All Bedlam Courses Past (part three)
All Bedlam Courses Past
The Peculiar Nature of Logical Science
There had been no thought of acknowledging that insanity troubled the county.
The first asylum was a barracks, plain brick, painted white; no cellars, nor no attic…a rank of dreary windows, insistent in their lighting almost nothing, no matter the angle of the sun.
The city of Cookesville had mandated this, that a place for typhoid patients be erected outside the town, away from the river, and drawing water from its own well. That was ’46, the notion new, brought from England by Mr. Woolsaver.
Who had trained at Edinburgh, his speciality infectious diseases.
Boom-times at war’s end led to the low ground’s being channeled and drained. The yearly fevers began to afflict only the poor. By a gradual acquisition of beds, the barracks grew to a rest home, for head cases, amputees, those who would never adjust, whose families could never be easy with them in the house. Drunks, ex-soldiers many—mutterers, ragers, hallucinators.
Woolsaver had private money and no heirs. He was flexible, or catholic, in his interests; the degeneration of the human mind his grail. In 1867, the year Gremot’s manse on the hill had been framed up, the Cookesville Hospital for the Insane also materialized, on the laying of its four cornerstones. One of which bore the embedded plaque that stated the site’s credo.
We will walk upright in the light of knowledge.
The doctor’s house of therapeutic regimen, on a modest Indiana rise, stood built of sandy brick, dusted on the western exposure by soot from the kitchen stacks, smut stealing fingers of encroachment under the eaves, up the posts of the window frames; a dull, slight octagonal plan—deceptive, for the place could house over a hundred. The patients’ quarters squatted below a mansard story, dormitory for the nurses.
Four lopped corners, staircases the reason; great, tall windows, sun-crazing the dining hall and day room, bars on the lower half.
But until this moment, Kempf had had a melancholy sense that it was a shame, when the place had not stood twenty years, to dash away all in the name of progress. He lifted his eyes, finding something repellent in the grime streaking the windows, the ugly pairing of brick and shutter, tan and green, the attic with its brooding little peepholes.
He launched on a foot and was pulled short again, by an orderly walking an old man.
“Mr. Tomlin!” the orderly shouted. “Here is Mr. Kempf!”
One could shine a light in Tomlin’s eyes, and the pupils would contract. He was not blind. He was not deaf. True, his head swung about like a blind mule’s in response to his being addressed; this was indication, though, that some meaning had got across to him.
(2023, Stephanie Foster)