Museum Seeks Central State Psychiatric Hospital Memorabilia – Indianapolis Business Journal

The old stories of Central State Psychiatric Hospital are well documented, from Albert Thayer’s 1880s memoir titled “Indiana Crazy House” to the 1950s “I Remember Jones,” written by Riah Fagan Cox, a patient and mother of Kurt Vonnegut’s first wife, Jane.

The Indiana Museum of Medical History is now looking for modern memorabilia from people who were patients or staff at Central State before the facility closed in 1994.

With a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the medical history museum that occupies the former pathology building on the Central State campus is creating an online resource as part of its “Voices from Central State” project. “.

Doctors studied mental illness in the clinical chemistry lab of the old pathology building, now the Indiana Museum of Medical History, on the campus of Central State Hospital. (Photo courtesy of the Indiana Medical History Museum)

Sarah Halter, the museum’s executive director, said it was not too late to document the final days of a place known as Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane when it opened near the intersection of West Vermont Street and North Tibbs Avenue in 1848.

“Everywhere I go, when I tell people where I work, I hear things like, ‘Oh, my dad worked there as a psychiatrist and I remember spending the summers in the field because they didn’t want me leave home alone,'” Halter said. “Or, ‘My uncle was a cook’ or ‘My grandmother was a patient and I remember visiting her.'”

Halter said the ongoing digital archive and memory forum can bring valuable information to patients, staff members and neighbors.

“What remains in the historical record, for the most part, is the views of administrators and physicians,” Halter said. “It’s great, it’s an important part of the story. But this is by no means a complete story to tell. We want to show that patients’ experiences and lives matter and that their stories are worth preserving and sharing.

To share memories related to Central State, visit

Central State, Indiana’s premier hospital for the mentally ill, is often associated with abuse, neglect and mismanagement.

“Throughout the history of the hospital, there have been people who have had terrible experiences and people who have had really positive experiences,” Halter said. “One thing we always want to emphasize is that it’s a complicated story. It’s not always a rosy picture, but it’s also not always the hell that is portrayed sometimes. Both can be true at the same time.

The old pathology building featured cutting-edge technology for psychiatric studies when it opened in 1895. Because funds were not available for the facility to keep pace with advances in medicine, the museum is more or least one 19th century time capsule. .

Halter said the building attracts its share of requests for photo shoots and filmmaking, but she’s selective in granting access and avoids the macabre.

“We want to have some control over the kinds of things that happen here, just because we’re so sensitive to patient memory,” Halter said. “There’s a lot going on, especially when you get closer to Halloween, where you have ‘haunted asylum’ attractions and things like that. It’s so heartbreaking for us to see patients become entertainment for people. There is the demonization of people who have really suffered. They were here because they were sick, not because they were monsters.

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