Guy Ferguson, a strong-willed man who endured 13 admittances into Crownsville Hospital after the amendment to allow all races – not just blacks – was interviewed and recounted his stories that he had experienced in the asylum. Ferguson became the victim of “being stripped of his clothes, locked in seclusion… ” (Stevens) Ferguson tried escaping the asylum several times only to be brought back. The doctors forced him to induce anti-psychotic medication called Thorazine even knowing that he was highly allergic to it.
In addition to that, Ferguson told the interviewer accounts of the staff causing violence and sexually harassing patients. Because of the severe overcrowding and mistreatment occurring in the Crownsville Negro Insane Asylum, black patients consisting of men, women, and children faced severe medical concerns, inhumane medical procedures and false evaluations of their mental state. Not to mention, the backwards way of managing the institution that cost the hospital its reputation and many African American lives. Crownsville Hospital Center, formerly known as Crownsville Hospital for the Negro Insane, was founded in 1911.
This hospital was the third institution in the United States erected for the exclusive admittance of African American residents. The asylum was a place to “house African-American psychiatric patients separately from white patients. ” (Gordon) It was purchased by the Board of Managers from the Maryland General Assembly for $19,000. Of course the Board hardly had sympathy for the wellbeing of their patients that were soon to be admitted into the new hospital “to save money, the state used patient labor to build much of the campus. (De Vise)
In addition to that, the Board agreed that there had to be something done about the vast amount of homeless and mentally unstable African American population in the state of Maryland and in particular, Baltimore. Unfortunately, Crownsville served as a “dumping ground” (De Vise) and was more of a last resort when there was a problem affecting anyone’s behavior. With this in mind, the General Assembly voted that the hospital should not be in Baltimore, hence their decision to buy the plot of former tobacco farmland in Crownsville to establish the institution.
Starting in 1911, 12 patients were ordered to construct their new home. As the is wore on, more patients were transferred to the camps to build more of the hospital. Men worked by harvesting the tobacco and willow crops that grew on the property, were known as “hod carriers” and as function as assistants to electricians and plumbers while the female patients knitted and mended clothing for staff and other patients. Regrettably, patients at Crownsville Hospital were exposed to many illnesses throughout the years. Most immediately, starting with smallpox and scarlet fever.
At this time, there were reports that the earliest accounts of these two illnesses were commonly seen near the birth of the institution itself. Tuberculosis, a bacterial disease mostly found in the lungs, became the following major illness that was a problem at Crownsville and never seemed to go away, as it has been reported several times throughout the years. Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease that was found in the African American population highly at this time, was also a fatal disease that affected the patient’s vigor.
The patients were packed like sardines in this institution, which is the reason that so many people were infected with these illnesses. At this time, hygiene was not a very high priority and there was also prejudice against African Americans, which made their needs lesser in the minds of their white caretakers. Crownsville had not instituted any regulations against opposite genders in their wards, nor were there any regulations against age differences.
This means that men and women of all ages were in the hospital without much control of what they were doing with each other or to each other. Despite it being highly fear-provoking, children came in contact with drunks, sex offenders, and many other criminally insane persons in the hospital. The overcrowding left very little room for doctors to assign appropriate living quarters to the patients based on their illness – if any at all. Not only this, but frequently, two or more people, especially children, would likely share a single bed or share mattresses on the ground.
Often, parents would drop their children off at Crownsville Hospital because they simply were not able to care for their kids whether it was because of medical reasons or because of the parents being financially unstable. [Parents were] “… unable to cope with restless offspring … particularly during the Great Depression… ” (Gordon) The management of the patients at Crownsville was gruesome. Children were not allowed to play with toys and ordinarily never went to school.
If the patients – young or old – were known to have obedience issues, they’d be chained to their beds, walls, or chairs in shackles “because they posed a risk to themselves and others” (Gordon) for hours on end – an idea that’d only be seen in a horror movie. In addition to the ghastly evidence of the disciplinary measures the staff took, people have come across reports from newspapers in the Crownsville area that suggested some children were injected with Hepatitis until the 1960’s for unknown reasons. Whether the allegations are true, is unknown.
On several occasions, patients were taken from the facility in Baltimore for testing of medicines and other medical treatments. Most of the time, doctors would not consult with the families of the patients because at this time, they were under the misconception that it was unnecessary for them to tell the families what they were doing – or they didn’t want to be held accountable for any complications that happened during their tests. A common procedure called Pneumoencephalography was done on many of the patients in the Crownsville Center, including Elsie Lacks, the eldest daughter of Henrietta Lacks.
This excruciatingly painful procedure drained the cerebra-spinal fluid from a person’s head by drilling a hole into their skull. The surgeons would substitute the fluid with oxygen temporarily to take xrays of the patient’s brain so that the picture quality was improved. This caused the patients headaches and vomiting for about 2-3 months, until the body replenished itself with more of the fluid. Furthermore, in this facility in particular, there were many cases of epilepsy diagnosed in patients. The doctors would treat these unfortunate patients with insulin shock treatments.
It was banned in the late 1900’s. It was common edge amongst citizens in Baltimore and the Crownsville area of the scary things that were going on in the hospital. Parents would threaten their kids that they’d send them to Crownsville if they didn’t behave. Once a person was admitted into the Crownsville Insane Asylum, they might as well tell the outside world goodbye. A study of patients in 1929 showed that while there were 55 people who were discharged from the hospital, there were 92 people who had died in there, no doubt due to the reasons of illness or poor medical procedures performed upon them.
In total, Crownsville is responsible for “more than 1,500 bodies of dead patients, whose bodies went unclaimed by their families. “(Loricchio) The deceased patients were buried in a cemetery owned by the hospital. The graves were marked in numerical order with a log book that documented the information that pertained to a certain number. The book, although being searched for numerous times, has never been found. The brutality the patients, like Guy Ferguson, had to go through affected their mental and physical health.
Overpopulation of the hospital got so out of hand that unfortunately, the diseases that were contracted and the abuse that people were victimized with was almost natural and okay in the eyes of their counterparts at that time. It was not just adults either. It was children who suffered from the disturbing things that happened in Crownsville. The hospital is the cause of so many deaths and should be held responsible to the highest degree of every deceased person that endured the treatment that was given to them.