Friday, July 14, 2017

These Photos of a Kirkbride Plan Insane Asylum (Warren, Pennsylvania) Give Me Chills

Maybe it's the cold, perfect emptiness of these photos (and knowing the human hell that would fill it). It wasn't exactly an enlightened time. I hate to think of the abuse and the curtailment of liberty. Just so sad.

I just learned that this building still exists and is still being used for mental health treatment. Pennsylvania has two extant Kirkbride plan buildings: this and one in Danville. Two (or possibly three) other Pennsylvanian Kirkbride asylums were demolished. Another exists in Pennsylvania but is used by a private company for "non-psychiatric purposes." One could wager a guess that there might be hauntings in all of these extant Kirkbride buildings.

There's this touching bit about the Warren hospital, too, from 2010: 

"The 954 grave cemetery at Warren State Hospital has been the subject of a restoration. Like many state hospital cemeteries, this one was overgrown and neglected until a restoration committee formed at the hospital in 2006. Employees and volunteers are just about finished with the painstaking task of identifying the deceased patients and giving each one a headstone with their name on it."

You can read more about how the Kirkbride Plan dictated a general architectural layout for insane aslyums of the nineteenth century here.  Kirkbride appears to have had good intentions and a progressive mindset. However, worse treatments would follow and the next century would see atrocities committed against the mentally ill.

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania had a Kirkbride plan asylum (Dorothea Dix was responsible for its creation) but it's on the list of demolished buildings. It was one of the earliest Kirkbride plan asylums.It was torn down in phases and replaced with the Harrisburg State Hospital, which was in use as a mental health facility until 2006. Now its buildings are occupied by several government agencies. 

Most of the information in this post came from the site to which I linked above, There's a wealth of information there about these fascinating structures.

Details on the photographs:

"Period images of Kirkbride Plan architecture, six boudoir cabinet photos (5.25 x 8.5”) signed Bairstow. Gifted from William E.M. Corson (one of three state hospital commissioners) to Cameron Corson (an engineer and likely son) dated November 19th, 1886. Small sketch on one reverse noted John Smithson inmate (perhaps by Corson) of four folky ducks. 

"Beautiful condition with occasional foxing and wear to gilt edges. Letter from a state report magazine about the overflow and patient cost included."

Oh Wow! This Old Painting Suggests Such a Dark Tale!

"Gnarled gypsies climb under an anthropomorphic moon! From an early Somerset Pennsylvania estate, likely last quarter nineteenth century. As found condition, complete with a hundred years of dirt and spots of loss. Oil on board measures 9 x 11.5 inches."

Antique Group of 8 Halloween Pumpkin Head Candy Containers German Papier-Mâché

Creepy-Happy Jack-O'-Lantern Papier-Mâché Pin

"This is a wonderful antique paper mache pumpkin pin, c.1930's, 2" diameter. Unmarked but certainly German. Adorable smiling pumpkin face surrounded by 12 paper petals.

"Wear consistent with age. Some slight wear to pumpkin face, petals show wear - soiling, folds, wrinkling and a small tear in one petal."

Antique Halloween Postcard--Kathryn Elliott (1914)

Library Amnesty Day

One rainy spring afternoon in Baltimore, a man walked into one of the city’s smaller libraries. He drew a little attention to himself since he was wearing a burnouse. It was Library Amnesty Day, which meant that patrons could return overdue library books and have the fines for those books waived. He explained that he wanted to take advantage of this amnesty. The librarian asked him for his library card but he said, “I have none.” The librarian tried to get more information, but he fled. He was in and out of the library in under five minutes, but he did leave a plastic tube on the counter of the librarian’s station. This tube was discovered to contain an ancient papyrus. Obviously, this had not been borrowed from the small library in Baltimore. It was forwarded to one university and thence onward to several others. Eventually, it was determined that the origin of the papyrus scroll was the Library at Alexandria, burned when Caesar himself strategically set fire to his own ships during the siege of that city. The fire spread from the ships to the docks and then reached the vaunted library and consumed much of it, Plutarch informs us. Other historians insist the fire (or multiple fires) happened earlier or later. But all agree that the library and its precious volumes perished by fire. Had the Library at Alexandria ever collected such penalties, the overdue fee the mystery man was seeking to have discharged would have been astronomical. Even a modern robber baron would have difficulty paying such a fine. The scroll the mysterious man dropped off contained text in ancient Greek and hieroglyphics. The title of the work, when translated, was revealed to be How to Live Forever.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Interview

Richard felt very fortunate to have been granted the golden opportunity of an interview at Praseo.

