video of the ypsilanti state (mental) hospital

I was just poking around on YouTube and happened across some relatively interesting footage of kids exploring the old Ypsilanti State Hospital. “State Hospital,” in case you didn’t know, was something of a euphemism. It was an asylum. It’s probably best known as the setting for “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti,” a book which I’m sure I must have written about here at some point. Long story short, it’s a step-by-step tutorial on how not to deal with the severely mentally ill. Guess what – when you lock three men up together, all of whom think they’re Jesus Christ, none of them get better. I would have just thought that that was common sense, but I suppose it was worth a shot. Anyway, the book still exists as a cautionary tale on how not to treat the mentally ill. I don’t want to go on and on about the hospital, as I really don’t really know that much about it, but here’s a clip from a somewhat recent “Michigan Daily” article for those of you who are interested.

…The state Legislature authorized construction of “a hospital for the human, curative, scientific and economic treatment of insane persons to be known as the Ypsilanti State Hospital” in 1931. The buildings were designed by Albert Kahn, the architect of dozens of buildings on campus, including Angell Hall and Hill Auditorium. The first six patients were admitted on June 15, 1931, and by 1932, the hospital was spending 80 cents a day on each of its more than 900 patients.

The diary of Dr. O.R. Yoder, the hospital’s longtime medical superintendent, shows the effects of the Great Depression that gripped the nation back then. On July 2, 1931, he wrote, “Were constantly stopped by hundreds of people seeking work. Several thousand applications on file.” Later that month, the Ypsilanti Savings Bank closed its doors, and the doctor was left with $1.75 in his pocket.

In the hospital’s early days, there were no anti-depressants or anti-psychotics. Psychiatrists generally relied on Freudian talk therapy. The type of patient who wound up in Ypsilanti State Hospital, however, was often too ill to benefit from talking. For these patients, there were a variety of bodily treatments, ranging from the benign to the bizarre.

Patients on “hydrotherapy” were given warm baths or wrapped in cold, wet sheets. “Physiotherapy” consisted of exposure to ultraviolet and infrared light. Those patients suffering from psychosis due to the end stages of syphilis were given heavy metals to ingest or deliberately infected with malaria. Before antibiotics, poisoning or life-threatening fever were the only options to kill the microorganism that causes syphilis….

The post-World War II era saw the construction of two new wards, bringing the hospital’s capacity beyond 4,000 patients. It also saw an explosion of new research activities, ranging from mundane epidemiological studies, to “finger-painting as a diagnostic and therapeutic aid,” to work involving a substance referred to as “L.S.D. CID #527.” Dr. Jonas Salk honed the skills that would later lead him to develop the polio vaccine by testing flu vaccines in Ypsilanti State Hospital on what even a U.S. military medical history website describes as “volunteers,” in quotes…

The facility has since been sold to Toyota and I believe that most, if not all, of the buildings have been torn down to make way for their research facilities. I sometimes regret not having gone to check the place out when I had a chance, but then I remind myself that, at least so far, staying away from places were the mentally ill were tortured and given crude lobotomies has served me well. (And, plus, who knows what kind of nut I might have run into down there.)

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18 Comments

  1. mark
    Posted February 8, 2007 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Good images of the hospital can be found here.

  2. mark
    Posted February 8, 2007 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    And here.

  3. robr
    Posted February 8, 2007 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    It’s true the state hospital system has many ghosts and demons associated with their pasts– really whacked-out “treatments” that ran the gamut from comical to absolute torture. But towards the end, saner, more respectful care could actually be found here, or at Pontiac, or even Eloise… At least, until we, as a society, just decided to shut these hospitals and dump the patients in the streets with the idea that they could take care of themselves and their medical needs through scant and poorly funded out-patient programs– Of course, just to save a few bucks. You could probably make a chart showing the “spike” in the number of homeless around here with the closing of these facilities… Yeah, we sure take care of our own…

  4. mark
    Posted February 8, 2007 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    Things are still evolving. In another five years they’ll all have their own reality television shows. We’ll be asking them for their autographs.

    Speaking of the race to the bottom that American culture has become, did you hear about the most recent casualty? Anna Nicole Smith, dead at 39. American society to blame. News at 11:00.

  5. kvltrede
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Seems to me that if you put three Jesus Christs in a room your odds are pretty good that one of them really is the Son of God. The true Jesus is then quite likely to cure the other two. A pretty efficient system if you ask me.

    Now, if three Jesus Christs walk into a bar, well, you’ve got the makings of a pretty good joke.

  6. It's Skinner Again
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I always thought it would have worked better if they’d used four Jesi, one for each gospel. I hope they consult me next time.

  7. lusia mitchell
    Posted October 20, 2007 at 4:03 am | Permalink

    I have written you at length at your email address. I will only say this: I have spent my life with outsiders being “clever” and wonderfully insightfull about the daily lives of people who lived, or perhaps, should live, at YSH. However, if you are really concerned, you should stop stepping around the people who annoy you because they are rooting in dumpsters, shadow-boxing on the street, yelling at you…
    They were the people I grew up with for 17 years. They are MY PEOPLE and you are simply pompous middle-class ignorants who would rather fall back on high school reading and bad movies and feel smug and avoid those people in your daily lives and applaud yourselves.

