Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased

With its many trees, shrubbery, and Gothic buildings, the Chicago State Hospital
on West Irving Park Road, always reminded me of the sanitarium at Whitby, where in
the film, Dracula, about the schizophrenic patient, Renfield was institutionalized. Like
Rienfield too, the patients at Dunning Hospital appeared to be incurable and long-term hospitalizations were commonplace. Once behind the eight-foot iron picket fence, patients were rarely returned to the outside and often died there. They worked, lived, recreated

Mental health treatment for the poor even in 1851, at Dunning Hospital, suffered from the same problems that plague such treatment today. They are lack of qualified physicians, lack of money, overcrowded facilities, and poor follow up care. Good mental health care has always been a two-tier system. Quality mental health care including psychoanalysis are privileges afforded mainly to the wealthy while the poor must relegate themselves to the whims of a often inadequate, mismanaged, and inefficient public mental health system.

In this realm I was not surprised to learn from my research of Dunning Hospital that it was opened in 1851 as a poor farm or almshouse. Dunning farm consisted of 160 acres and was sold to the county by a Peter Ludby, a farmer who managed to own land via squatter's rights back in 1839. In 1858, under the direction of a physician, Dr. D. B. Fonda, an insane asylum building was completed. This building was made of brick, three stories high, and it had a basement. The cost came to $25,000.

The first bi-annual report of the Board of State Commissioners of Public Charities of the State of Illinois, dated December 1870, read as follows:

Although the keeper of the Cook County Almshouse and insane asylum seems to be a humane, conscientious man, who conducts the institution on the best of his ability under the circumstances and surroundings, it is nevertheless for so wealthy a county a miserably planned and badly managed institution.

The capacity is probably not over 450 inmates, while the number of inmates is sometimes as great as 700.


The constantly increasing number of mentally ill cases in the wards of the poor house made manifest the necessity of expanding facilities. By 1871, a new and larger insane asylum was built, replete with bathrooms, water closets and stairs to the yards. A dining room, linen rooms, a laundry, a bakery, and a kitchen were later added to the wings of the building. In 1872, a new library was fitted up for the patients at a cost of $500.00. One of the large rooms in the rear of the asylum was made into a sewing room, and this room was also used for dances, once or twice a week for the patients.
Dr. John Spray was medical director from January 1, 1878, to September 1, 18825, and he was superintendent from September 1, 1882 to September 1 1884. It was interesting to note that of the patients under treatment during March 1884, there were 285 males and 325 females. Out of this inmate population only 50 were born in America. Of special interest also under Dr. Spray's tenure as superintendent were his appointments of the very first female physicians to a mental health facility in America. The female physicians were Drs. Delia Howe and Harriet Alexander.
Dunning was also the first mental health hospital to appoint graduate and trained female nurses in charge of psychiatric nursing and administration of all medications.

In 1910, a large fire destroyed several buildings on the grounds. However, most of the property destroyed had been the antiquated infirmary buildings. By 1912, new construction over the 234 acres of land brought a hydrotherapy building, a tuberculosis infirmary, a morgue, a chapel, a pathological building, chicken houses and cultivation land, a training school for nurses, a drug store, swimming pool, and an infirmary that treated infectious diseases, primarily syphilis and gonorrhea.

On July 1, 1912, the County of Cook transferred to the State of Illinois all lands, buildings, and equipment at Dunning. The name was changed from Cook County Institutions at Dunning, Illinois to Chicago State hospital. The first permanent superintendent appointed was Dr. George Leininger on April 7, 1913. He served well into the 1940's. Accept for the new administration building finished in 1916, and the Horner building, completed in 1937, little construction was added up to 1968, when the old facilities were phased out and later fell to wreckers, thus giving way to the ultramodern, Read Center which emphasized deinstitutionalization and strong chemotherapy treatment.
Mental health treatment has always lagged behind the progress of modern medicine. In 1915, Dr F. B. Clark, once acting superintendent at Dunning wrote, "the treatment plan of the insane person is one of medieval unpleasantness. The use of hydrotherapy, electro-shock therapy, and hormone injections (insulin) are terrifying, harmful, and questionable treatment value to patient".
It was not until 1956, that Chicago State Hospital (CSH) instituted a large chemotherapy treatment plan for its mentally ill patients, reducing the agony of hydrotherapy, electro-shock therapy (ECT), and insulin shock. When ECT was administered to the patients, neighbors along Narragansett could hear loud screams and pleas for mercy. I can recall as a youngster while riding my bicycle along Narragansett and hearing these cacophonous sounds. It was enough to unnerve anybody.