His fiancée Helen wan’t the worrying type, wasn’t really the neurotic type. But the unexpected downsizing at Richard’s firm had caught their single income household by surprise. The young engineer had been unemployed for just over two months and his severance pay was dwindling rapidly. Also, there was a wedding in the works, not exactly a minor expenditure.

The morning of the interview, Helen and Richard went out to breakfast and chatted about the fantastic opportunity that had presented itself . Helen mentioned a figure she had heard bandied about. It was the starting salary of another engineer at Praseo, a spouse of a friend of a friend. "Well, alleged salary," she specified. "You know how gossip is." She smirked and Richard pointed out some egg goo above her pretty lips. They laughed.

Richard choked a little on his toast when Helen told him that. Had the toast been particularly dry? Or was it that somewhat stupefying figure Helen had just dropped?  Praseo had hugely lucrative government contracts. Defense contractors for the military raked in big bucks. Everyone knew that.

Richard dropped Helen off at their split-level in the burbs. She gave him a kiss through the driver’s side window and showed him her crossed fingers. She gave his hair a last little mussing. She kissed him once more for luck. And then he was off.

Richard arrived half an hour early at Praseo Industries. The company occupied an imposing highrise in a quieter sector at the edge of what would be considered "downtown." 

Richard knew to expect a ridiculously high level of security. He stood on the sidewalk before the building, and saw the entire ground floor was a solid, featureless titanium wall. When he stepped forward and spoke into the intercom (which was nearly invisible at first) a voice answered him in synthesized speech.

"Good Day, Richard Ames," the inhuman voice articulated. It was a woman's voice. "Please step into the vestibule." Two titanium panels separated left and right, and Richard stepped into the vestibule. Those panels closed behind him. He could still see nothing of the building itself, its interior, since another titanium wall was before him. 

A scanning process began. He could hear the low hum. He had sent in the requisite photographs and even a requested biological sample. He knew Praseo used highly advanced identification techniques for their employees.

"Approved," the human and inhuman voice said. "Proceed into the lobby."

The titanium door before him slid to the left, taken into the wall, and Richard stepped into the lobby. It was a chamber with a lovely atmosphere. A Satie composition played quietly, subtly.
Very tall palm trees nearly reached the high ceiling, planted in twin terrarium features on either side of the large room. There was the illusion of sunlight. Illusion because there were no skylights. But you felt as though you were experiencing actual sunlight. You looked up and there were "skylights" that seemed to show blue sky. The light felt like sunlight on the skin. But it wasn't real. It was Praseo engineering magic. 

There was not a single human being in the chamber. There was an information desk placed centrally, but Richard suspected it was only helmed on certain days, perhaps when representatives of the government or other corporations visited. 

Richard heard the burble of the koi ponds and felt himself start to relax a bit. Any company that could create such a welcoming, dream-like atmosphere had to be a company with vision. He felt proud just being there, just for being considered.

"Proceed to elevator, please," the artificial female voice said. He already felt he knew her. Though she did not exist.

As Richard stepped into the elevator, he noticed there were large iron rings protruding from three of its walls. The elevator doors closed and Richard prepared to speak his floor into the audio-tech sensor. But before he could do so, the female voice (he now thought of her as Rose," for some odd reason) said, in the flattest tones, "Prepare for floor dismantle." 

As the elevator began rushing upwards, without any specification as to destination, the floor of the elevator began dropping out in phases. There were four quadrants collapsing downwards. Richard grabbed onto one of the large iron rings and was soon swinging over the void of the dark shaft as the elevator skyrocketed upwards. He tried to resist looking down but failed. He saw certain death below his dangling feet. While it might have taken just over a minute to reach his destination, it seemed an eternity. Rose announced, "74th floor. Interview with Mr. Gravesend." The floor reassembled itself beneath his feet. But Richard didn't want to let go of the iron ring. The elevator floor was no longer a friend he could trust.

He waited for the door to open, his emotions weirdly in check. His brain zapped that figure Helen had floated at breakfast back through his neurons as incentive. He waited some more for the door to open. Did Rose have a glitch? Finally, she spoke. He sensed that some sort of preparation behind the door had been taking place. He just knew this, courtesy of that sixth sense we all possess.

"When the doors open, find the high frequency whistle to control Rupert. The elevator floor will dismantle in fifteen seconds and the stability rings will be retracted. Please disembark the elevator now."

What the fuck? And the doors did open. He stepped onto the drab grey carpet of a very long corridor. He was somewhere close to the middle of it. At the far end, he saw a very large dog sitting. The dog began running towards him immediately, growling savagely. 

