Kirkbride Buildings Blog

February 11th, 2010

City of the Sick

A few days ago, psychiatrist Dr. William J. Resch emailed me about this film featuring Columbus State Hospital. “City of the Sick” is a documentary about CSH (and to some extent all psychiatric hositals) narrated by a fictional hospital attendant. Judging by the film’s look and feel, it was produced some time in the late 1940s or early 1950s. In spite of its quaint mid-20th century style, it’s worth watching for the footage of the Kirkbride building and the insights regarding life inside the hospital. I’m sure the latter were at least a little whitewashed, but I wouldn’t fault the film’s producers for that since part of their purpose was to minimize the stigma attached to mental illness and state hospitals.

Dr. Resch received a copy of the film when he spent part of his Ohio State University residency working at Twin Valley Behavioral Healthcare in Columbus (CSH’s replacement and sister hospital to the former Twin Valley psychiatric center in Dayton). He just recently put this digitized version online. The second half can be seen here: City of the Sick – Part II.

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  1. just February 13, 2010, 12:47 am

    Have you seen titicut follies ?

  2. Ethan February 13, 2010, 11:58 am

    Yeah, I have. That’s definitely a more brutal look at life in a state hospital.

  3. Chris February 15, 2010, 12:55 am

    Fascinating.. campy, but fascinating. I understand the nationalistic impulses of the Cold War as well as the ever lasting need to justify the expense of the state hospital system was behind creating the story of a businessman who fell to ruin as the sympathetic narrative, but it should be clear that one of the reasons the state asylums continued to be prison-like even after this period of modernization is because in reality the patients were mostly poor.

    There is another video I have seen but can’t seem to find from the Arizona (I think) mental health dept. from about the same era that takes broader, cruder strokes at labeling mental illness.

  4. Phil February 16, 2010, 11:05 am

    Interesting film! That is also one of my favorite kirkbrides, very cool to see it in film.

  5. Audrey February 19, 2010, 4:57 pm

    Very nicely done. Have yet to watch part 2 but it is nice to see that some attendants cared.

  6. ronl March 15, 2010, 7:22 am

    In a perfect world I guess this was spot on. I noticed the beds are just as I remember them and oddly enough the windows were exactly the same too. All attendants wore white and had keys. What wasn’t mentioned was when the attendants came to work and had a bad day or night. I have witnessed attendants lose it and take it out on the patients. I never seen flowers on the wards and the tempatures were what they were.

  7. ronl March 15, 2010, 7:44 am

    Part 2,
    I spent many hours looking out the window watching the day go by and wishing and asking god to help me and to show me 1 thing to believe in him, and never did he ever show his face nor 1 little miracle. I never heard of hydro therapy nor did I ever see a bath tub. I never seen shock therapy. Forced religion I will never forget. God did not look upon us at Traverse City State Hospital we were on our own. When I left on that Gray Hound Bus, I never was contacted by a social worker, I suppose it was good ridings.

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