DC’s SAINT ELIZABETH HOSPITAL’s CAMPUS IS A TESTA-MEMORIAL TO HOW FAR MENTAL HEALTH ATTITUDES HAVE COME

15 Nov

Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital had been on the DCPL roster of things preservationist things to do in DC, a few times. The National Historic Landmark Saint Elizabeths Hospital is located in South East Washington. The DCPL email advising me of a Veterans Day Remembrance Ceremony the day after 11.11 intrigued me so much I opted to honor the dead rather than commune with the living. Something about cemeteries brings peace to me. That, and, the residents don’t talk back, don’t put you down, down leave you feeling like you want to climb out of your skin and keep walking. Cemetery residents listen.

Saint Elizabeth’s East Campus was more than just a hospital. In cruel terms, it was a house for the nutters. In military terms, Saint Elizabeth was a hideaway for the ravages of war, today, called PTSD. Back then? There was no fancy term for men, and women, destroyed with struggles of what they had seen or lost or feared or found. It was just Saint Elizabeth’s, a place that in time became a place people got lost in to, like the man who lost 40 years of his life for stealing a $20 necklace. Life beyond the fence became impossible. Once possible, life beyond the fence became imperiled. The world he had known changed. Forty years, four walls, he hadnt changed. He aged.

Preservation is a double edged sword saving sites that one is left struggling to pay upkeep on. A woman I knew from racing told me, confidentially, that had she known the expense reality of preserving horses, she would have never started into preserving Premarin foals. Saving Saint Elizabeth is a heroic theme. Heroic preservation comes with a price tag.

There are over 3000 burials  including Civil War Veterans, both sides, North and South, buried in Saint E. With the Anacostia High School Junior ROTC, DC Preservation League, the African American Civil War Museum, Anacostia Coordinating Council, US Coast Guard the restoration remains possible, although one must giggle, in these days of NSA at the typo uncaught in the Memorial handout…. United Stares Coast Guard, there are some things even God cant plan or avoid. And at the bottom of the list of persons and organizations to thank was named the DC Department of Behavioural Health. Reading that, to me, note to self, partner potential. Crazy is no longer hidden behind closed doors. In current times, it is a psychosis with a diagnosis, maybe no cure, but a community with lifelines. And famous Alumni to call upon.

Saint Elizabeth’s was founded in 1852. Congress had appropriated $100,000 for the construction of a mental hospital in Washington DC. Saint Elizabeths was created to provide care for mentally ill residents of the District of Columbia, of the US Army and US Navy, too.

It seems that in 1873, the powers that be “deemed” the West Campus burying ground to be to capacity. So, Saint Elizabeth East Campus was created under the Civil and Diplomatic Appropriation Act of 1852, opened, growing over the next 120 years, into a nine acre cemetery, with over five thousand residents- over 2,050 military and over 3,000 civilian. The East Campus Cemetery is the final resting place for heroes of multiple conflicts- the war of 182, the Civil war, the War With Mexico, the Indian wars, the Spanish Wars. And World War 1.

It is not a surprise Saint Elizabeth’s Cemetery is not remembered. It is not on the must-do list of tours to DC. Saint Elizabeth was originally called the Government Hospital for the Insane. Dorothea Dix played a pivotal role in picking where the hospital should be. Dix picked the convergence of where the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers come together. Dix had taken charge. Dix was a mental health reformer back in the 19th Century. The Hospital history handout does not state if Dix’ was personally impacted in her family with mental health. Dorothea said her mission was “to creat the most humane care and enlightened and curative treatment of the insane of the Army and the Navy of the United States and the District of Columbia.”

Dix foraged ahead writing the hospital’s founding legislation, steering Congress through the travails of appropriating funds for a ‘condition’ people preferred to lock away behind closed doors. And forget. Dix kept people remembering. The Statute was passed. Dix steered President Millard Fillmore and Secretary of the Interior, Alexander Stuart to pick Charles Nichols, Saint Elizabeth’s first superintendent for America’s first Federal mental hospital Congress created. The next Federal Hospital was not established for about another fifty years, 1903. The Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians. Canton, South Dakota.

Saint Elizabeth doors closed in 1946, almost ten decades of providing medical care for the mentally ill, locked away, nearby to the ghosts of the Civil war. One can only imagine the two crossed  through walls, after all, in imagination, everything is possible, even love with a phantom, or life with a loved one. Walls do not lock away ones need for companionship, conjured or real. Conjured companionship can be more real than life itself.

It was through Saint Elizabeth that military psychiatry became a military  specialty. Four decades of conflicts passed through this hospitals walls. From Civil War to Second World War, the tortures of battle  were locked away. PTSD was known, just not discussed. It seems.

