Kirkbride Buildings Blog

November 28th, 2008

LIFE Magazine at Worcester State Hospital

Patients at Worcester State Hospital

Note: Sadly, the photos linked to in this blog post are no longer online.

Google and LIFE Magazine recently arranged a deal whereby LIFE’s vast photo archive will be placed online. You can find a portal to the collection here. What I really want to draw your attention to though is a handful of images taken by photographer Herbert Gehr at a mental hospital in Worchester [sic], Massachusetts in 1949. One of these photos (reproduced above) leaves no doubt that they were indeed taken at Worcester State Hospital. Anyone that’s been inside the Worcester Kirkbride will recognize the space in which three women create this somewhat surreal scene.
Common Area inside Worcester State Hospital
I don’t think all the photos in this collection were taken inside the Kirkbride, but I believe most of them were. They’re really a pretty fascinating group of images too—some are slightly bizarre, some are disturbing, and others are hauntingly beautiful. It’s weird to see that the basement almost looked creepier in use than it did after it was abandoned. Below are links to all the pictures. (Note that you can view a larger version of each image by clicking the “View full size” link on the image page.)

1) Patients Square Dancing
2) Doctors & Researchers
3) Patient Lifting a Table
4) Electric Shock Treatment
5) Patient on Scales
6) Insulin Shock Therapy I
7) Insulin Shock Therapy II
8) Insulin Shock Therapy III
9) Insulin Shock Therapy IV
9) Patient Receiving Treatment
10) Sweat Study
11) Hormone Treatment
12) Spinning Treatment
13) Research Equipment
14) Breaking Down Sugars
15) Woman Alone in a Room

There will probably be images from other Kirkbride hospitals in the future as more of LIFE’s collection is made available. I’ll keep you posted if I come across any. In the meantime, if you want to see pictures from non-Kirkbride psych hospitals, try a search using terms like “mental hospital” or “state hospital” at the portal. There are lots of old pictures from other institutions. If you’re really impressed with any of them, you can even purchase a framed print too. I have to say though that I don’t quite agree with selling photos clearly revealing a patient’s face (like this one for example). It seems a bit dehumanizing.

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  1. WSH November 28, 2008, 10:31 am

    Wow great photos. Some were very bizare, I have never heard of spinning treatment or the sweat treatment before and I’ve done a fair amount of research on mental healthcare.

  2. Ethan November 28, 2008, 4:03 pm

    I had heard of spinning treatment but had never seen a picture of it being done. It was one of those things I almost didn’t believe was real until I saw this photo from Worcester.

    At Danvers there was a sort of wooden circle in the floor up in the attic. I’ve heard it was used to do spinning treatment although the procedure was a little different. I think they had a wheeled chair that would be spun around the circle. You can see a picture of the circle on Jeremy Barnard’s site:

    I’ve never heard of researchers studying sweat though. It’s weird, but kind of not at the same time. There are probably all kinds of hormones and chemicals in sweat that can tell you things about somebody’s physical health. Still, you’d think there’d be a more efficient way of collecting the sweat. Maybe they just wanted to let the patients enjoy a good steam though:)

  3. Kate December 10, 2008, 7:16 pm

    I love it. You have your finger on the pulse of every one of these buildings. I force everyone who works with me on any of my projects to read everything you post on this site. Thank you!

  4. Ethan December 11, 2008, 11:57 am

    Thanks, but I wouldn’t say I’m THAT in touch with the buildings. There are still a few I haven’t even been to.

  5. Matt Trakker June 30, 2009, 2:03 am

    I never knew that about the circle in the Danvers attic, I’d always wondered what that was for.

    The sweat study pic, as well as the one where the guy is being weighed, were taken in the basement of the Kirkbride. I was in that room, we were all wondering what the heck it was for. Weird, but less creepy of a use than we’d imagined. haha

  6. Randylin November 10, 2009, 12:38 pm

    I think teh shock treatment is mean and cruel, It should not be used on anyone for any reason!!!

  7. Donna Lethal July 6, 2010, 6:39 pm

    You know that there’s condos were Danvers is now, right? Who the hell wants to live there?

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