Danvers Lunatic Asylum

The Danvers State Hospital, also known as the State Lunatic Hospital at Danvers, The Danvers Lunatic Asylum, and The Danvers State Insane Asylum, was a psychiatric hospital located on what was once known as Hawthorne Hill, in Danvers, Massachusetts. This is ironically where the Salem Witch Trials judge, John Hathorne, once lived. Which, sounds like a future train ride or bonus… maybe. It’s been done a lot. And HOLY SHIT was that a fucked up situation. If you think people are judgmental now, OH BOY!

Once occupied on a hilltop site of over 500 acres with a commanding view of Boston 18 miles to the south. Known as Hawthorne Hill, Porter Hill, and Dodge's Hill, the Commonwealth purchased the site in 1874 from Francis Dodge, who owned the 200 acre Dodge Farm and was a local farmer and Civil War veteran, for a whopping $39,542, right around $907,322.41 in today's money. It was laviously covered with established oak, pine, and apple groves. Speaking of apples, my family owns the distinct privilege of finding and documenting the first “Golden Delicious'' apple tree. The original tree was found on the Mullins' family farm (My grandmother was a Mullins) in Clay County, West Virginia, in the U.S. of Fuckin’ A, and was locally known as Mullin's Yellow Seedling and Annit apple. Maybe you don’t give a shit and maybe you do. Either way, that’s now a part of YOUR useless knowledge. Suggit! Just kidding… kind of.

The State Lunatic Hospital at Danvers was erected, (erected… hehe) under the supervision of prominent Boston architect Nathaniel J Bradlee, in an extremely rural, out-of-the-way location.The immediate crisis which precipitated the building of a mental hospital north of Boston was the imminence in the early 1870's of the closing of the facility at South Boston. In 1873, Worcester, Taunton and Northampton and the 1866 Tewksbury Asylum for chronic patients were already housing 1300 patients in buildings designed for 1000; So, a LITTLE tiny bit crowded. And another 1200 patients were scattered about in various other hospitals.


At a cost of $1.5 million at the time, right around $39,237,300 the hospital originally consisted of two main center buildings, housing the administration, with four radiating wings on each side of the Administration Block. Said to be the inspiration for our own episode topic H.P. Lovecraft’s Arkham Sanatorium, Danvers had a gothic design that has captured the imagination of horror aficionados, the world over. The kitchen, laundry, chapel, and dormitories for the attendants were in a connecting building in the rear. Middleton Pond supplied the hospital its water. On each side of the main building were the wings, for male and female patients respectively. The outermost wards were reserved for the most hostile patients.

It included space for patients, attendants, and administration, reflecting a centralized approach to care. Later buildings were added such as the Male and Female Nurses Homes representing the segregation of patients and staff; the male & female tubercular buildings and the Bonner Medical Building represent specialization of medical treatment; the cottages, repair shops and farm buildings represent an increased self-sufficiency for the hospital, an emphasis on occupational therapy and increased dispersal of the hospital population. A circumferential (my 10 point scrabble word) and interior road network serviced the entire complex.

The hospital opened on May 1st, 1878 and the hospital's first patients arrived on May 13th. Dr. Calvin S. May was appointed Superintendent through 1880. Previous to Danvers, Dr. May was an Assistant Physician at the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane from 1874-1877, and for 1877 was Acting Superintendent. While Danvers was originally established to provide residential treatment and care to the mentally ill, its functions expanded to include a training program for nurses in 1889 and a pathological research laboratory in 1895. By the 1920's the hospital was operating school clinics to help determine mental deficiency in children. During the 1960's as a result of increased emphasis on alternative methods of treatment and deinstitutionalization and community based mental health care, the inpatient population started to decrease. Danvers State Hospital closed on June 24, 1992 due to budget cuts within the mental health system by the former Governor, William Weld.

