For all of 2012 I was paid to research and write a history of St. Elizabeths [sic] Hospital, an old mental asylum in Washington, DC. Each day I trundled off to the National Archives to comb through the hundreds and hundreds of linear feet of hospital records going back to 1852. It was a fantastic experience. In comparison the months of writing were a little less fantastic but still very rewarding.
One of the challenges with this project was that there are big potholes in the historical record which didn’t really allow me to follow a nice long narrative arc. Not every story in the history gets a beginning, middle, and end. And because the work was done for a government agency I had to edit out much of my personality. Still, I think it is very readable (thanks in part to Teresa at Shelf Love), and I am very proud of the fact that everything I put in the document can be traced to a source. So much that has been written about St. Elizabeths in the past relied on fuzzy or non-existent sources and leads one to wonder what’s accurate and what isn’t.
I think in the end the history turned out quite well and illuminates much about this fascinating hospital that would be otherwise buried in the National Archives.
The book has been “published” in pdf format and is available online. The nice thing about that is that without having to worry about a printing budget, I was able to include as many photos as I wanted.
|Bakery in 1915 (the ovens are still there)|
|Patient room (this would have been for a less disturbed patient)|
|Patient day room|