybe Ike or Halsey, or Grant, Sherman or (quel horreur!) Lee. But the VA’s been spending tens of thousands each on sculptures and oil paintings of VA bureaucrats and obscure, undistinguished Congressmen.

Is it time to disband this thing yet?

Antitank Guns for the Man who Has Everything

We had a birthday in the family recently, and gave some thought to presenting one of these to a 16 year old. They’re all WWII vintage AT guns, and most of them are live. We’ve listed them based on asking price, from most expensive to most economical (for some values of the word “economical.”)

#1: M-1 57mm Anti-Tank Rifle 1943 Carriage Buy it Now: $65K

m1-57mm-01The American 57mm AT gun served throughout World War II, and was the main AT gun used in the peak years of the war. Effective against Japanese armor, it struggled to be relevant in Europe against better-armed and more-mobile German tanks. The US could, however, field a lot of them, and at close range they could make life miserable (if short) for Panzer crews.


#2: British Six Pounder (57mm) Buy it Now: $35k

british-six-pounder-57mm-02The six pounder was the kissin’ cousin of the American 57mm AT gun and served throughout World War II. This one has been modified for movie duty, but is legally convertible to a registered destructive device (given ATF approval of manufacturing in advance. Unlike MGs, DDs can still be made by and for private owners). Don’t tell Governor Moonbeam, but it’s in California, and it’s actually CA-legal.


 #3: Swedish Bofors AT (37mm) Opening Bid: $33.5k

bofors-37mm-05Thanks to the annoying Swedish habit of neutrality, the next gun lacks the combat cachet of the combatants’ pieces, but it’s, live, intact, and in beautiful condition. Of necessity, you become a reloader with any gun like this — this one comes with 15 cases. For loading data? KMAGYOYO!


bofors-37mm-03While the mount is unique, and the muzzle brake follows midcentury Swedish practice, the gun itself seems to owe a lot to Krupp design. The Wehrmacht 37mm and the Red Army 45mm were both Krupp designs, and clearly cousins — as were the social systems the two armies fought for.

Same seller also has a carriage (no breech or barrel) available as well.

#4: WWII 25mm SA.L 1937 ANTI-TANK GUN. Opening bid $25k, Buy it now $30k

If a 37mm gun was already trending obsolescent at the outbreak of World War II, and it was, imagine how weak a 25mm gun is. Plus, this one has to wear the stigma of being from a nation defeated rather thoroughly by the Nazis in cut time: France. Still, it works, and it looks cool:


It also has an extremely thorough description, and lots of pictures:


Museum quality, live-firing, French WWII 25mm SA.L Mle 1937 anti-tank gun, serial number 566. This anti-tank gun was built in 1939 by the French design & manufacturing company, Atelier Puteaux, and is marked accordingly: “A.PX 1939”. These guns were manufactured and used by the French, but they were also captured and used by the Nazis, who gave them the designation: 2,5cm PaK 113(f). A quantity of the captured guns were sold by the Germans to Finland, who gave them the designation: 25 PstK/37. The gun has a muzzle velocity of 3150 feet per second, and is a very accurate weapon. We spent 165 hours performing a complete restoration on this anti-tank gun. The restoration work included: sandblasting, complete disassembly, painting, parkerizing, bluing, polishing, lubricating, new tires, reworking the recoil mechanism, and reassembly. This cannon is live firing, and has been fired several times. The gun performed flawlessly when fired…..please take a look at the video below, where we fired upon, and disabled a Ford F-150’s running engine, at a distance of 340 yards.

The chamber and rifling are in very good condition. Weighing only 618 pounds, this gun can easily be moved and fired by one adult male. The actual weight at the lunette when the gun is picked up is only 84 pounds. The gun is also very compact: 152″ in length (139″ with muzzle brake removed), 40.5″ in width, and 41.5″ in height. The cannon is equipped with iron sights, as well as an optical 3x M69C telescopic sight (very clear optics). All traversing, elevating, and depressing adjustments work completely and smoothly (see photos below).


