Saturday, November 28, 2009

Funny How One Thing Leads to Another

After last Wednesday's tuning job, I made a dash to finish my Christmas shopping. My driving route took me past New England Biolabs and I remembered that I hadn't written my follow-up post.Mary called to tell me that she had picked up this magazine and noticed a familiar company featured. It seems that the founder of NE Biolabs is quite the guy! The title of the article in Northshore Life is Don Comb: Generosity is in his Genes. Indeed! I quote from the article by Heidi Paek: "Those who know Comb describe him as a remarkably generous and productive person. Though he is a great-grandfather, he seems ageless, working daily in search of answers to pressing scientific questions. Motivated primarily by his desire to advance the greater good, Comb has been a life long advocate of science and the environment, and an influential supporter of the arts." The article continues for three pages sprinkled with explanations of tidbits such as gene research, enzyme development, Filariasis (a parasitic organism) and DNA, environmental stewardship, environmentally sustainable construction, Ocean Genome Legacy Foundation, art as a universal form of expression, and bio-diversity of the world. What I gleened is that primarily NE Biolabs is involved in advancing the 'pre'curing of disease by discovery of the genetic cause and treatment at a genetic level. Pretty cool guy.

But, before that article there was another that held nearly equal fascination for me. The Danvers Insane Hospital: What Evil Lurks, by M. Renee Buckley.Having grown up on the north shore and having made the trip back and forth on Route 1, through Danvers, hundreds of times during my life, I've always been fascinated with the enormous Gothic presence of, what we referred to as, the Danvers State Mental Hospital. It sits high on a barren hill above acres of fields. Ominous. The main building, called Kirkbride, is a 70,000 square foot brick structure surrounded by many large 'out' buildings. The article was a superficial swipe at the more mysterious and possibly haunted aspects of the hospital which was closed in 1992. The hospital was built in 1878 and was designed to house 600 patients. At it's worst, 2000 poor souls were crammed in to the facility. By the 1980's only about 200 patients remained.

During the late 1940's, my great grandmother was commited to Danvers State Hospital.Nancy had spent a short time living with her daughter and family prior to her commitment. In those days the family lived in an apartment behind the office of GP, Dr. Peris. By today's standards it seems an odd arrangement. The only telephone, located in the doctor's office, was shared with my grandparents (and my mother). During the hours that the doctor's office was closed, my grandmother would answer any emergency calls and then call the doctor at his home. Also, the doctor's office had no facilities for sterilization. Dr. Peris would let himself in to my grandparent's apartment to boil his instruments in a pan on their kitchen stove. Nancy went to live with her daughter's family, in her latter years, as she began suffering from dementia. My mother remembers that in Nancy's short stay with them her condition worsened to the point that she would frequently wander unclothed. Considering the living (and sharing) arrangements, this posed an insurmountable problem. Long before the days of skilled nursing care or nursing homes, Danvers State was the only option. Nancy lived the last few months of her life there.

Today, the Kirkbride building is designated as an historic building and has become the central part of a high-end apartment complex, Avalon Danvers, built upon the same footprint as the Danvers State Hospital atop Hathorne Hill.

So, what started out as the coincidental discovery of an article that tied in to my blog post then led, for me, to a much more personal search in to the past.


Annette said...

Its funny how things turn out isn't it?
I always remember my grandmother saying that she would never go nto the 'workhouse'
It was a mental hospital but they used to get the patients to work,
About 14hrs a day!
Some of them just couldn't do it, of course, their mental state being what it was. But there was no sympathy or care for them, it was as if they were a nuiscance.

My grandmother didn't go in the workhouse because luckily her mental state was fine.
They closed those workhouses down a few years ago and now they have proper care homes.
I feel so sorry for those who were in there. They worked hard all their lives, to end up being treated like that.
Thank god they've gone now.

deb said...

Upon some quick research I found that Danvers State Hospital was quite an outstanding facility in the late 1800's - early 1900's. Later it began a steady decline to a place of neglect. Of patients and of facilities. In the same city where my mother's family lived there was 'the poorhouse'. The older equivalent of a homeless shelter, I suppose. When I was a child visiting my grandparents and my aunt and uncle, the buildings were still there, though deserted. My uncle used to take me for walks on the grounds and point out where they raised pigs!

M. Renee Buckley said...

Hi Deb,

How interesting to read of your family's experience with Danvers State. My father worked there during the 1980s, far past the institution's better years.

I hope you enjoyed the article, as I enjoyed writing it. I'd encourage you to take ride up to the new (and old) site ... you can feel the history there still despite the shiny new apartments.


M. Renee Buckley

deb said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog, M (?), okay Renee! Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article, though I wish it had been afforded quite a bit more space. I felt like I had just had a little tease with much more still lurking out there. Book material?

Annette said...

Oh deb, I have just re read my comment and wet myself!!!
Sorry but, when I said 'thank god they,ve gone now. I meant the workhouses not the people!!!!!
Sorry, but it read so funnily!!!!

deb said...

Hehehehe. A PML!

I understood, no worries!