Danvers State Hospital, originally known as the State Lunatic Hospital at Danvers, was significant in both architectural and social history. Designed in 1874 by noted Boston architect, N.J. Bradlee, it is an implementation of the nationally recognized Kirkbride plan. When built it represented the latest contemporary advances in technology and engineering as well as architecture. Later additions reflect changes in mental health care philosophy and contribute to an understanding of the overall functioning of the hospital. Historically, Danvers State Hospital was significant for its leading role in treatment of the insane including an advanced occupational therapy program, early training facilities for staff, and a long-term concern with community health issues. Thus, Danvers State Hospital possesses integrity of location, design, setting, materials and workman­ship. Concern for the disadvantaged, including the poor, the sick, and the mentally disturbed, was recognized as a responsibility of the public sector in Massachusetts since its early 17th century settlement period. Until the mid-19th century, the charge for their care rested primarily with the towns in which they resided through locally established poor farms: As the towns' duties in 'this regard- became unwieldy and largely' unfulfilled, due to in part to the pressures of immigration and rapidly increasing numbers of unsettled poor, the state stepped in first establishing the Board of Commissioners of Alien Passengers (1851) and in 1863 the Board of State Charities. Though still administratively combined, different facilities and types of care were gradually provided to victims of varying types of misfortune. For example, by 1863, three state hospitals specifically to care for the insane had been built: at Worcester (1877), at Taunton (1854), and at Northampton (1856).

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​Bradlee's design for Danvers State Hospital was based on his unbuilt 1867 plan and 1868 plan for an insane asylum at Winthrop. Many locations were picked including Nahant, Chelsea, Dorchester and Roxbury but the state purchased land in Winthrop. After numerous appeals to relocate Winthrop to another location, Danvers was finally chosen. A logical choice of the Danvers commissioners in December 1873, he prepared for this project by researching hospitals at Worcester, MA Poughkeepsie, NY, Concord, NH, Philadelphia, Trenton, and one under construction at Morristown, NJ. On this basis, he asked for $900,000 almost half again what the commissioners had allotted in April and picked draftsman James F. Ellis to be superintending architect during its construction. The Danvers site, was chosen for its beauty, privacy, view, and farming potential. Eighteen miles north of Boston, 2 miles west of Danvers, 7 miles from the coal port at Salem, accessibility to visitors and a supply of heating fuel were also deciding factors. The "Swan's Crossing" station (later renamed Asylum Station) on the Lawrence Branch of the Eastern Railroad sat on the northern border of the tract. Under the supervision of Lynn engineer Charles Hammond, an overall site plan was drawn up, locating the main building on the crown of Hathorne Hill and providing also for a support network of roads and room for a farming operation.


Bitter controversy over the building of Danvers State Hospital centered around its con­figuration, ornamentation and cost. Construction began May l, 1874, eventually cost a whopping $1,464, 940. 57. Many agreed that "Danvers rank(ed) among the foremost in its facilities for convenience in practical operation, its provisions for securing that purity of atmosphere which is necessary to the perfection of hygienic conditions and in its general adaptation to the purpose for which it was intended." They explained "the plan, the style, the architect, and the thoroughness and permanence of the work already performed."

In 1877 an inquiry was held into cost overruns during which the issue of the hospital's style, dubbed "Domestic Gothic" by Bradlee, inevitably surfaced. The Commissioners defended their plans which when exhibited at the International Exhibition in Philadelphia, received the only award made to this country for plans for an insane hospital. Others lined up behind Senator Sanborn who, calling it the "Hospital Palace at Danvers", argued that "even many a royal palace is neither so large nor so pretentious architecturally as the hospital at Danvers." (Sanborn, E.F.; The Hospital Palace at Danvers ; 1877). Pliny Earle, then Superintendent at the State Lunatic Asylum in Northampton "decried the trend to excessive ornamentation in hospital architecture, preferring comfortable interiors to 'gorgeous exteriors', suggesting that domes, towers, and turrets are very appropriately situated 'at universities like Harvard and Yale but are scarcely appropriate' when they stand as monuments over the misfortune and the miseries of men. "(Lucy Sanborn, The towers and turrets were in fact necessary to the building's ventilating system, not merely stylistic features.)