The original plan for Saint Elizabeth’s cemetery called for eight sections. Twenty years and eight sections later, more room was needed. Saint Elizabeth’s cemetery grew to nine acres and almost five thousand buried, between the years of 1873 and 1983 in Sections 1-11. Sections 1,2, 3, 8 and 9 inter military. Sections 4-7, 10-11 inter civilians, dead at Saint Elizabeth’s hospital, before 1917. Chicklets, grave markers for civilians are mostly unmarked.

Section 12-27, running west to east, are west of the Sexton’s House. Sections 12-14, 16-18 are heroes of conflicts past. Sections 26-27 are forever homes to men and women dead in Saint Elizabeth’s before 1917. Sections 15, 19, 22 and 23 are men only graves. Sections 20, 2, 24 and 25 are for the women. Crazy isn’t it that even in death the pleasure of the other gender’s companionship was denied them. Crazy. Or should I write, insane.

Sections 28-43 are the last legs of insanity’s journeyed. Section 43 has never been used. Sections 28-42 were earmarked for Saint Elizabeth’s non military. Men. Women. The question to be asked is where are the children. Were there children?

The residents of Saint E’s cemetery are nothing to sneeze at. Alumni include an artist, an inventor, Native Americans shuttled over from Hiawatha’s Insane Asylum in SD. Not every story can be told. First, Saint E’s residents must be remembered. Or trying to be. The National Consumer Memorial Project and the Department of Behavioral Health and Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital are making best effort to honor the dead. The default tribute of a memorial Garden, The Gardens At Saint Elizabeth’s- A National Memorial Of Recovered Dignity, is predictable, even though the  moniker is publicized to embrace the hundreds of thousands of patients buried at State Psychiatric facilities across the country.

Earlier this 2011, Daniel Sanders, an estate auctioneer with Virginia based Four Sales, Ltd. came across a gravestone belonging to a Civil War veteran while preparing an estate for auction. Daniel Sanders researched online the history of the stone. The gravestone that came from the cemetery located on the West Campus of Saint Elizabeths Hospital where civilians and white and African American veterans from Union and Confederate forces are buried. It is estimated there were up to 450 military burials and 150 civilian burials between the years of 1856 and 1873. There are about 209 military gravestones in the cemetery. The headstone belonged to Jordan Mann, a nineteen year old volunteer member of the 12th Missouri Cavalry originally from Kentucky, enlisted in the Cavalry in 1863. Mann was transferred to Saint Elizabeths in the spring of 1864 after having been declared insane. Mann was deemed to have gone insane or lost his mind. He was taken by other soldiers to St Elizabeths where he got sick. Mann died September 1864 of typhoid fever.

Mann’s gravestone was returned as part of the General Services Administration’s annual Veteran’s Day observance held at Saint Elizabeths Hospital. Mann’s headstone was found by the family of Guy Schultz from Clinton Maryland. Daniel Sanders president of Four Sales Ltd an Alexandria based estate sales company was called to clean out the Schultz house. The gravemarker was found while Sanders and his team where picking through the house looking for items resellable at auction. The gravemarker was in the garage hidden behind other items. No one who was alive knew how the gravemarker got in to the garage. Sanders, reading the markings on the gravemarker, recognized the stone had historical significance and the gravemarker had been removed without permission from a government facility, the St Elizabeth cemetery. There are 450 known gravesites in the cemetery. Only 250 gravemarkers are left. It was determined some of the missing gravemarkers were made from wood, deteriorating over time. Mann’s headstone will be kept in secure storage until the implementation of a comprehensive conservation program of the entire West Campus Cemetery. The commemorative ceremony was attended by a Federal Protective Service Honor Guard and Coast Guard officials placing flags at each of the military gravestones in the historic cemetery. The GSA laid a wreath. Jordan Mann’s gravemarker is in temporary storage until it will become part of a historic display.

Residents of Saint Elizabeth’s Cemetery, graves marked in stone are, well, surprising. Anonymous enough in this decade and time, once, with instincts, results, undeniable, they were people, too;
Henry Haack, Row 4, Grave 611; Thomas Burke, Row 10, Grave 1685; Ernst Durig, Row 5, Grave 1817-A; Jonathan Jessup, Row 10, Grave 1687; Joseph Noil, Row 3, Grave 535; Harvey Fowler,, Section 6; William Shields, Section 14, Row 2, Grave 200.

