Monday, March 30, 2009

What became of George? - I may never know!

But I sure learned a lot about the hospital!
George Leeming, a son of Walter Leeming and Martha Ann Rayner.... patient at the Northampton State Mental Hospital for most of his life. George was born December 18, 1892 in Quebec Canada. He came to the US with his family in 1899. I find him in the household with his parents in the 1900 census - after that, nothing. I was curious about this boy so I asked Grandma what happened to him. She told me that he "needed help all the time" as she put it, and she has no recollection of ever hearing of his death. They admitted him to the hospital in Northampton and he never came home from there. For me of course this means "Another hunt is on!"

Looking into the hospital, I found that it actually had many names -The Northampton Insane Asylum, the Northampton Lunatic Hospital, The State Hospital (for wards of the state) - you get the picture. I found an interesting site which is all about the Massachusetts State Hospitals.

This particular hospital is referred to as the "State Lunatic Asylum". According to this site, the hospital opened in 1858, when overcrowding of other state institutions had gotten so bad that they needed two additional locations. In 1858 they had about 230 patients and the hospital was known for it's moral care of them. By 1965 the much overcrowded location had over 2600 patients and by this time the place had become just a housing unit for the unwanted in society - the insane, homeless and helpless of us. The place finally closed in 1993 and after a short inclusion to the Register of Historical Places in the state, the main building was actually torn down in 2006, much to the dismay of many people who lived in the area who wanted the buildings saved. I also learned on another site that the grounds contained as many as 1000 burials of patients.

Still, I didn't know exactly why George was there so, entering uncharted waters (for me) I began looking into how I might obtain medical records for him. Because the place had been closed down for many years I contacted the Massachusetts State Archives and received a response from them today. Turns out, the state of Massachusetts has very strict rules when it comes to a person's medical records - as do most states I would assume, but because I'd never really looked into this before I had no idea what to expect. The Archives reply was this:
"Records containing medical or mental health information in the state of Massachusetts are very tightly restricted by law. You would need a judicial order authorizing the release of any such records. These restrictions do not end with the death of the subject or the age of the records. For more information, you could try contacting the Department of Mental Health directly"

I didn't realize the rules would be this strict for medical records for the dead and I do not believe that I will attempt to get a "judicial order" to find out what ever became of Uncle George, but I might contact the Department of Mental Health just to see if I can get anywhere - although I'm not hopeful. Some mysteries we just weren't meant to solve.

In the meantime, I learned quite a bit about this hospital, it's history, and a great group of people who fought to save the buildings. Check out the Opacity site to see more really great photos of this place. I hate to see old buildings come down!


  1. hi cindy
    this post is interesting and sad at the same time...
    what a building that was i too hate to see them torn down
    i hope you are able to find out more about george but it seems like this is where his story ends~
    hope you are well
    enjoy your day
    tabby :)

  2. Anonymous16/4/09

    Oh Cindy!

    When I was an undergrad at Smith College, we used to go for walks through the woods and up the western hill to the Northampton Insane Asylum! It was one of our favorite walks, especially in the fall. It was so close to the school we could see the tops of its brick chimneys from the third floor of our residence house.

    I never felt that the hospital was a particularly scary place...just a bit lonely. I remember it with some wistfulness.

    Take care,