The investigating committee concluded that several errors in judgment had been made. While the hospital commissioners were “superseded” early as a reprimand, a $150,000 appropriation was awarded to allow the completion of construction. The first patient was admitted May 13, 1878. Provision of pure water, an important component in 19th century mental health therapy, was also the subject of argument during the construction and early years of the hospital. The nearby Ipswich River was explored early as a source. Ultimately, the town of Danvers, which had in 1874 established its own water supply from Middleton Pond at Wills' Hill, indicated its willingness to service the hospital's needs as well. In 1876, an agreement was struck whereby the town would build its own intermediate reservoir on the grounds to supply a gravity feed system via a series of ten 5000 gallon tanks in the attic.



The towns' inability to cope with a rapidly rising and undigested anti-social population was not the only impetus behind state involvement in mental health. Another important component was the move away from "demonology" toward moral treatment of the insane, a cause which was loudly and publicly championed by such social reformers as Boston's Dorothea Lynde Dix. Her energetic career (1841-1887) had significant local as well as national and international impact.


Ok, so what the fuck is “demonolgy”? Demonology, as some of you dark sumbitches may know, is the study of demons or beliefs about demons. They may be nonhuman, separable souls, or discarnate spirits which have never inhabited a body. Once smarty pants doctors and psychologists realized that people were mentally ill and stopped pointing their fingers at them for being “possessed by the goddamn devil!”, science slowly moved in and people started to receive the help they needed.

At mid-century, the humanistic approach toward care of the insane was generally accepted, about time, dummies...yet controversy still surrounded the form or building arrangement such institutions should assume. Some, heavily represented on the State Board of Charities, favored the dispersion of the dependent as opposed to their congregation. The other faction in the controversy, which found many supporters in the Association of Medical' Superintendents, favored a large, highly centralized complex. Chief proponent of the centralized plan was Thomas S. Kirkbride, M.D., L.L.D. (1809-1883), a founder of the American Psychiatric Association, physician to the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane, and friend of Dorothea Lynde Dix. Sorry about your name, Dorothea.


Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, who is a legitimate badass and who served the Pennsylvania Hospital as the superintendent from 1841-1883 created a humane and compassionate environment for his patients, and believed that beautiful settings restored patients to a more natural "balance of the senses". Dr. Kirkbride's progressive therapies and innovative writings on hospital design along with management became known as the (DUN DUN DUN) Kirkbride Plan, which influenced, in one form or another, almost every American state hospital by the turn of the century including Danvers.

Kirkbride the badass devised a specific institutional model, thereafter known as the (DUN DUN DUN) Kirkbride Plan, which was built upon in all thirty states then in existence and in several European cities. H.H. Richardson, the prominent American architect. for example, built a variation of the Kirkbride Plan hospital in Buffalo, NY in the early 1870s in cooperation with Frederick Law Olmsted. The Kirkbride Plan provided that mental hospitals should:


l. be built “in the country” though accessible at all seasons

2. be set on grounds of at least 100 acres

3. house a maximum of 250 patients

4. be built of stone or brick with slate or metal roof and otherwise made as fireproof as possible

5. be composed of 8 wards, separated according to sex, and built according to other specifications as to size, location, and material of accommodations

6. be organized with wings flanking a central administration building

7. house the most "excited" patients in the end or outermost wings

8. provide an abundance of "pure fresh air"

Kirkbride's hospitals were intended as monuments to the belief that most insane are curable and thus that the function of the hospital is primarily curative and not custodial. That curative process was to be greatly enhanced by pleasant surroundings, fresh air, and pure water. Fully developed Massachusetts' examples of the Kirkbride Plan exist at Danvers and at Worcester


By the turn of the 20th century, Danvers State Hospital had outgrown its site and facilities. Therefore, in 1902 an additional 100 acres straddling the towns of Danvers and Middleton, was purchased and a major building campaign was undertaken. Twentieth century additions to the hospital reflect not only growth of the patient population, but also an increased emphasis on occupational therapy and current theories of decentralized care. Large barns (demolished) were built as were new buildings for the men who helped out the farming venture. Grove Hall and Farm Hall and for women chronic patients (Middleton Colony 1903). In fact, after the very first year of its operation, once the layout was decided, roads, fences, piggery, corn barn, wagon shed, manure cellar, and apple orchard were in place. After only the second, 50 cords of wood and 10,386 lbs. of fresh pork were realized. The farm continued to grow and prosper and soon became a famous model. The Danvers onion, locally derived by the Gregory Seed Co., was among the many vegetables grown. Elaborate pleasure gardens were established adjacent to the Kirkbride complex to supplement recreational therapy programs. In fact, the Danvers State Hospital was so remarkable that it attracted 12,000 yearly visitors as early as 1880. In addition to visiting patients, they brought contributions of books, magazines, and flowers and conducted religious services. Thus, was established a pattern of community involvement for which the hospital would later become noted.


