So I Visited an Insane Asylum This Summer....

 

 

      One of my favorite parts of being a writer is the "field" research. I experienced this two years ago when I explored London graveyards in the rain for my young adult book, Resurrection. Now, I'm working on a Southern Gothic young adult mystery with mental illness at the heart of the story. Although most of the storyline is contemporary, several scenes of the novel take place in the late 1960’s at the old Bull Street Asylum in Columbia, South Carolina. Aside from diving into various areas of research including postpartum psychosis, the treatment of patients in asylums, anti-psychotic medications, I thought a tour of the grounds of the Bull Street Asylum, would be helpful. After making some calls and sending a few e-mails, I got in touch with Dr. Woody Harris, who worked at the asylum as Director of Education for over thirty years. One hot day this summer, Dr. Harris met me and another writer and walked us around the Old Bull Street Asylum Campus.

            Walking around the campus was like stepping back in time (or at least onto the set of The Walking Dead.) The campus was as much an abandoned self-sustaining community as an insane asylum and included a library, church, auditorium, cantina, hospital, and morgue for patients. In the earliest days of the asylum, patients also had a dairy, small farm, and a mattress factory on campus.  Interestingly, because the campus was so self-sustaining and protected by a large wall, during the Civil War many local South Carolinians sought temporary refuge on the grounds. (There are stories about subterranean tunnels created during the Civil War connecting the asylum to the South Carolina Statehouse for the Governor’s safety--although I can't find anyone who has discovered the tunnels.) Most of the buildings are abandoned in “as is” condition—as if the patients and workers just walked out one day. A hospital gurney sat eerily across the padlocked doors of the Babcock building, one of the oldest buildings on campus—predating the Civil War and in use until the mid-nineties. Peeling paint, ivy, and broken windows mark many of the buildings. 

               Although my camera didn't reveal any ghosts (drat!) here are some of the creepier photographs from my visit:

The Williams Building--where staff would admit patients and determine their treatment plan. 

Cantina

Auditorium--where patients could watch plays or concerts. 

Auditorium--where patients could watch plays or concerts. 

Library-where patients could read or check out books. 

Library-where patients could read or check out books. 

Psychiatrists and nurses lived on campus in these little houses. 

Psychiatrists and nurses lived on campus in these little houses. 

I'll have to write a scene around this malicious-looking twisty tree!

I'll have to write a scene around this malicious-looking twisty tree!

Asylum Church

Grounds where Union soldiers were kept as prisoners of war. 

Grounds where Union soldiers were kept as prisoners of war. 

Front of Babcock Building-one of the two oldest buildings on campus. 

Front of Babcock Building-one of the two oldest buildings on campus. 

Rear view of Babcock. 

Rear view of Babcock.