For the travel configuration, the cannon’s muzzle brake / flash hider unscrews from the end of the barrel, and stows above the recoil mechanism. The armor also folds up, which is also shown in the photos below. This is an all-matching numbers gun (#566). The gun includes 22 live, arsenal-loaded, rounds of 25mm ammunition. Once fired, the brass cartridge cases can be reloaded several times for additional firings. This weapon is an ATF/NFA registered destructive device, so it will be transferred on a $200 tax paid Form 4, or on a tax-exempt Form 3 to a destructive device dealer in your state. We will crate and ship this gun anywhere in the continental United States. Crating, shipping, insurance, and transfer taxes are all the buyer’s responsibility. Residents within Tennessee will be assessed state sales tax. Please take a look at all 70 photos that are included in the auction description below. This is a great opportunity to get a museum-quality piece of history, that displays as good as it shoots! Would make for a stunning display piece in any museum, gun store, shooting range, or office.


There’s even pictures of this type of gun in German, Finnish, and what looks like Soviet(!) service at the link (Finns below):

Pst. Tykki miehistöineen

Pst. Tykki miehistöineen

Some less awesomely restored examples of this gun are also available right now, one at $15k Opening, No Reserve, and a deactivated one at $10k Opening, no reserve.

#5 106mm RCL (demilled) with Prime Mover: Opening Bid, $30k


This is one of the things that replaced AT guns, a recoilless rifle, a US weapon of the 1950s-70s. Complete with a M-274 Mule, an offroad vehicle used by airborne forces of the period. An unusual feature was the semi-auto spotting rifle using a special .50 marking round (smaller than a .50 BMG casing.

106-w-mule04The spotting rig was a necessity because the firing signature of a 106 is tremendous, which means, a first round hit on the enemy tank is a life-or-death enterprise with this weapon. It was replaced by the TOW AT missile.

This is the most gun you can have and not need heavy truck and trailer, also one of the more fun toys we had in Nam. Comes with: 4 rds in tubes 2 more in displa manuels tripod (rare) breech cover muzzle cover optics battery pack< elec start This runs and drives as it should, not concourse cond. because we use and enjoy it. If you’ve seen one of these at Fl. MVPA events or the Melbourne Vets reunion in the last decade or so it’s this one This is one of the best equipted in the country. I also have a 25′ closed trailer for sale if this sells. will haul this and any Jeep type vehicle.


Cool, but not live, alas.

#6 20 mm Lahti w/Spares. Opening bid $15k, Buy it Now $18k


Here’e we’re down out of anti-tank guns into the high end of antitank rifles. This, the similar Solothurn, and a Czechoslovak weapon that was OBE and not produced in large numbers were the high-water mark of the infantry antitank rifle.


This lot consists of 1 complete M1939 20MM lahti, w ski, 2 registered lahti receivers, 1 coffin 1 box of spare gun parts, 3 boxes of spare springs, 1 amorer box of tools, 6 boxes w 2 each magazines and 60 rounds of live 20 MM ammo. ALL NFA RULES APPLY!! $50% down and the balance upon transfer to your FFL dealer, buyer pays all shipping costs. and the ammunition MUST BE SHIPPED SEPERATLEY!!

This is live, but ammunition is extremely precious any more.

#7 D44 AT Gun 85mm Opening Bid $8,495.


This World War II Russian AT gun is a postwar Polish clone. It is rather roughly demilled, but if not for that would be the clear bang-for-the-buck leader. These guns were widely used in Vietnam and the Arab-Israeli wars, among other 20th Century conflicts.

The shield on this cannon has been cut and re-welded (at Arsenal in Europe), a 12″ metal shaft is missing off of the breech block (replacement easy to create) and we recently repainted it so it looks good. We have discounted this cannon $500 in consideration. Otherwise in good condition. No obvious damage, little evidence of any major use. Working T & E, solid tires. Dem-illed to ATF specs, breech cut [easy weld], 85mm hole in bottom of chamber [donut whole included], hole is NOT visible from exterior of cannon.


