Sunday, October 29, 2017

1877 Murder at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

Luke at the hospital fountain during that spring tour
Since the current owners took over what is now referred to as the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in 2007 and opened the building up to the public, I have been lucky enough to participate in several historic tours, and even two overnight investigations. The old building, which I still often refer to as the Weston State Hospital, has always fascinated me and drawn me in. Maybe its because I had an aunt who worked there. Maybe its because I had a great-aunt who was a patient there. Maybe its because I've dealt with my own mental health issues that I just simply relate---I often think about how if I were born 100 years...even 50 years...before I was, there would have been a good chance I would have ended up as a patient.

Whatever the reason for my fascination, I've always been really driven to find out as much as possible about the hospital, especially its patients. The spring before last, my boyfriend and I took my son up to the French Creek Wildlife Center. And since we were in the area, afterwards we decided to stop in at the old hospital and catch the last historic tour of the evening.

Our guide, dressed as an orderly, was a younger guy, but he was extremely knowledgeable and well-spoken. One of the stories he told us was of a murder that took place in the older section of the hospital, an area most people know as the Civil War section. He didn't give too many details that I can remember, but did relate the tale about how a patient calmly beat another patient to death with a piece of his own bed. (There's another similar murder that occurred years later, that I'll be discussing in another blog.)

I took note of the story because it was pretty interesting, but honestly, since there wasn't necessarily any 'ghostly activity' that was associated with the incident and this being the first and only time I'd hear this tale from a guide, I just kind of filed it away in the back of my mind. It wasn't a top research priority for me. Besides, I didn't have a whole lot of details to help me search.

But, research is totally an on-going project for me. As I discover new resources and become more adept at searching, I'm constantly finding new information. A few weeks ago, I tried out a free week-long subscription to an online newspaper archive service. As I was playing around with the program, learning how it works, I did a simple search for 'Weston Hospital.' Tons of articles came up from different newspapers, and I came across some pretty crazy stories. The story, however, that really caught my eye, was about a murder that took place at the hospital in 1877.

The article, which I've transcribed below, comes from the Saturday, February 24th, 1877 edition of the Weston Democrat. The article begins with a statement given by a local citizen about a recent death at the asylum and the writer is not very forgiving of the staff for allowing this murder to happen. They even go as far as to request that the Legislature form a committee to look into the incident and management of the hospital.  That paragraph is followed up by a retort claiming that no one is to blame for the death and it was unavoidable under the circumstances.

The names of the patient killed and the patient who did the killing were omitted, but their initials were given. Based on just that, I've been searching in vain trying to find out the name of at least the man killed. Currently, no such record is available online at the WV Death Index, and I haven't had much luck using other resources, either. I've searched through the Find-a-Grave index for the hospital cemetery in hopes that maybe he was buried there and there is record of it. I've even scoured the 1870 hospital census records, thinking that maybe the patient had been there long-term, but didn't really find a sure candidate. What complicates matters even further is that the deceased patient is at first referred to in the article as G.T., but then later as S.

I haven't given up hope yet, and I may end up actually taking a trip to the Lewis County Courthouse to take a look at their death index for 1877 to see if that can shed some light on the mystery. If I find out anything, I will be sure to update...but if YOU have any information that can put me on the right track, I'd love to hear from you!

Weston, Feb. 15
Editors Intelligencer:

Some days ago (according to the Clarksburg Telegram) a patient confined in the Asylum at this place was brutally murdered by another inmate. The attendants, watchful guardians, knew nothing of the matter until the head of the poor victim was beaten to a jelly. No inquest was held; and I presume the poor creature will be reported as "died," in the next annual report. This sort of thing may be all right, but a number of people here do not think so, and would thank the Legislature for a good committee to investigate the management of the Asylum.

The writer of the above evidently intended to create the impression that Dr. Camden had endeavored to conceal the unfortunate occurrence referred to, and the spirit of the writer is in full keeping with the malignant spirit manifested in several other letters from this place in the last few months in reference to the Asylum. Here are the full particulars:

On the 31st of January, 1877, soon after the attendants having charge of ward number eight in the Hospital, unlocked their sleeping rooms, and before the patient mentioned in the above paragraph had fully dressed himself, another patient, who had been more expeditious in putting on his clothes, slipped in upon him before he had left his room and struck him several blows with a bed-slat, from which he died. These patients occupied rooms in different parts of the ward; and, as set forth in the accompanying certificate, the one that inflicted the injury had not previously manifested homicidal proclivities. The attendants discovered the dead shortly after it was committed, and at once reported the fact to the physicians, but the patient was in a dying condition when the Doctor reached him.  The Superintendent then made known the facts to the proper authorities; but owing to the circumstance, a formal inquest was not thought to be necessary. But at the Doctor's solicitation, the Prosecuting Attorney and several physicians examined the remains and questioned all who knew anything relative to the case. The patient that perpetrated the act acknowledged that he did it; and in a very succinct manner entered into a full revelation. He said he did it by the command of God, who had Himself been trying to kill him, but not succeeding fast enough, had employed him to do it. He also said that if he had not killed him, deceased would have murdered him; all of which, of course, was the offspring of his disordered brain.  His victim was an epileptic in the lowest stages of insanity. He did not have mind enough to make any defense, nor to call for assistance, which he would have received had he done so, as there were others in the hall who would have noticed any unusual noise or commotion.

The following certificate was given on the same day that the accident occurred:
W.Va. Hospital for the Insane
January 31st, 1877

"We the undersigned, at the request of Dr. T.B. Camden, Supt., viewed the dead body of G.T. and find that he came to his death by the hands of J.M., an insane patient, by blows inflicted by him with a bed-slat, upon the head of said S., fracturing the bones of the skull. And  that the act was unavoidably committed by the said M. on a sudden impulse, and as far as we can learn, he has not heretofore evinced any homicidal tendency; and as far as we are able to ascertain no blame can be attached to any one. Given under our hands
Andrew Edmiston
Prosecuting Attorney for Lewis County
G.B. Simpson, M.D.
A.M. Dent, M.D.
C.M. Jackson, M.D.

We have omitted the full names of the two patients referred to in the certificate, and have used merely the initials for the sole reason of saving the feelings of their friends.

It will be readily seen by these facts that there was no disposition to conceal anything connected with the much to be regretted catastrophe.

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