Every now and then you find something very different in a box at a yard sale. How these images and the accompanying file made it out of the hospital, I’ll never know. Regardless of their provenance, I thought this was an interesting story to share on a photo blog.
Below are the images I’ve scanned, and I’ve taken some of the comments from the report that relate to the dates on the photos.
The Case History of Patient C-723
We never know the patient’s real name, only that she was a woman in her late 50s and was admitted to the hospital on July 7th, 1965. She worked as an artist, and her husband had noted that her work was getting more “out there” and he worried for her worsening condition. What that ‘condition’ was is never stated in the reports, but it was not uncommon back in the day to have husbands commit their wives to a psychiatric hospital for what was then referred to as ‘tune-up’.
It seems that Patient C-723 initially adapted to life in the hospital, but within months her mental state deteriorated, and the photos included in her case file show some of this decline.
Here is one of the first photos we see of Patient C-723. She already has the doll that will become her companion throughout her stay. From reading the file, I cannot say if the doll was hers at admission, or possibly one she found and became attached to.
The above photo seems to indicate that Patient C-723 had an interest in dolls, and although her admission form lists her occupation as “artist”, we don’t know what medium she worked in. Perhaps dolls, doll houses and miniatures were a part of her past.
From the files we find that it didn’t take long for her problems to worsen. She was soon wandering the halls at night and often found in unusual places. When confronted, she was generally calm and compliant, in these first few weeks.
In the photo above, we can see Patient C-723 in one of the facility’s maintenance tunnels – again, with her doll and seemingly compliant when found.
The next photo shows Patient C-723 on the ward, from her initial consultations, she was found to be, “Very interested in the details of all things. She examines most random items with an utmost intensity and curiosity“.
The next photo shows her in another tunnel, and the report states, “C-723 was calm, but very suspecting of our motives when we finally found her in the tunnel. She was not willing to follow us back to wards initially, and we hope this doesn’t become more a problem in the future.“
From the reports of that week, it seems the Patient C-723’s demeanor did get more aggressive as the days went by. She was now “suspicious and nervous around facility staff” on a regular basis, especially when she was wandering at night. It was mentioned that restraint may soon be needed as staff were not enjoying the almost nightly searches for this patient.
By mid-September, it seemed that Patient C-723 was still wandering off at night, and her response to staff was more agitated. The photo above was taken down in one tunnel, which had been previously painted by other patients. This was a common spot to find Patient C-723. The report for this night states, “We found the patient after a 30 minute search. She was very angry with us, and tried to hide behind a steel door. She used the doll to push us back, but eventually, we were able to sedate her.“
According to the report, Patient C-723 was sedated to the point where staff could convince her to return to the ward. From this night onward, she was restrained after ‘lights out’ for the next month. Still, it seems Patient C-723 managed to find other methods to continue her wandering ways.
Here she is in the mechanical room, which was strictly off limits to all patients. According to the reports, “The ward was found to be unusually warm this day (October 4), so the engineer was called in to find the problem. He found that patient C-723 had been adjusting several of the control valves, which he was able to return to correct settings. Further security is recommended for all engineering areas.“
It seems that as time went on, the patient looked for more ways to disrupt the lives of those around her. Although restrained at night, she was “devious and cunning” in her efforts to foil the staff. Many entries in the case file report of a high intelligence.
Within a month of the ‘engineering’ incident, Patient C-723 became more unstable, and she was finding better places to hide from the staff. When found, she was often aggressive and confrontational.
The previous photo shows Patient C-723 after she was found locked in one of the staff restrooms. “(She) had been missing for over three hours, and had been silent the whole time. When staff found her, she let out incredibly loud screams and refused to move. It required three orderlies to restrain and sedate her. Her mania continued to the following day.“
Perhaps the most troubling photo in the file was this one from November 7th, 1965, just days after she had locked herself in the staff restroom. It seems she had somehow escaped her restraints and was missing for over ten hours this time. Staff finally found her “extremely chilled, but full of anger at anyone who approached. Staff spent over 90 minutes removing her from the cooler.“
The later entries were not fun to read. In fact, I have not yet finished the whole file. I’m not sure I will ever be able to. The woman who seemed so calm and curious was within months a changed person. The last entry I read described her transfer to the ‘dangerous’ ward. “Patient C-723 has become a danger to herself and others. After long deliberation, we feel that it is in the best interests of the patient to be separated and kept in her room at all times.“
This was the last photo in the file. I don’t know what became of Patient C-723, but I cannot imagine that there was a happy ending. Perhaps her mania was inevitable. It’s also likely that this intelligent, curious woman was stifled by the monotony of ward life. The file does not give enough information to fully understand why she was committed in the beginning, but it was only a few short months before she became unrecognizable.
For more information about the history of mental health treatment, please visit the Glore Psychiatric Museum in St Joseph Missouri.
Epilogue: The photos above were taken October 2, 2022. The Glore held an event that night, which included tours, paranormal investigations and a ‘sleepover’. I went with artist Cindy Chinn, who had the original idea to do a photo shoot. She even found a gown in an abandoned clothes dryer, which gave the images the ‘authentic’ look they needed. We had full access to the facility and shot in many locations. We had a straight jacket to borrow, but got so wound in the photos, we forgot to use it!
It took me a few months to figure out the best way to edit these, so I sat on them and thought. In the new year, I looked at them with fresh eyes and found the look I wanted. I wanted to write a story about the patient to help give the images context. With the images in front of me, it was quite easy to write a story and share it. Thanks for reading.