All demilled pieces [uncut breech block and cut ring] are included, a good ATF form 1 project, subcal to 30-50 BMG [no ATF reg needed], or oxy-propane conversion. We converted ours to a combination 30 cal, diesel fuel, and oxy-propane, sounds better than a real field piece, at a fraction of the price.

We will have INERT 85mm TRAINING rounds here in [about] 3 months.

Light enough to tow behind a jeep or a deuce.


When you absolutely, positively have to get those damned kids off your lawn.

That’s about it for cannon right now. But if you’re feeling mortarous, other sellers can hook you up,

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (Part II of III)

If you missed Part 1, yesterday, it’s here, with the basic history of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia, and some of the photos from Our Traveling Reporter’s recent tour of the facility, which is carefully maintained, being restored in places, and privately owned.

On to Part II of this great tour. We intended this to be the final part, but there will be a Part III. Lots of pictures!

There is an eerie display of luggage, reminiscent of the suitcases of Auschwitz or the parallel display in the Holocaust Museum in DC. In this case, these are the unclaimed steamer trunks of patients. What became of the patients? Those anonymous, numbered graves? God alone knows.


One of the trunks bears a very clear name and address. Who was Henry L. Geer? And what was the Armed Guard Center in Brooklyn? We found one Henry L. Geer, single, at age 54 living with his parents in Oswego, New York in 1930. (Source document). He was a laborer, working in the industry of “general laborer,” and like most of the men on that page of the 1930 Census, the “veteran” block was marked “yes.”


The Armed Guard Center in Brooklyn occupied three blocks centered on First Avenue and 52nd Street. It provided armed guards (duh) to merchant ships in wartime. These were the gunners on armed merchantmen, and In World War II Brooklyn provided guards for ships trading to Atlantic and Mediterranean ports, which we know from a site on WWII Armed Guard history. We also know that there was an Armed Guard in WWI. It is possible that Geer’s veteran experience qualified him to be an officer commanding a shipboard detachment in WWII (he would have been nearly 70, though). And somehow he wound up at Trans-Allegheny after that? If this is the same Geer.


The uniform, presumably Geer’s, bears the Purple Heart, three campaign awards (American, European-African-ME, and Asia-Pacific/CBI), and the Philippine Liberation Medal, awarded by the Republic of the Philippines. Those were the days when two rows of ribbons meant something.


Other miscellaneous artifacts were found when a wall built a century-plus ago to close an archway and improve the bathrooms in the doctors’ housing was removed by restorers. The Asylum continues to give up its secrets — and raise more questions.

Geer, and other inmates, generally wound up in simple wooden coffins. The number of the dead is unknown; there were three known cemeteries in the hills behind the Asylum,  indifferently marked if they were marked at all, and historians believe they have discovered a fourth. The dead were buried with their “vital statistics” in sealed glass jars, including their death certificates. Was this a bow to future ages?


Note that the coffin has been stripped of its handles!

They have three cemeteries and they believe they have found a fourth.

Death certificates were usually buried with the bodies. Coffins stacked 5 on top of each other.

No names on headstones. Numbers, or nothing. But then, State employees ripped up headstones to make it easier to cut the grass and sold them as building material.

This is not an apparition. It is a tour guide.


They dress in period nurse uniforms! (However, OTR corrects us — he and his lady friend both did have a paranormal experience at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. You will have to read Part III to see what it was).

The asylum wasn’t designed in a vacuum:

The asylum is modeled after one in Illinois. The asylum here is a quarter of the size of the one in Illinois!!!


And to get the right quality of work, they needed the right quality of people.

They brought in stone masons from Germany.


The masons pointed out that carting the stone in from 20 miles away by ox cart was wasteful. They could get it out of the river 600 feet away.

