Insane Asylum | Charlotte Photographer
So, occasionally I step outside my normal maternity, baby and child photography shoes and slip on some more adventerous running shoes. Running shoes you ask? Well sometimes our location spots when I shoot for myself are a bit scary! I am a huge history buff, I know most of you are going what? Brandy a history buff? But yes, I love old things, places, people and abandoned buildings, which leads me to todays post, the Columbia SC State Hospital.
The History Part:
In the earlier years 1828 to be exact it was called the SC Lunatic Asylum to be changed later to the SC State Hospital for the Insane in 1896 and then even later to what I know it to be the State Hospital. It is a massive complex spanning acres across the state capital. The buildings stand tall and erect towering over the huge magnolia trees that line the walk way up to the front steps of the Badcock Building. Designed by Robert Mills a renowned architect in 1822. South Carolina’s asylum was one of the first to be built in the nation, second only to Virginia in providing government funds for the mentally ill. (Side note: Robert Mills also designed the Poinsetta Bridge in upper state SC. Another historical marker I love.) On with my tidbit of history…..by the 1850’s the average patient paid $250 annually and paupers were admitted for a fee of $135 a year. During the Civil War the confederate army used the grounds of the hospital for a prisoner of war camp from October 1864- February 1865. The hospital at this time was having funding problems and more and more patients making it a struggle to keep the asylum functioning. Despite the worsening conditions late in the war the asylum became a refuge for displaced citizens when the city was burnt during Union General W. T. Sherman’s occupation in February of 1865. Like most of SC it was a struggle to regain normalcy after the war. This left the superintendent Dr. John W. Parker using his own money to purchase food and neccesities for the patients while continuing to take in more mental ill patients.
Not long the hospital became just a place to house the mentally ill. With the struggle for funds and the loss of nurses it became more of a dormitory. Over crowding was a problem and with slavery soon abolished numbers grew. It became virtually impossible to treat patients.
By 1900 the State Hospital had 1,040 patients. More than 30 percent of them died annually, due in part to poor living conditions and inadequate supervision. More facilities were built in the 1870s and 1880s, including two major additions to the buildings constructed in the 1850s northeast of the original Mills Building. However, the population outgrew these by 1900.
With WW2 doctors and nurses went to war the hospital staff was depleted. By 1957 there were individual clinics for the mentally ill in Charleston, Greenville, Richland, Spartanburg, Darlington and Florence counties. The clinics treated both adult and children, educated the public about mental illnesses, and trained resident doctors.
In the 1960’s Medicaid underwrote the treatment of mental patients. In 1964 the SC Dept. of Mental Health was created and an independent agency to create a better system for the mentally ill. In 1989 the was a shift in treating patients in a community based facilities. Leading eventually to the close of the SC State Hospital. Which is now for sale and proposed for a community of mixed living areas and shopping boutiques.
So through all of my research I came across the story of a patient at the Insane asylum in SC that was a beautiful young lady who could not function in society, but did well at the hospital. Through her families funding she was given paints to create art. Some of her paintings are still in government buildings in Columbia. She later passed away at an early age as most of the patients and her body was buried along with other unnamed patients in the cemetery on the grounds of the hospital. These grounds later sold and the patients along with Union soldiers were exhumed and cremated.
Years ago I worked with a lady who in her younger years had worked at a mental hospital. She would tell me stories of the beautiful girl she was to care for. How she was a stunning vision to see but extremely ill. Sometimes the stories where so funny and charming and then others where very sad. She grew close to this lady and loved her. She watched as there where moments of crazy laughter and then seconds later of in ragged fits.
These two stories got my mind reeling about doing a photo session here at the Mental Hospital that soon will only be on my negatives and in the minds of those old enough to remember the huge buildings on Bull St. A story of a beautiful woman cast away into the halls and massive walls of a grander dinosaur of buildings. Forgot by family from days of ole’. A struggle within to live up to what her appearance says she should be. She should be soft and loving and sit quietly, or maybe she should tend her children and mend there cloths and kiss her husband when he returns home from work. But we should never judge a book by its cover!
Speaking of books…. Moonlight, Magnolias and Madness written by Peter McCandless is my next read about the SC Insane Asylum. Not yet reading the book the title brings me to another tidbit I read about the hospital. Its main building built purposefully as to not see the moon at night because it was believed the moon was involved in lunacy.
The magnolia trees are massive and welcome you down the path to the front steps of the Badcock building.
And of course I am sure there were times of madness.
Whatever we may think or affect to think of the present age, we cannot get out of it; we must suffer with its sufferings, and enjoy with its enjoyments; we must share in its lot, and, to be either useful or at ease, we must even partake its character. ~ John Stewart
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