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Illinois State Hospital for the Incurable Insane

Constructed in the early 20th Century, the Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane housed individuals with a wide variety of real, imagined and perceived mental illness.  Built outside Peoria near Bartonville, it remained a viable residence from 1902 to around 1973, when it was closed for good.  In 1927 the population was 2, 600 people from all over the state. 

Although Dr. George Zeller was an early advocate of patient rights and compassionate care, one can still only vaguely guess at the horror of early psychiatric treatment, including color therapy, light therapy, hydro therapy, industrial therapy, photo therapy, insulin shock therapy, skull trephening,  lobotomies and electro convulsing therapy, to name just some. 

This is the Bowen building, which, in add-on to administration, housed the morgue, therapeutic and autopsy wings.  I do not intend to write a history, since that is done elsewhere on the web and can be easily found elsewhere.

Mark, Holly and I traveled down to check it out when I was back.  This is the potter's graveyard that houses the graves of the people who died and were unclaimed by family.   

Sometimes no name is given, since some patients couldn't speak.  In that case a number was assigned.    

One can only imagine the vast sadness and madness of some of these poor souls.  Lost in a universe inaccessible to what was then considered modern treatment.  In actuality that treatment was meant invariable to simply mask or sedate rather than cure.  

There are certified (?) ghost stories about the place, as one can easily guess about such an environment.  One involved a certain patient by the name of M. Bookbinder who was a favorite of staff and inmates alike.  When he died in 1910 his funeral was in this area and over 100 patients and even Dr. Zeller saw him weeping by an elm.  When they check ed his casket his body was in it, thus began the first known ghost story.  

Trudging to the graveyard while Mark and Holly intelligently await my return in the heated car.

Today, the owners of the Bowen Building offer tours of the place and even overnight ghost hunting adventures.  It is a creepy place where you can almost hear the madness - there were murders, of both inmates and staff, children's deaths and children born, endless thousands of developmentally and psychologically ill for reasons I suppose both great and small.   

The overnights seem voyeuristic - the sadness is over, newer more modern treatments help more than hinder, and the dead, well, they're probably better off.


  1. Well done Mr. Blythe. We had friends and family in Bartonville. Every time we drove by that place, somebody always has a spook story.


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