One side of the striking clock tower had no clock. The reason? That face was towards the working farm, and they wanted to discourage clock-watching among the inmates detailed to farm duty.


The architectural details are amazing, like this view up a stairwell…


…and these hand-formed plaster details on arches and pillars.


More after the jump, including some of the stuff the doctors at the hospital used to take care of the routine (not mental) health problems of the hundreds or thousands of inmates.

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When Guns are Outlawed, Only Outlaws will have Day Care

carol-cardillo-mugshotWe’ve had enough posts about various failures at the Mother of the Year title, here’s a Day Care operator who entered a client’s kid in the Darwin Award finals without authorization:

Carol Cardillo, of Edgewood Road, was arrested Thursday and charged with second-degree manslaughter, second-degree reckless endangerment and risk of injury to a minor in the death of Adam V. Seagull. Originally thought to be a result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, an autopsy and toxicological tests showed the infant, who lived in Shelton, had high levels of Benadryl in his system.

Cardillo called 911 on March 22 around 3 p.m. to report that the infant was unresponsive. She told police Seagull had been given a bottle around noon and then put down for a nap. When she went to check on him, according to police, she could not wake him up.

There were seven other children at the day care center in Cardillo’s Edgewood Road home, which she ran — without a license — for 11 years. The center was shut down that day, police said.

Naturally, in Connecticut, where guns are as outlawed as red-diaper-baby Governor Dannel Malloy has been able to make them, the newspaper seems to think the cause of this lady killing this kid is the fact that she didn’t have a license to kill kids run a day care from the State.

(By the way, “Dannel”? His hippy-dippy parents were too baked to spell “Daniel”). Also, this is the second loss to the Seagull family; Adam’s older brother Jonathan Livingston was last seen in a dirty white van with two suspicous glowing white seagulls at the wheel.

Spanish Foreign Deployments Documentary

First, it’s en español, or as my South American counterparts would insist, en castellano. But it’s an overview for Spanish audiences of “The Spanish Army, Overseas.”

Spain is an interesting country. It was once one of the dominant empires in the world. A series of defeats and some economic “bad luck” (c.f. that great economist, Bob Heinlein) impoverished the nation, and a fratricidal Civil War in which many Spanish factions became cats’ paws for foreign powers all but finished it off.

Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s attemts to rebuild a greater Spain under his Falangist leadership foundered on more economic “bad luck,” and one truly disastrous foreign adventure, the deployment of the Blue Division of volunteers to Germany’s Russian Front, soured Spaniards on foreign adventures for decades.

After Franco, Spain rejoined NATO, and gradually integrated more and more in NATO training and exercises. Spain has been an important coalition partner in such adventures as the Afghanistan war and Kosovan peace-keeping.

Spanish grunts, engineers, and Eurofighter pilots all make an appearance in the film. Enjoy.

A Roundup of Glockery from KD4

Kyle Defoor has been posting some interesting Glock stuff lately, good and less good. Some of this applies to Glocks alone, but some of it can be extrapolated to other pistols and even other firearm types.

The Well Accessorized G19

Here’s an interesting rig: Aimpoint Micro T2 in a Balor mount and light on a G19 with the red-dot-ready slide. In this image it has a Streamlight TLR-1 and a stock Glock barrel, but he also runs it with a Gemtech barrel and suppressor. By the time the suppressor is on it, why a G19 and not a 17? Thing’s a horse pistol. Mind you, it’s a horse pistol set up for not-too-loud rapid work, mostly indoors. For most users, G17 and G19 is a distinction without a difference; the 19’s a bit more concealable, if you’re not going to accessorize it to near-carbine size. (If you’re in ICE, though, the 19 is forbidden fruit).


Asked about what it took to get the mount to fit with the T2, KD4 replied, “a little grinding.” Otherwise, the G19 is fairly stock, with some stippling, but few of the common modifications (no extended slide stop or mag release, for example).

