Urban Exploration Sanitarium: Hope Hall Part 2 – Stigma

When I walked up to the table to check in for the tour of Hope Hall, the woman standing there handed me a piece of paper and a pen. “Sign at the bottom, please,” she said. I looked at the paper. It was a liability release. With a raised eyebrow I signed the form and sat on a chair while the other participants filed in.
The OU film, Mental Hospital from the 1950s was playing on a projector. How many times had I watched that in the past six weeks? I found myself watching again, confused as to whether it was meant to be an advertisement or a PSA. Maybe a bit of both? It is hard to take something like that too seriously when you are a person with a neurological condition sitting in a mental hospital. I might be biased though…

I learned a lot on this tour. Mainly that my bias has been the driving force behind my exploration of Central State/Griffin Memorial Hospital thus far. It has driven it in many directions and made me think about the hospital and psychology in many different ways. That night, I was fortunate enough to get another angle to the story. One I really needed in order to balance out my thoughts and feelings on the history of Central State/Griffin Memorial Hospital.

The first stop on the tour was the morgue, which sat behind a locked door, zig-zaged with caution tape. We were unable to go inside due to the state of the room, but I doubt most in the group would have wanted to go in anyway. The guide informed us that the hospital was a multi-purpose institution with surgeons, medical doctors, psychologists, nurses and a full-time dentist. Some people spent years at the hospital and passed away there. The morgue was a place to hold the deceased until the family claimed them, or, if not one did claim them, until they were buried in Rock Creek Cemetery.

We were passed from guide to guide as we observed several rooms on the first floor which housed objects from the old hospital. It was much like a museum tour. We were told about the various forms of therapy, including occupational, recreational and group therapies. And, of course, we were told about insulin shock, electroshock, lobotomies and sterilizations, all of which were common practice at the time. However, this history was punctuated with contrasting explanations of how metal health care is practiced today. Next to a room with a restraint bed was a “de-escalation room” with stress balls, calming scents and relaxing chairs where patients could take the time they needed to calm themselves. The two views in some ways are very different owing to the advances in science in the last 100 years.

One thing that was expressed a number of times on the tour stood out to me though. “The doctors and staff at Central State/Griffin Memorial Hospital did the best for their patients according to the best practices at the time.” It is hard to get past the idea of lobotomies and shock treatments, as alarming as they may seem, but these treatments did show results in treating symptoms. Today, we have the information to better treat underlying conditions and to recognize chemical imbalances and such, but it is not as if doctors in the past were not doing what they could for their patients. I think that sometimes, the horrors of these places make great ghost stories and people get caught up in that. I will admit I got caught up in my own biases. It was hard not to. It was close to home…maybe too close, but so very important. However, I like to think that I have a decent sense of empathy, which can be useful at times. In this case, one sentence was the catalyst for empathy and a significant perspective.

One of the goals of these tours (which are not common) is to banish the stigma that people with mental illness and neurological conditions are scary or don’t belong in society. That is a goal I have as well, however on this tour, I found myself letting go of the stigma that mental hospitals were these harsh places that they are depicted in films and stories. There is something calming about letting go of stigma and judgement. It frees up emotional space and allows you to move forward with positive ideas instead of carrying around mental baggage. That is how I felt when I left Hope Hall that night.

This tour concluded my focus on Central State Hospital history and shifted it towards the more recent history of Griffin Memorial Hospital. In the near future, I hope to conduct a series of interviews with people who have experienced Griffin MEmorial Hospital in one aspect or another. I would like to share stories that banish the sigma of Griffin as a scary place filled with scary people. I found nothing scary on my tour of Hope Hall. Just an institution whose mission is to help others and always has been.

As for the liability release…standard procedure in a construction area.

All images copyright: Catherine Carter