    You people DON’T HAVE A CLUE. NOT. ONE.
    NOT
    ONE
    You have no idea what it is like to not be able to take care of yourself or to have family who absolutely cannot, even if they want to so do.
    So
    It is far easier for you to assume that someone who was in YSH was subjected to horrible treatement, instead of really researching what went on there.
    And
    I’ll bet the farm that YOUR babysitter wasn’t a what? patient? inmate? whatever? at YSH. Mine were. Nor your neighbors.
    I’m just panting to hear from you self-righteous people re: how you are going to take in all of those (then) 4,000 people into your homes or convert a house or apartment on your street so that they can transition into “your life” or at least, make certain that they get basic nutrition (where is that money coming from?) and antipsychotic drugs so that they don’t scare the hell out of you on the street as you go about your business…
    Or maybe, you think we should just shoot theem all and save the bother and monies?

  8. lusia mitchell
    Posted October 20, 2007 at 4:08 am | Permalink

    Oh
    P.S.
    I knew all “3 Christs” at YSH…
    The question here for me is…
    Who do you all think YOU are?

    It seems to me that our current president thinks that God speaks to him.

    At least the men I knew who thought they were Christ never ever sent other people to die in a war that has absolutely no meaning.

  9. mark
    Posted October 20, 2007 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Luisa, I checked my email archive, and I’ve never received a note from you, at least not from the email address you entered with your comment. Is it possible that you sent your emails to the author of the “Michigan Daily” piece I quoted? (That indented section, which suggests that patients were mistreated, was not written by me.) If you’d like to share more about what it was actually like in the Hospital with the 3 Christs, we’d love to hear your perspective.

  10. Posted October 21, 2007 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    I would be really curious as to how you know the three christs. I have a personal interest in knowing and hope you will respond.

  11. thirdcity
    Posted February 14, 2008 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of… there’s actually a copy of the book available on eBay right now.

    Lusia – are these people still alive?

  12. egpenet
    Posted February 14, 2008 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    It’s a very long time ago, but when I first moved to Ann Arbor, I worked at the I.C.L.E. (Institute for Continuing Legal Eductaion) at UofM editing law books, and lived on North Campus. My neighbor was Jim Duderstadt and family. Next door to Jim was a afriend, who had a huge mason jar full of mescaline tabs.

    I had other friends in town that did LOTS of drugs.

    That neighbor of Jim’s and mine ended up at Ypsi, as did several other people I knew. I’d go on Sundays with a cartyon of cigarettes and head for Ward B and walk the lounges.

    What I saw were abandoned people … tyhose abandoned by their families … those abandoned by us. It was very distrubing.

    I understand that the most severely deformed, handicapped or otherwise most critical of the mentally ill were kept at Pontiac State Hospital.

    The “ethos” of this country is that if you cannot produce, you’re OUT. That ethos is antithetical to any religious teaching of which I am aware. It is facistic. Nationalistic. Even Republican … as if to say … that tortured soul is being punished by God for being the way he/she is … let them suffer.

    Being a “good” social democrat … that attitude makes me puke.

  13. Vicki Lansen
    Posted March 27, 2008 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Hi Mark. My Great Uncle Max Kemmerling lived almost his entire adult life from the age of 20, at/in Ypsilanti State MH. Prior to his incarceration, he was a All State athlete, an National Honor Society Member, and frankly, just a real sweet, handsome guy. I plan to track down “The Three Christs of Ypsalanti” but I am curious if there are any searcable archives for the hospital. I now live in Chile, so it’s not like I can just skip down the road and look at documents.

    I’d like to find out what my Uncle was there because of, schitzophrenia? what? I’d like to know what his life was like. I never knew him, he was a “family secret”, but I did for a long time have a bedside table he made – a quite beautiful piece of work. I think he was a talented, gifted man, who just didn’t fit in. Hope you know of some resources to find out more about him. Thanks, Vicki Lansen (Kemmerling – Max Kemmerling was my Uncle).

  14. mark
    Posted March 27, 2008 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    I’ll move this up to the front page tonight, Vicki. Hopefully someone can help you.

  15. Ronald J Withey
    Posted October 27, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I lived in YSH for about a year, and some months in 1983, 84. I was about 15, 16 when I went there. They called it yorkwoods center, bldg 7. My first day, I was so scared I stabbed a staff member in the leg, and they put me into the quiet room for 8 hours, and had me on suicide watch for the rest of the night. The place to this day haunts me, but because of it I have changed my life for the better.

  16. Posted December 8, 2013 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    I was there in 1990 – till they shut down in 1991. I was haunted every night I went to sleep, with apparitions of dead and tortured. When they removed me from here they put me in a worse place than this . They sent me to Fairlawne . Dungeons with tunnels and cages where they physically try to get the crazy out. Mental illness was treated in the most inhumane way ,that often than most killed patients. Now the souls wander around in purgatory just trying to find a way to let their souls rest. I was 14 when these places started treating me.All I remember are the ghosts and different entities that cloud these old death camps for mentally Ill may all rest in peace.

  17. Posted December 8, 2013 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing your story, Brian. I’m happy to know that you survived your ordeal.

  18. Christa
    Posted October 16, 2017 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    For anyone who might have interest, I was the kid of a young psychiatrist doing his residency at ypsi. This was in the 70’s i was close to seven when we moved there. We lived in a house owned by the hospital. A lot of stories from that time and place. I do not know of all the practices within the walls, but i do know, since my Mom was Schitzophrenic and was hospitalized in other state hospitals, the illness is horrendous and often the treatments and doctors are not conducive to wellbeing. We did explore the grounds and buildings. Watched movies in the ornate movie theater with residents abd had our lawn mowed by residents. The head of the hospital killed himself and family right before we moved there. There were golf courses surrounding tge hospital. And residents would sit out pkaying guitars. One older gentleman helped himself to my bike and tried to make it to Florida.

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