Today’s Coffin-like Yet Truly Morbid Fact!
By the early nineteenth century, the city of Boston was already two hundred years old. The great Yankee trades to Europe, the Caribbean, and the Far East were pouring money into the counting houses of India Wharf and into the vaults of new banks springing up on State Street. Boston, given to calling itself the “Athens of America,” was locked in a grand rivalry with Philadelphia and New York and hooked on new construction. The society architect Charles Bulfinch was remaking the face of the city, planting his distinctive, boxy, brick, federalist mansions along Boston’s main thoroughfares, culminating in his gold-domed masterwork, the Commonwealth’s State House atop Beacon Hill. The city had just built five bridges spanning the Charles River. The first interurban railroad, the Boston and Albany line, was about to begin service. The city fathers trained in 7,700 tons of marble from Quincy quarries to erect the 220-foot-tall Bunker Hill monument, commemorating the famous battle, and imposed upon the doddering Marquis de Lafayette to lay the cornerstone.
And yet Boston lacked a hospital.
New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and even Williamsburg, Virginia, had been operating large public hospitals for more than fifty years, all of which accepted mental patients as well as the sick and infirm. But Boston maintained only a quarantine station on nearby Rainsford Island and the public dispensary, which gave outpatient care to the poor. The mad or delirious were either cared for at home, packed off to the (Bulfinch-designed) Almshouse for the destitute, or farmed out to specialized boarding houses. In his book The Mentally Ill in America, Albert Deutsch mentions a:
Dr. Willard, who, about the beginning of the 19th century maintained a private establishment for the mentally ill in a little town between Massachusetts and Rhode Island. One of the fundamental tenets in his therapy was to break the patient’s will by any means possible. On his premises stood a tank of water, into which a patient, packed into a coffin-like box pierced with holes, was lowered by means of a well-sweep. He was kept under water until the bubbles of air ceased to rise, after which he was taken out, rubbed, and revived – if he had not already passed beyond reviving!
Garretdom: A Fitting End
Here’s another bit of olde news. Ah, the old days – can you imagine a modern newspaper suggesting that a murder-suicide was a “fitting end” for the participants?
December 6, 1886
A FITTING END FOR BOTH.
A Gambler Shoots the Woman Who Cast Him Off and Then Himself.
WASHINGTON, Dec. 6.—A double tragedy occurred to-night in the “Division,” a disreputable part of the city, which, by reason of the prominence in their respective lines of the parties concerned, created quite a little excitement among certain of Washington’s inhabitants. About eighteen months ago John Rowe, a gambler of New York City, came to Washington with a full pocket book. He was accompanied by Minnie Raymond, his mistress, whom he soon established as proprietress of a bagnio south of the avenue. About six months ago he encountered a streak of bad luck and lost all his money. He was discarded by his paramour in favor of another man, said to be the son of a prominent dry goods merchant.
Rowe went on to the house and asked her for money. On being refused, he upbraided her for her ingratitude, and was ejected from the house by the police. He threatened the woman’s life at the time. Luck still ran against him, and to-night, mad with jealousy and his reduced circumstances, he went to the dive and shot the woman through the head immediately on seeing her. He then shot himself through the head causing almost instant death. The woman is still alive, but will probably die.
The 1886 Morbid Scrapbook