Doctor Harry Bailey promised people that he could cure them of drug addiction, depression, schizophrenia, anorexia, and nearly anything else. Then he sedated them for weeks. And he kept this up for 17 years.
Chelmsford Hospital’s deep sleep ward was a quiet place to work. Aside from the staff, and the occasional visitor, everyone at the Australian private hospital ward was unconscious all the time.
The doctor in charge, Harry Bailey, believed that a “long rest” was the ideal way to heal anyone of anything. Prolonged spells of unconsciousness would allow the brain to unlearn destructive patterns, and so would cure people with schizophrenia, PMS, or depression.
It would also help people break out of unhealthy behavioural patterns, like drug addiction, anorexia, or compulsive behavior. And if you wanted to take off a few pounds, deep sleep therapy could help with that as well.
His philosophy resulted in two deaths a year inside his hospital, every year, for nearly two decades.
Between 1962 and 1979, about two people a year failed to wake up from the coma that massive doses of barbituates put them in.
Others died or were injured due to the electroconvulsive therapy that was performed on them while they were unconscious but without the muscle relaxers that would keep them from moving due to the shock. Others were injured by the sheer lack of motion.
Depending on who you ask, the death toll due to the therapy is in the low 20s or the high 80s. Some patients went on to die of illnesses that may have been caused by their time in Chelmsford. A high percentage of the deep sleep patients went on to kill themselves.
Others just had terrible experiences. While the luckiest patients went to sleep and woke up missing no time, others experienced hallucinations and woke up covered in their own urine and feces.
While some visitors said the deep sleep ward was peaceful, others talked about how it was filled with constant incoherent moaning.
What made Chelmsford a national scandal was not that this happened, but that the Australian government did nothing about it. Despite the deaths, and the live patients’ complaints, the hospital passed inspection.
It stayed operational when a 14-year-old boy died during the therapy. It even stayed operational when a man had second thoughts, accepted a pill that he was told would “calm him down” so he could talk about his therapy, and woke up days later.
The man tried to press kidnapping and wrongful imprisonment charges.
It was only when the rest of the doctors at the hospital, horrified by the deaths, threatened to quit that the practice was stopped.
A few years later it became the subject of a television special and an ongoing national scandal. Investigations were opened up against the doctors in charge, but they were so prolonged and scattered that after over a decade a court stated that the delays amounted to a government misuse of the system and dismissed some of the charges.
Doctor Bailey himself committed suicide after investigation revealed that the research into sedation therapy on which he’d based his treatment was actually about the benefit of a few hours sedation. The average stay at Chelmsford was 14 days.
One March day in 1907, a man appeared at the Park Avenue brownstone where 37-year-old Mary Mallon worked as a cook. He demanded a little bit of her blood, urine and faeces. “It did not take Mary long to react to this suggestion,” the man later wrote of the encounter. “She seized a carving fork and advanced in my direction.”
The man with the strange request was George Soper, a sanitary engineer investigating a typhoid outbreak at a house in Oyster Bay, Long Island, where Mallon had worked. Soper believed that Mallon was a healthy carrier of the disease, a relatively new idea at the time.
Later, he returned, and after evading authorities for five hours Mallon was betrayed by a scrap of her dress, caught in the door of her hiding place.
When she tested positive for typhoid bacteria, the Department of Health forcibly moved her to North Brother Island, a dot of land in the East River just off the Bronx that housed a quarantine facility.
She was released in 1910, after swearing she wouldn’t cook professionally again.
Five years later, she was found working in the kitchen at a hospital where a typhoid outbreak was underway.
Mary was apprehended for the second and final time, living the next 23 years—the rest of her life—under quarantine.
Mallon’s legend grew almost immediately. A newspaper illustration during her first imprisonment conveyed the public’s morbid fascination with her: An aproned woman casually drops miniature human skulls into a skillet, like eggs.
Today, the name “Typhoid Mary” stands for anyone who callously spreads disease or evil. There’s even a Marvel comic book villain named after her: a female assassin with a vicious temper.
But the real story is more complicated than the caricature.
Historians such as Judith Walzer Leavitt, author of Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public’s Health, point out that by the time of her second imprisonment Mallon was far from the only known carrier.
