“People with Vacant Heads” — Inmates at Lyon’s View in 1889

People with Vacant Heads.  The Lyon’s View Hospital and some of Its Strangely Marked Inmates — a Mother of Fifteen Children

In company with Dr. L. J. Price, a Journal representative drove to Lyon’s View insane asylum yesterday afternoon and was shown through the spacious building by Dr. J. R. Brown.  Everything in the conduct of the institution seems to be irreproachable.  No private household in the land is kept in a better state of cleanliness than this asylum.  The inmates seem to be comfortable and under excellent discipline.

Conducted by Dr. Brown an inspection of all the wards was made.  The majority of the inmates eyed us with a momentary glance of interest in their eyes, then turned away in listness [sic] indifference.  Some of them payed no attention to us whatever, but remained in an apathetic attitude, as if the mind were unconscious of passing events.  In the first ward one swarthy-featured, fierce-eyed man, with a profusion of gleaming teeth, glared at the party as if angry at the interruption.  Another, with busy side-whiskers, moved slowly across the room, dragging a partly paralized [sic] leg after him, something after the manner of King Richard the third.  His malady, the doctor informed us, was a delusion that he is about to become rich.

“Not a delusion confined altogether to the poor cracked brain of this man,” we thought.  “Half the world are possessed with the same idea, and they spend their lives in pursuing this shadowy phantom, until at least six feet of earth will claim them as it will this poor fellow.”

Another inmate of this same ward, a big, stalwart fellow, had a bit of broken slate on which he was making marks.  The trivial employment seemed to please him immensely and he chuckled and laughed with so much glee as a babe playing with a pretty bauble.

After visiting all of the male wards Dr. Brown led us into one of the female wards.  Here he was pounced upon by an elderly lady with gray cork-screw curls, who exclaimed violently:

“Dr. Brown, as a visitor I have been here long enough.  I must get back to my school.  I have raised fifteen children and have taught school all over the state of Tennessee.”

“Be calm, Mrs. Bright,” expostulated the doctor.

“Calm!” shrieked Mrs. Bright, shaking both her head and her cork-screw curls vigorously.  “How can the weather be calm when a tempest is brewing?  Why don’t you introduce me to your friends?”

The doctor introduced us, and the poor demented lady proceeded to inform us that she had reared fifteen children and taught school all over the state of Tennessee and ended by asking us when we were going to take her out.  She is from Nashville, is very intelligent and has been at the Asylum only a few months.

One or two other female patients were include to be voluble.  But they could not help it, poor things.  It is a characteristic of their sex they carried with them into the asylum from the outside world, and is as natural as the air they breathe.

After going through the entire building we returned through the first ward, and the last thing our eyes rested on in going through the door was the stalwart patient hugging his precious bit of slate to his bosom as a miser would hug his gold, and laughing gleefully, while all around him gathered the ghosts of human beings, gazing on vacancy [sic] and saying nothing.

— “Sweet bells, Jangled out of tune and harsh,”

We murmered, as we entered the doctor’s buggy and drove back to the city.

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, March 23, 1889, page 1

Leave a Reply