Maybe Centered != Zeroed

Unlike many (most?) pistol users, he’s a big believe in sighting in the pistol, and adjusting the sights to zero the pistol, rather than just live with the factory sight installation or use a mechanical-zero method or centering, or some kind of boresighting approach. That sometimes means your “fixed” sights won’t be centered when they’re fixed appropriately. As he puts it with hashtag poetry: #notcentered #shootsstraight.


It’s all about accuracy. Any Glock or modern service pistol has more innate precision than the guys shooting it, but for that precision to be accuracy it has to shoot to point of aim. Many people think, “at pistol ranges, so what if i’m off a few inches/centimeters? Minute of bad guy is minute of bad guy.” Look at it this way: you are better off having accuracy you don’t need, than needing accuracy you don’t have.

This is especially true when you consider how combat itself will degrade your accuracy. It is much harder to shoot straight when your heart rate rises to allegro and beyond.

The Dreaded Glock “Face-Off”

Then, the bad. Kyle hadn’t seen this before, but others have, and it’s been an occasional subject on forums like pistol-training, glock forum and glock-talk. Yes, if you dry-fire a Glock a whole lot you can get some pretty weird failure modes, like the whole freaking breechface coming off. 


In case you’re not up on Glock topography and immediately up on what you’re seeing, the upper half of the picture is looking aft from off the front side of the slide, and you can see a truncated-conical divot has been dry-fired clean out of the breech of the pistol. The lower half is the divot. These happen from time to time in heavily dry-fired Glock firearms, and the way to forestall them is to use dummy rounds or snap-caps for dry-firing so that the striker (or firing pin) stops in the “primer” substitute, not by slamming its shoulders into the back of the thin breech face. Snap caps have several other benefits, but Glock users should probably just get a SIRT trainer which removes the necessity to cycle the whole slide to get a trigger reset.

Glocks, like AKs, are extremely reliable and durable, which leads to a general perception that they’re indestructible. That’s not a correct perception, as they’re not (neither are AKs). They’re just more tolerant of abuse and neglect than most of their competitors, which is certainly something.

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (Photos after jump – Part I of III)

People forget, today, that once, the streets of the nation weren’t full of “homeless,” babbling nonsense in their disconnection from reality, until they finally do something violent enough to get whacked or locked up by the cops. Those people, who have been with us since time out of mind, were once housed in asylums. But thanks to the ruinous 1960s/70s policy of “deinstitutionalization,” they were cut loose to fend for themselves in the streets. It wasn’t supposed to be that way: closing the booby hatches, which had come to be thought of as decrepit and brutal warehouses for mentally weak and helpless human beings, was supposed to usher in a new age of peace, love and brotherhood.

Weston State Hospital, formerly the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.

Weston State Hospital, formerly the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum; now a remarkable museum.

Well, the curtain of peace, love and brotherhood is always descending on us, but generally seems to land jackboots-first. In the case of the mentally ill, those valiant warriors of the Atheist Criminal Lovers Union have gone to court to make sure that the mentally ill can live in conditions that would be felony cruelty and neglect, if inflicted on a dog or a cat.

If people today have forgotten (or not learned) the lessons of deinstitutionalization, no less did the authors of deinstitutionalization forget (or never learned) the lessons of the asylum builders. The asylums were not built, as the deinstitutionalizers’ heirs have written in kids’ textbooks, by cruel monsters in black hats. They were, like early prisons, the product of well-meaning reformers, who found the mentally ill suffering in public all across the land (rather like they are today). The most famous of these reformers was Dorothea Dix, an heiress who probably struggled with mental illness herself, but was financially insulated from the consequences, unlike most middle or working class people. Dix advocated for hospitals for the mentally ill, and for humane treatment of their inmates, radical ideas in the early 19th Century. Dix’s philosophy was given physical form by a Philadelphia psychologist — then a new and much disputed profession — turned architect, Thomas S. Kirkbride. Kirkbride believed that the mentally ill could be helped by light and airy buildings, and in his 1854 On the Construction, Organization, and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane, he conceived hospitals with wings that were echeloned back as they extended further from a central administrative core, so as to ensure the constant availability of daylight and fresh air in all rooms.

