In 1896, Essex County Asylum for the Insane was build on 325 acres of lane in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. The asylum was more commonly referred to as Overbrook. From the onset, the asylum was at full capacity, often housing thousands of patients at once. Additionally, the asylum was severely understaffed. On the grounds of the asylum stood a train station, as well as a power house and a boiler. The patients at the asylum were mostly fed by food that was grown in the fields on the grounds. A bakery and firehouse were also built within the complex of Overbrook.
It was said that it was a town within a town, but with an ever growing patient list combined with minimal staff and developing drugs, it was set up to fail, and fail it certainly did. Due to the sheer amount of patients, many were left without a bed and were forced to sleep on the cold asylum floors. In 1917, disaster struck when the asylum’s only boiler malfunctioned and 24 inmates froze to death in their beds while they slept. Disease was often rampant in Overbrook.
As time progressed and mental health issues became better understood, grim methods such as lobotomies and electroshock therapy became outdated. This was a blow to the already failing asylum, who used both methods in abundance. The asylum eventually closed in 2007, with over 10,000 patients dying within the confines of the walls. It isn’t much surprise that many say Overbrook is haunted - several visitors have claimed to witness a nurse wearing a 19th century nurses uniform, walking around the asylum conducting checks.
The legendary Théâtre du Grand Guignol in Paris’ Quartier Pigalle. It was a serious theatrical enterprise that put on gruesome, faux-blood-splattered shows year-round for decades, the Grand Guignol featured staged killings, mutilations and scenes of torture so realistic that audience members often fled the theater in terror.
The owner, Oscar Metenier was a frequent target of censorship for having the audacity to depict a milieu which had never before appeared on stage: that of vagrants, street kids, prostitutes, criminals and for allowing those characters to express themselves in their own language.
At the Grand Guignol, patrons would see five or six plays, all in a style that attempted to be brutally true to the theatre’s naturalistic ideals. The plays were in a variety of styles, but the most popular and best known were the horror plays, featuring a distinctly bleak worldview as well as bloody climaxes. These plays often explored the altered states, like insanity, hypnosis, or panic, under which uncontrolled horror could happen. To heighten the effect, the horror plays were often alternated with comedies.
Some examples of plots are the following:
Le Laboratoire des Hallucinations, by André de Lorde: When a doctor finds his wife’s lover in his operating room, he performs a graphic brain surgery, rendering the adulterer a hallucinating semi-zombie. Now insane, the lover/patient hammers a chisel into the doctor’s brain.
Un Crime dans une Maison de Fous, by André de Lorde: Two hags in an insane asylum use scissors to blind a pretty, young fellow inmate out of jealousy
L'Horrible Passion, by André de Lorde: A nanny strangles the children in her care.
Le Baiser dans la Nuit, by Maurice Level: A young woman visits the man whose face she horribly disfigured with acid, where he obtains his revenge
I recently gave a TEDx Talk on the stigma and misconceptions attached to the American insane asylum. I conclude by asking the listener to change their viewpoint - or if they cannot manage that, to at least acknowledge the history and preserve the buildings. Please check it out & share with your followers to get the word out!
I love Ancestry. I’ve wasted so much time leafing through records and tracing my family history back through time and over seas, it’s downright sad. I’ve also discovered how easy it is to abuse the resources provided and look up the families of strangers—celebrities both famous and infamous.
I finally bit the bullet and decided to dig for information on Jeffrey Dahmer’s lineage. (And I’m not the only person who has attempted this, since I found other Dahmer family trees made by other weirdos like me. At least one managed to go back to the 1500’s with the Flints, who are English/Welsh.) Since my Dad also uses the same account, I took some extra precautions and named it “Madell family tree”, a dead-end surname from my mother’s side. If he were to get curious and click on it, he would be in for a bit of a shock.
What have I learned that is of interest? Well, aside from common knowledge (the surname Dahmer is of German origin, obviously) being proven with censuses and birth certificates, there wasn’t much on his father’s side. I couldn’t go very far into his paternal grandmother’s line, (she has some Welsh ancestry, dunno what else) and since our subscription is limited to American records, I was unfortunately unable to chase the Dahmer family back into the Dark Ages.
Everything interesting was on his mother’s side. The Rundbergs, Joyce’s mother’s parents (Jeffrey’s great-grandparents) are listed as immigrants from Norway. I fully expect every Dahmer book written henceforth to refrain from the clipped “German and Welsh” description and add “*also Norwegian”. Either way he’s still white.
To the left we have Joyce’s father, Floyd Flint, who was known to have been an abusive alcoholic. His father, James Ernest Humphrey Flint, spent time in an insane asylum. No, really—the 1920 Federal Census lists him as an inmate of the Wisconsin State Hospital For the Insane, now known as the Mendota Mental Health Institute. Naturally, it doesn’t list why he was there, but I’m sure we can all imagine. Three generations of mental health issues is a hefty inheritance.