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Why America's Abandoned Asylums All Look the Same

An old abandoned insane asylum always makes for a good horror story setting. The US has more than a hundred abandoned asylums, so it's a trope we are all familiar with. They have quite a bit in common with each other. First, they are abandoned. Second, these old buildings all look alike. The reason for this was the influence of Pennsylvania doctor Thomas Kirkbride. He advocated for the philosophy that the mentally ill should be treated instead of simply being isolated. It was the moral thing to do.

Kirkbride worked a few years at the Friends Asylum, learning and practicing moral treatment. Then in 1840, he became superintendent of his own asylum, the Philadelphia Hospital for the Insane. It was here that he began thinking about another way to treat insanity. He started thinking a lot about the environment where patients were treated.

As part of a push to get patients out of that prison-like basement, the hospital had already commissioned a brighter, more spacious building in the countryside, but Kirkbride came to believe that even this wasn’t enough. He wanted an asylum designed with treatment in mind. A few years later, Kirkbride was given the opportunity to construct his own facility for the hospital and began to experiment. The architecture of the building, the landscaping of its grounds, the efficiency of its operation — nothing was left to chance. He documented everything he learned in an extremely detailed book called On the Construction, Organization, and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane With Some Remarks on Insanity and Its Treatment.

The asylum designs that came to be known as Kirkbrides were magnificent and quite progressive for their time. Read about the rise and fall of Kirkbride asylums at 99% Invisible. -via Digg


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My maternal grandfather was chief psychiatrist at the Newark NY "State School". When I visited him as a child he would take me to work with him. Many "creepy" memories, but yes the place was like a castle and park.
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This is a great story. My grandmother was a patient at Buffalo State and I still have strong memories from the early 60s of regular Sunday visits. It was like a castle and some of the pictures in the article are exactly what I remember - huge and ornate. The grounds were the same and well maintained. We'd go for walks; it was like a big park. Serene and quiet.
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