What did you get in this place for? They'll sell you a t-shirt with the list....

What did you get in this place for? They’ll sell you a t-shirt with the list….

And here before you, is the largest surviving mental hospital built to the Kirkbride Plan, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia. The Kirkbride plan was to uplift, help, and cure the mentally ill explicitly by institutionalization, as Dix promoted; Kirkbride extended her argument to propose that if the building was right, and the grounds were well-designed and -groomed, they would help ease the mentally ill back to health. While it was a plausible argument in 1854, fifty years of pursuing it at a national level proved it didn’t work. (We know more about mental illness today — but certainly not enough to cure it).

Other once-common treatments, like the prefrontal lobotomy, have been found to be something other than the cure-alls they were claimed to be. The intent may not have been cruel, but could the result be anything but?

This room was once packed with beds of suffering patients. It was the lobotomy recovery room.

This room was once packed with beds of suffering patients. It was the lobotomy recovery room.

By the late 20th Century, the Government interests which had initially neglected the mentally ill, and then institutionalized them “for their own good,” no longer defined Government’s duty as taking care of the few most helpless; its priority now was on bestowing the greatest variety of benefits on as many as possible, and the vast resources embedded in Kirkbride Plan institutions such as this asylum, for the benefit of only a few inmates, could not be justified. And with the growth of populations, even this massive building, the second largest cut-stone building on the planet (the largest is the Kremlin), was overcrowded by over ten times. Designed for 240 inmates, it held 2,600 at its peak, in conditions which rivaled the bestiality that had produced Dix’s call for reforms in the first place.

A couple of online sources say 2,600, but during OTR’s recent tour, they told him, “The facility was designed to hold 250 patients and held over 4,000 patients at one time.”

Many of the patients were restrained — and only the worker who put you in restraints was authorized to release you, so if you went in on a Friday, you were probably bound up until Monday. If people didn’t come in insane, wouldn’t they go that way?

Along with straitjackets, there were five-point restraints, and wall points to which a lunatic might be chained.

This is the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, construction of which began before the ink was dry on Kirkbride’s 1854 volume (and which continued, after resolving a dispute about funding, after WV broke from VA at the outbreak of the Civil War. As the Historian for the site wrote in his book Lunatic: The Rise and Fall of an American Asylum (available at the onsite giftshop for less than at Amazon), “This Gothic structure was the end of the line for West Virginia’s insane for 130 years.”

If that seems cruel, consider today’s end of the line for the insane: a cardboard box in a traffic island, a sleeping bag under a bridge, or the point of a policeman’s bullet.

Of the surviving Kirkbride Plan mental hospitals, Trans-Allegheny is unusual in three things: it is being maintained, not allowed to decay; it holds several kinds of tours, including straightforward historical tours and spooky night “ghost” tours; and it is in private hands, away from the neglect of government ownership. Recently Our Traveling Reporter traveled to the site and took the non-ghost tour. (We’re thinking that an obsession with the “paranormal” is a marker for someone whose presence at a lunatic asylum should not be constrained to a mere visit. There may be reasons to lock up OTR, but a lack of sense is not one of them).

Some things change over time, but some do not. Here is the grounds plan from its early years:


Did you see the segregated “colored patients” area? No surprise, in the West Virginia that gave us Exalted Octopus Robert Byrd. Here’s a period (late-19th-Century) shot of the “Colored Annex,” probably from the clock-tower spire of the administration core:


What do you think this had become by 1989, shortly before closing? (The functional map is of 2nd floor offices as of 1989).


Yep. The veterans’ unit. Note also the improvement in illustration standards over the century plus between the two sketches.

For more of Our Traveling Reporter’s photos and captions, hit “more” after the FMI links below

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