Harvey Fowler was a clerk in the Treasury Departments Bureau of Statistics. Fowler patented a Mechanical Hand Motor that gave “motion to machinery or to the driving wheels of a car or carriage.” Fowler advertised in the Washington Post for a partner for his “perpetual motion machine now in operation. Fowler also received a patent for his “hand propeller for Canal Boats.” It was Fowlers perpetual motion invention that drove him crazy, ending him up in Saint Elizabeth’s  November 20, 1881.

William Shields served the Army 20 years before being discharged ending up in Saint Elizabeth, December 24, 1909, dead a year later. Shields was a Seminole Negro Indian Scout.

Jonathan Jessup showed signs of going crazy, notes said, after he marred Elizabeth, March 30, 1854. Military life, notes said, brought Jessup balance, not much of a testament to have gone from the Institution of marriage, in to the Institution of Mental Health. War and Death didnt shake Jessup. Returning back to his wife after war, did. Elizabeth left him taking their youngest child. Their oldest, deaf, was killed by a train.

Joseph Noil, a Canadian from Nova Scotia, enlisted in the US Navy in New York. Noil received a Congressional Medal of Honor after being rescued from falling in to ice cold water. That fall in the water was the peak of Noil’s career, always 1st class and on time, as he is remembered on his tombstone. Sarah Jane, Noil’s wife, could not afford to travel with their two kids to visit Noil in Saint Elizabeth’s. Sarah Jane kept a correspondence going with Superintendent Godding asking as to the health of her husband, telling Godding, ‘poor with two kids’ she could not travel to see her husband. One could only wonder, had she, would he? I guess it doesn’t matter. Noil is inscribed in stone.

Professor Ernest Durig was a Swiss, a sculptor who studied under Rodin, a popular sculptor carving busts of the ‘then’ glitterati- Pope Pius, Mussolini, Will Rogers, Knute Rockne, George Eastman, President Truman and others. Durig went insane in the grief washed over him after the deaths of his daughter and wife. Durig entered Saint E June 11, 1959. Durig exited Saint E’ November 4, 1962, only to become controversial in death. Durig was survived, at Saint Elizabeth, by letters and painting and sketches signed by August Rodin. Slated for auction at Sotheby’s, these items were determined to be fakes. June 4, 1965, Life Magazine ran a story calling During a “fake who forged drawings and paintings.”

I can tell you a bit about DC, art, fakes and things that disappear in government institutions. The “Noah’s Ark” painting at the National Zoo, that I looked for? Gone, without a trace. The Leroy Neiman paintings that were stored south of D Street NW? Gone, without a trace. Fakes? That would be interesting to determine. And to locate. Beggaring the question to find answers to, where in the chain of custody of the insane are their possessions, if they die, alone, in Saint E, a Federal hospital, still.

As for Durig, Ernest lives on in the farming community of Greenwood, Wisconsin. Durig had gone to visit family, liked the space so much, he wanted to ‘gift’ back. Durig’s only ‘cost’ to Greenwood, was materials and site prep for the Durig’s sculpture. Not so crazy, for a man locked into a hospital for the insane. A fifteen foot high monument, Durig’s memorial  to gold Star Mothers in memory of the 150th anniversary of the Constitution of the United States, stands, most likely out of lock step with the innovation the world has grown to. October 3, 1937, Durigs memorial was valued at $50,000.

Henry Haack was a shoemaker by trade,  Medal of Honor awardee for his gallantry in the Little Bighorn River Fight.

Thomas Burke, an Irishman, US Navy, Seamen, saved his fellow comrades James Rose and John Russell from drowning in the waters off Eastport, Maine. Burkes tombstone is marked with his Medal of Honor designation.

It is not too far fetched to presume, the nine acres are filled with life at night, more correctly, lives of men and women who did incredible things in a life lost in time. It is not far fetched at all to bring to their world of markers and tombstones, cheer and joy, and thanks, for giving their all. Including their sanity…

There are partners to be brought on board, if one thinks outside the box- The National Board For Certified Counselors, The American Psychological Association, The American Council For Continuing Medical Education. And there are groups like Wreaths Across America to let know this Cemetery survives. Wreaths Across America remember the buried military, on Christmas, placing wreaths on tombstones. Then there are the groups that remember military on Veterans Day, Flag Day. Then there are the Gold Star Moms, that Durig honored. There are Mental Health Advocates like Patrick Kennedy Junior who speaks for Mental Illness. There is the Virginia politician whose son took his own life. There are psychologists with patients needing something to feel good about. The list abounds.

And then there is the something special, a way to read the headstones, names obscured to the naked eye. All in good time. Until then, Wynton, its time…. bring back the Jazzman New Orleans style. Rock it out amidst the headstones.

(Special thank you to Saint Elizabeth’s archivists for their notes keeping Saint E’s insane alive in our crazy world)

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