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Things you learn while traveling
Traveling since I have retired has taking on a new element for me. I am able to deal with one of my past personality flaws. If I was traveling professionally in my previous careers it was about getting from point A to point B. I rarely stopped or took time to learn about where I was at-what a mistake by me. Since I retired from full-time employment I have made a conscious decision to slow down and observe, look, and learn.
Last week I got asked to do a leadership presentation for the Athletic Department at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville GA.
It is about a 5 hour drive from North Carolina to the middle of Georgia and I made frequent stops along the way while also taking in the fascinating history of Milledgeville itself while I was in town.
Here are some photos of what I got to see and experience in less than 24 hours.
The most interesting and sobering thing I learned was the history of the Central State Hospital. It was once considered the world’s largest asylum and sat on 2,000 acres.
For my NJ friends from the Morristown area this place made Greystone which was the State of NJ Insane Asylum and its 750 acres look puny. Greystone could accommodate 7,000 during it’s heyday. Central State was close to 12,000 when you lumped in the prisons.
Photo of the Powell Building on Central State’s campus.
Please get ready for a name that is politically incorrect that Georgia politicians enacted it almost 200 years ago. In 1837, Georgia lawmakers authorized a “Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum.”
The first patient arrived in 1842 and died in 1843. His name was only recorded as Tillman B.
Over the years thousands upon thousands of Georgians were shipped to Milledgeville, often with no other diagnosis other than they were a little off or funny. The hospital outgrew its resources; by the 1950s, the staff-to-patient ratio was a miserable one to 100.
The conditions continued to get worse and two major events turned the tide.
First, Dr. Peter G. Cranford, the chief clinical psychologist at the hospital in 1952, wrote in his book, But for the Grace of God: The Inside Story of the World’s Largest Insane Asylum.
In 1959, the Atlanta Constitution’s Jack Nelson investigated reports of a “snake pit.” Nelson found that the thousands of patients were served by only 48 doctors, none a psychiatrist. Indeed, some of the “doctors” had been hired off the mental wards. Yes, the patients were helping to run the asylum. The series rocked the state. Asylum staff were fired, and Nelson won a Pulitzer. The state, which had ignored decades of pleas from hospital superintendents, began to provide additional funding. By the mid-1960s, as new psychiatric drugs allowed patients to move to less restrictive settings, Central State’s population began its steady decline. A decade before the national movement toward deinstitutionalization, Georgia governors Carl Sanders and Jimmy Carter began emptying Central State in earnest, sending mental patients to regional hospitals and community clinics, and people with developmental disabi1lities to small group homes.
The campus of this hospital is massive. The hospital covers 2,000 acres and contains 200 buildings. There is no way pictures can do it justice. Today very little of it is in use. Central State feels abandoned. The majority of the many buildings including those beautiful brick buildings on the “quad” surrounding a lush pecan grove have been boarded up since the late 1970s and have begun to decay into haunted ruins.
The state has placed massive fences and barbed wire around many of the vacant buildings including Scott Prison shown below.
The eerie part of our visit was going to the part of campus where the some 25,000 patients that died here are buried. It is not a typo 25,000 people are buried on the campus. Some remains have been moved to designated cemeteries, but security guards often warn visitors not to walk on the lawns because of a danger of sinkholes caused by long-forgotten graves.
One of those cemeteries in Cedar Lane.
Cedar Lane does not have headstones but has cast iron markers. The markers, with numbers instead of names, once identified individual graves at Central State but were pulled up and tossed into the woods by unknowing prison inmates working as groundskeepers to make mowing easier. A restoration project gave dignity to the markers they found.
A new organization is trying to preserve the campus. The Central State Hospital Redevelopment Authority was created in 2012 by the state to revitalize and repurpose the property.
Glad I have learned to slow down when I travel. It is helping me learn a lot but not all of it pleasant.