Richard ran and opened a door marked STAIRS directly before him. There was a brick wall behind it. A fine joke. The dog was halfway to him when he opened the next door on an empty office. He stepped inside and slammed the door. The voice spoke instantly, directly into the room. "You may not stay in any room. Gas will be released in fifteen seconds. Should you choose to remain in this room, you will wake up back in your car. In that case, you will never be employed by Praseo Industries. Or you may continue on to your interview in room 7752." Rose fell silent.

He cursed himself as he grabbed a small metal chair for defense and stepped back into the corridor, determined to have his interview.

The dog was on him instantly, but he wielded the chair effectively. He saw the fangs covered in slather, and instinctively wanted to smash its skull in, silence its wild barking. He tried another door, randomly, not really thinking rationally, and saw a meeting in session. "Get the hell out of here!" the meeting leader said, and most of the other suits laughed. He stepped back into the corridor and slammed the door.

Richard hurried backwards down the corridor, keeping the chair between him and the maniac dog. He realized luck was on his side since the numbers on the doors were leading up to room 7752. He had gone the right direction when he stepped out of the elevator. But where the hell was the high frequency whistle? He passed a door that said simply "HELP" and realized that must be his target. 

He opened the door and was surprised to see blue sky through the windows. There was no one there, but on a large executive style desk there was a whistle suspended in a little case. He grabbed it while still fending the pit bull off with the chair. He was bleeding now from one ankle where the dog had made a lucky grab. He blew the whistle. There was no sound. Well, there was no sound Richard's ears could hear. But the pit bull instantly sat peacefully on its haunches and looked up at Richard expectantly. Almost like an innocent child. 

Richard was trying to catch his breath. He refused to put down the chair, calm dog or not. He noticed then there was a set of headphones on the desk with a note attached which read, "PLAY ME." He put them on and activated them. A real human voice, a man's voice, addressed Richard now: "Congratulations! You are now ready to be interviewed for employment with Praseo Industries. Please continue on to Room 7752. No worries. No more tricks or tests. Oh, one last thing. Should you get the job, you simply have to kill your interviewer. Mr. Gravesend. There's an ax located in his supplies closet. If he confirms your employment, kindly terminate him. We look forward to working with you at Praseo Industries." The voice was gone. Muzak began playing softly in the headphones. He took them off.

Richard stepped out of the room and closed the door on the dog, who never stopped giving him a look that seemed to ask when they were going to play catch together.

He proceeded to room 7752 and knocked lightly at the door.

"Come in," he heard from the other side. Once inside, an elderly man stood up to greet him warmly. It was like shaking the hand of one's uncle, a genuinely warm and beneficent handshake.

And the interview went swimmingly. 

At the conclusion, Mr. Gravesend smiled for a moment, his folded hands under his chin.

"You're a keeper, Richard. Praseo wants you."

Richard accepted the proffered hand. He looked at the liver spots on the hand. He saw how the hand was wrinkled, the skin so thin.

Richard looked at Mr. Gravesend's kind, twinkly eyes. He looked at the door of the office supplies closet. His eyes went back to Mr. Gravesend. To the closet. To Mr. Gravesend.

“What?” Mr. Gravesend asked, befuddled, a wave of misgivings suddenly coming over him, now visibly present in his face as a deepening of the wrinkles.


As Richard parked in front of his charming little house in the suburbs, he saw Helen waiting expectantly at the door. Her nervous smile. He knew she would love him either way. That’s what made it so wonderful.

“Oh my gosh, why are you in your gym clothes? What happened to your suit?” Helen wrinkled her nose in confusion as she opened the front door for him.

“I had a messy little accident. It was nothing.” Richard smiled. “Forget the suit. I never liked it anyway. Focus instead on the fact that you’re looking at the newest employee of Praseo Industries.”

“Well, let my throw these gold digging arms of mine around you, honey.” It was all a little party suddenly. A feast where there had been famine, mere hours before.

When she finally asked about the salary, they were both sitting on their living room sofa, holding hands like children. He whispered it in her ear, sexily.

She looked at him in a childlike way. It was much more than the alleged salary of the husband of the friend of the friend.

“And here’s the best part,” Richard continued. “They might have a job for you. On the fortieth floor, there’s an opening. And I think you’d be perfect for it. It fits your skillset to a T.”

“Really?” Helen shrilled. She was tickled. She had begun to feel guilty that she was really doing nothing with the education in which she had invested so much time and money. Guilty and stultified.

“Yes, hon, but they made me swear that I wouldn’t tell you anything about the Praseo interviewing process. And I won’t. You need to just mentally prepare as best you can. And, besides, they told me every interview is different. Just bring your best game. I know you can do it. I believe in you.”

Helen kissed him again. It wasn’t every man who would feel comfortable with his future wife working for the same company he did.

Richard was special like that: a real keeper.