As originally established, the Danvers hospital was to be run by a resident Superintendent appointed by an unpaid lay Board of Trustees, chosen by the Governor. Central authority lay with the Board of State Charities (after 1879-The State Board of Health, Lunacy and Charity). In 1898 the leadership role of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts radically advanced with the information of the State Board of Insanity, the first in the United States. Landmark legislation:

l. took the poor out of the almshouses and put them under state control.

2. introduced occupational therapy and social services.

3. emphasized mental hygiene, and called for professional training of nurses and attendants.

Danvers State Hospital became a leader in the implementation of these progressive and humanitarian tenets, becoming one of "the most advanced institutions of the kind in the country providing all practical means possible for intelligent treatments of insanity as a disease." (Frank E. Moynaham (Publisher), Danvers, Massachusetts (Danvers: Danvers Mirror, 1899) Danvers State made extensive early use of occupational therapy. In addition to working the farm and greenhouses, patients repaired facilities (like the reservoir-1912), dug tunnels (like the one to the Nurses' Home-1913), and built small buildings (like the 1917 slaughter­ house built from patient-made concrete blocks). They also made shoes and participated in other crafts and Montessori kindergarten exercises. Patient crafts were sold to the public and exhibited (along with displays about the hospital's latest therapeutic techniques) at exhibitions; like the Boston Mechanics Hall Textile Show (1916) and the one at Stoneham (1919). Mental and physical hygiene at Danvers State was guided by the most advanced contemporary thinking (despite epidemics such as the great outbreak of bacillary dysentery of 1908 in which 36 died). Primary ingredients in the program were recreational therapy (gardens, etc.) fresh air supplied by an advanced ventilating system, and especially hydrotherapy. It was believed that the use of water baths to ameliorate the clogged condition of the brain would allow for the discontinuance of irritating restraints and depressing drugs and advanced pathology department supported the hygiene effort.

Danvers State Hospital established the second nursing school in Massachusetts (1889) and the second nurses' home in the state (Gray Gables-1898). It had already pioneered by being the first Massachusetts mental hospital to hire a woman doctor (1879). By the end of the 1920s, two large nurses' homes had been built on the property, one for female nurses and the other for male.

The hospital was a leader in the area of community involvement from the start. As early as 1907, the Superintendent was advocating a preventive mental health program. In 1909 the "Danvers Series" was inaugurated to share the results of research at the hospital. By 1912 there was an active community mental health program. "From such beginnings grew the Massachusetts Plan in which the state hospital is regarded as the center of mental hygiene and psychiatric activity throughout the district." About the same time the Massachusetts Plan was being popularized, 1938, the current Department of Mental Health was set up. It succeeded the Commission on Mental Diseases, which had replaced the State Board of Insanity in 1916.


By the 1920s the hospital was operating school clinics to help determine mental deficiency in children. Reports were made that various inhumane shock therapies, lobotomies, drugs, and straitjackets were being used to keep the crowded hospital under control. This sparked controversy.

Shock therapy and straight jackets became the norm. The thinking was that jolts of electricity could either alter a patient’s brain or make the patient afraid of shock therapy and scare them into submission. When they misbehaved, they were put in straight jackets and forgotten.

When shock therapy failed, the lobotomies started. In 1939, the medical community was looking for a permanent fix to the crisis facing mental health facilities. The population of the hospital swelled to 2,360. A total of 278 people died at the hospital that year.

Medical science saw lobotomies as a cure for anyone’s insanity, and as a way to stop the deaths.

Neurology experts often called Danvers State Hospital the “birthplace of the prefrontal lobotomy.”

