December 10th, 2008
I found a web site that compiles information about historical disasters: GenDisasters.com. It has quite a few entries describing catastrophes that affected Kirkbride asylums. There’s nothing really amazing here, but it’s a good resource for anyone researching the history of a particular hospital. There are a couple good pictures included to boot (like this one of the Kirkbride in Danville, PA).
The entries I’ve found so far include:
1) Danville Insane Asylum Burns – About a fire in 1881 caused by a gas leak which led to an explosion when an asylum employee entered a room with a lit candle.
2) St. Peter State Asylum Fire – A collection of articles about the fire of November 1880. It’s interesting to see how the story changes as details come in.
3) Little Rock, AR Tornado – About a tornado in 1894. It’s more of a general story about damage to the whole city, but it focuses on the asylum and the sad demise of Dr. J. T. Ingate toward the end.
4) Spencer State Hospital Bridgeway Collapse – In 1948, one of the Spencer Kirkbride’s third-floor breezeways collapsed while a group of patients was crossing it. One patient died.
5) Topeka State Hospital Fire – Yet another fire, this time at Topeka in 1958. It was only a small one that fortunately didn’t cause any loss of life.
6) Independence, IA Tornado – A short description of how the Independence Kirkbride was damaged by a tornado in 1882. You have to dig a little for it, but it’s there.
7) New Jersey State Hospital for the Insane Fire – An article about the fire of 1902. It describes the weird scene of 2500 panicking patients.
8) Anna Insane Asylum Fire – This short article from 1881 describes a fire at the asylum in Anna, Illinois with special attention paid to the gallantry of a firefighter named Grace.
9) Ossawatomie Insane Asylum Fire – A fire in 1880 caused a lot of damage and commotion but luckily no loss of life.
Kind of funny how many fires there were at these buildings given how much effort was put into designing them to be fireproof. I guess nothing’s completely fireproof though and maybe these fires could have been much worse if so much care hadn’t been taken.