Besides the unrelenting screams, there always excited a fear among the neighborhood surrounding CSH that an inmate would escape at night, break into one's home, and strangle someone in their bed. Today there is still a fear of the mentally ill. In the 1920's and 1930's, people were even more fearful. People living around CSH locked their doors, slept with a pipe or baseball bat by their beds or even kept a gun or knife in reaching distance. Their irrational fear caused strange behavior.
Even with lax security, escapes from CSH were minimal. Patients in long-term institutions are fearful of the outside world and this fear is even greater if they have spent half their lives there. Art Seurbon, who still owns a shoe repair shop on Irving Park Road, told me about a patient at CSH called, Wolfman. During the cycle of the full moon, Wolfman would scale the eight-foot picket iron fence and fun into nearby Mount Olive Cemetery, where he would bay like a wolf. The police and warders were dispatched to the cemetery with flashlights to bring him back.
Tragically in 1951, a 300-pound black lady tried to scale the same iron fence and became impaled on one of the spearhead like fence pickets.

One of the more interesting facets of Chicago State Hospital was Cook County Car No. 1. From 1918 to 1939, this 60,000-pound interurban type car made weekly trips, carrying mentally ill patients from the Cook County Hospital to Dunning Hospital. For many patients this was their last journey, as many would be warehoused at this hospital for the remainder of their lives.

Cook County Car No. 1 was built in 1918, at the West Shop of the Chicago Surface Lines. The Glowczewski family, who lived on the Northwest Side of Chicago for many years, remembers it, "being painted an ugly dark green with oversized wheels, and it moved like a Sturmorser tank along Irving Park Road." The car had separate sections for the male and female patients. The female patients were closest to the motorman.
Once inside Cook County Car No. 1, one would find sleeping berths, leather reclining chairs and small cabinets. Usually the crew consisted of two attendants, a nurse, and a physician. Unruly or agitated patients were strapped to the beds. Patients who were infirm
were removed by wheel chairs and stretchers upon reaching Dunning Hospital. When the car's work was finished, it would return to the old Kedzie station at Kedzie and Van Buren via Irving Park Road to Milwaukee Avenue (Six Corners), to California Avenue to Chicago Avenue, west on Chicago to Kedzie, and then subsequently, to the Kedzie depot.

Two Irish lads regularly piloted the hospital trolley from its inception of service in 1918, to its last run o May 18, 1939. They were motorman Danial O'Brien and conductor Patrick Gibbons. Since it was of no value to the Surface lines, Cook County Car No. 1 was scrapped in late 1939. Starting in 1940, a $17,000 gas bus brought patients from the Cook County Hospital to Chicago State Hospital.
One wonders with the demise of such places like

Chicago State Hospital, where long-term hospitalization was the rule rather than the exception; we see the influx of street people and the homeless. Years ago the majority of these people would be in institutions like Dunning Hospital and off the streets. Now with deinstitutionalization and chemotherapy, patients are discharged after two weeks and many become unable to adjust to society. They make up the core of the homeless.

I asked Dr. Harold Visotsky, former Illinois Mental Health Commissioner (1962-1969). About deinstitutionalization and street people and he told me only 5% of the mentally ill patients treated in state institutions cannot make the transition from the hospital to a meaningful, productive role in society. An advocate of deinstitutionalization, Dr. Visotsky believes in returning the patient back to society quickly and he sees warehousing of patients like Dunning did for years a waste of tax dollars.
Today both Dunning Hospital and Cook County Hospital Car No. 1 are just memories. But more than memories, they tell us something about treatment for the mentally ill. How far we have progressed or how far we have not!

Richard J. Vachula
July 11, 1988

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