Brought to the US and perfected by Dr. Walter Freeman, most while at Danvers. The moniker came from its widespread use, but also from the deplorable procedures refinement at the hospital.

What is a lobotomy, you may ask yourself, well… self, I’ll tell you.

LOBOTOMY (from the Greek lobos, meaning lobes of the brain, and tomos, meaning cut) is a psychosurgical procedure in which the connections the prefrontal cortex, the section of the frontal cortex that lies at the very front of the brain, in front of the premotor cortex, and underlying structures are severed, or the frontal cortical tissue is destroyed, the theory being that this leads to the uncoupling of the brain's emotional centres and the seat of intellect (in the subcortical structures and the frontal cortex, respectively).

The lobotomy was first performed on humans in the 1890s. About half a century later, it was being touted by some as a miracle cure for mental illness, and its use became widespread; during its heyday in the 1940s and '50s, the lobotomy was performed on some 40,000 patients in the United States, and on around 10,000 in Western Europe. The procedure became popular because there was no alternative, and because it was seen to alleviate several social crises: overcrowding in psychiatric institutions, and the increasing cost of caring for mentally ill patients. Um, because they were making ZOMBIES!!

Although psychosurgery has been performed since the dawn of civilization, the origins of the modern lobotomy are found in animal experiments carried out towards the end of the nineteenth century. The German physiologist Friedrich Goltz (1834-1902) performed SURGICAL removal of the neocortex in dogs, and observed the changes in behaviour that occurred as a result:

I have mentioned that dogs with a large lesion in the anterior part of the brain generally show a change in character in the sense that they become excited and quite apt to become irate. Dogs with large lesions of the occipital lobe on the other hand become sweet and harmless, even when they were quite nasty before.

Poor dogs...These findings inspired the physician Gottlieb Burkhardt (1836- ?), the director of a small asylum in Prefargier, Switzerland, to use these removals of the cortex to try and cure his mentally ill patients. In 1890, Burkhardt removed parts of the frontal cortex from 6 of his schizophrenic patients. One of these patients later committed suicide, and another died within one week of his surgery. Thus, although Burkhardt believed that his method had been somewhat successful, he faced strong opposition, and stopped experimenting with brain surgery. Quitter.

It was not until the 1930s that lobotomy was again performed on humans. The modern procedure was pioneered at that time by the Portugese neuropsychiatrist Antonio Egas Moniz, a professor at the University of Lisbon Medical School. While attending a frontal lobe symposium in London, Moniz learned of the work of Carlyle Jacobsen and John Fulton, both of whom were experimental neurologists at Yale University.

Jacobsen and Fulton reported that frontal and prefrontal cortical damage in chimpanzees led to a massive reduction in aggression, while complete removal of the frontal cortex led to the inability to induce experimental neuroses in the chimps. Here, they describe the post-operational behaviour of a chimp named "Becky", who had previously got extremely distressed after making mistakes during the task she had learnt:

The chimpanzee...went to the experimental cage. The usual procedure of baiting the cup and lowering the opaque screen was followed...If the animal made a mistake, it showed no evidence of emotional disturbance but quietly awaited the loading of the cups for the next trial. It was as if the animal had joined the "happiness cult of the Elder Micheaux," and had placed its burdens on the Lord!

On hearing the presentation by Jacobsen and Fulton, Moniz asked if the surgical procedure would be beneficial for people with otherwise untreatable psychoses. Although the Yale researchers were shocked by the question, Moniz, together with his colleague Almeida Lima, operated on his first patient some three months later.

On November, 12th, 1935, Moniz and Lima performed for the first time what they called a prefrontal leucotomy ("white matter cutting"). The operation was carried out on a female manic depressive patient, and lasted about 30 minutes. The patient was first anaesthetized, and her skull was perforated on both sides (that is, holes were drilled through the bone). Then, absolute alcohol was injected through the holes in the skull, into the white matter beneath the prefrontal area. Jebus christmas!

In this way, two of the bundles of nerve fibres connecting the frontal cortex and the thalamus were severed. (The thalamus is either of two masses of gray matter lying between the cerebral hemispheres of the brain on either side of the third ventricle, relaying sensory information and acting as a center for pain perception.) Moniz reported that the patient seemed less anxious and paranoid afterwards, and pronounced the operation a success. Subsequently, he and Lima used a knife, which, when inserted through the holes in the skull and moved back and forth within the brain substance would sever the thalamo-cortical connections. What the fuck!!!! They later developed a special wire knife called a leucotome, (that sounds better, doesn’t it?) which had an open steel loop at its end; when closed, the loop severed the nerve tracts within it. You know who else used an object like that? Yep! Egyptians who turned people into mummies.

These procedures were "blind" - the exact path of the leucotome could not be determined, so the operations produced mixed results. Ya think?! In some cases, there were improvements in behaviour; in others, there was no noticeable difference; and in yet others, the symptoms being treated became markedly worse! In all, Moniz and Lima operated on approximately 50 patients. FIFTY! The best results were obtained in patients with mood disorders, while the treatment was least effective in schizophrenics.

In 1936, Moniz published his findings in medical journals, and travelled to London, where he presented his work to others in the medical community. In 1949, he was shot four times by one of his patients (on a positive note, it wasn’t one who had been lobotomized… SHOCKER!); one of the bullets entered his spine and remained lodged there until his death some years later. In the same year as the shooting, Moniz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine, for his innovations in neurosurgery AND SCRAMBLING PEOPLES BRAIN EGGS!

So, what in the shit does this have to do with Danvers Lunatic asylum? Well...

The American clinical neurologist Walter Freeman (1895-1972) had been following the work of Moniz closely, and had also attended the symposium on the frontal lobe. It was Freeman who introduced the lobotomy to the United States, and who would later become the biggest advocate of the technique. With neurosurgeon James Watts, Freeman refined the technique developed by Moniz. They changed the name of the technique to "lobotomy", to emphasize that it was white and grey matter that was being destroyed.

The Freeman-Watts Standard Procedure was used for the first time in September 1936. Also known as "the precision method", this involved inserting a blunt spatula through holes in both sides of the skull; the instrument was moved up and down to sever the thalamo-cortical fibers (above). However, Freeman was unhappy with the new procedure. He considered it to be both time-consuming and messy, and so developed a quicker method, the so-called "ice-pick"lobotomy, Did you get that? ICE… PICK…! which he performed for the first time on January 17th, 1945.

With the patient rendered unconscious by electroshock, an instrument was inserted above the eyeball, mmmhmmm... through the orbit using a hammer. (Calm down, Thor) Once inside the brain, the instrument was moved back and forth; this was then repeated on the other side. (The ice-pick lobotomy, named as such because the instrument used resembled the tool with which ice is broken, is therefore also known as the transorbital lobotomy.

Freeman's new technique could be performed in about 10 minutes. Because it did not require anaesthesia, it could be performed outside of the clinical setting, and lobotomized patients did not need hospital internment afterwards. Thus, Freeman often performed lobotomies in his Washington D.C. office, much to the horror of Watts, who would later dissociate himself from his former colleague and the procedure, because fuck that guy!

Freeman happily performed ice-pick lobotomies on anyone who was referred to him. During his career, he would perform almost 3,500 operations. Like the leucotomies performed by Moniz and Lima, those performed by Freeman were blind, and also gave mixed results. Some of his patients could return to work, while others were left in something like a vegetative state.

Most famously, Freeman lobotomized President John F. Kennedy's sister Rosemary, who’s lobotomy was scheduled BY HER FATHER and without her mother knowing, because she was mentally impaired!! She was incapacitated by the operation, which was performed on her when she was only 23 years of age. Rosemary spent the next six decades hidden from the public in a Wisconsin Catholic institution, where she was cared for by nuns. She died there in 2005 at age 86. Her father never visited her again, and her siblings rarely spoke of her. WHAT THE FUCK, KENNEDYS!?!

Also, on December 16th, 1960, Freeman notoriously performed an ice-pick lobotomy on a 12-year-old boy named Howard Dully, at the behest of Dully's wicked fucking stepmother, who had grown tired of his defiant behaviour. Howard went on to say