There were thousands across the country and hundreds in New York, and today we know that being a carrier of disease is not that unusual: Up to 6 percent of people who’ve had typhoid, which is still common in the developing world, can spread it long after they’ve recovered, even if they exhibited few or no symptoms, says Denise Monack, a microbiologist at Stanford.
Monack has shown that genetic mutations might allow bacteria to climb unnoticed into immune cells, where they take up long-term residence.
We all love a good ghost story, but what happens when it turns out that it’s not a ghost at all? What happens when the dead thing is real, and it’s responsible for the deaths of innocents?
In the 1880s, there were numerous sightings of a mysterious creature roaming the desert of the southwestern United States. Prospectors, farmers, and ranchers all claimed to have seen this massive thing, and the fact that their stories largely matched gave credence to the claim.
They said that it was a camel, with a skeletal rider on its back. And the camel wasn’t staying away.
The first known casualty of the so-called Red Ghost was a woman who was trampled to death in 1883.
There were also miners who barely escaped the same fate when the camel barreled through their tent; in both cases, it left behind telltale footprints and long red hairs. The evidence seemed clear it was a feral camel, but it wasn’t just any camel – this one was ridden by a dead man.
More and more people began seeing the Red Ghost, and when a few prospectors had a run-in with it, they discovered something disturbing. They investigated the place where they had seen it, they found it had left behind a human skull.
The dead man might have lost something of his supernatural air, but people still reported seeing the beast with its dead rider. And somehow, that’s even creepier than chalking the whole thing up to the wide desert horizon playing tricks on tired eyes.
By the 1600s, the plague doctor was a terror to behold, thanks to his costume — perhaps the most potent symbol of the Black Death. The protective garment was created by the 17th-century physician Charles de l’Orme (1584-1678).
De l’Orme had been the physician of choice for several French kings (one Henri and a Louis or two), and was also a favourite of the Medici family in Italy. In 1619 — as a carefully considered way to protect himself from having to visit powerful, plague-infested patients he couldn’t say no to — de l’Orme created the iconic uniform.
Its dramatic flair certainly made it seem like a good idea, and the costume quickly became all the rage among plague doctors throughout Europe.
Made of a canvas outer garment coated in wax, as well as waxed leather pants, gloves, boots and hat, the costume became downright scary from the neck up.
A dark leather hood and mask were held onto the face with leather bands and gathered tightly at the neck so as to not let in any noxious, plague-causing miasmas that might poison the wearer.
Eyeholes were cut into the leather and fitted with glass domes.
As if this head-to-toe shroud of foreboding wasn’t enough, from the front protruded a grotesque curved beak designed to hold the fragrant compounds believed to keep “plague air” at bay.
Favourite scents included camphor, floral concoctions, mint, cloves, myrrh and basically anything that smelled nice and strong.
In some French versions of the costume, compounds were actually set to smolder within the beak, in the hopes that the smoke would add an extra layer of protection.
A wooden stick completed the look, which the plague doctor used to lift the clothing and bed sheets of infected patients to get a better look without actually making skin-to-skin contact.
When I was 10 years old, we visited a small fishing village called Boscastle, that would later become ‘famous’ for the devastating floods of 2004.
At this time it was known only as a windy, quaint natural harbour on North Cornish coast, favoured by coach parties and walkers.
As it was October it was raining, so as we walked back into the village from the coast path and saw “Museum of Witchcraft” on the side of a house set into the Cliffside, Mum and I, being proud of our dubious Romany Gypsy heritage (my great Nan had ‘the sight’ apparently) were immediately keen to go in!
The museum is now, as of midnight on Halloween 2013, under the same ownership as the people who started the excellent Museum of British Folklore project.
Attitudes have changed too; at one time I was the only 5 star reviewer on Tripadvisor; in 2013 it received the Tripadvisor ‘Certificate of excellence’.
What is inside the Museum has also changed since our first visit 16 years ago (goodness I’m old).
Joan Wytte’s skeleton is no longer on display, being buried in the nearby woods just outside of the Minster Church – she was known as the Fighting Fairy Woman of Bodmin and died in Bodmin Gaol, incarcerated as a witch, in 1813.
The 2004 flood damaged many items, but it also allowed them to redesign the museum, open upstairs, and add numerous displays of artefacts there had not been room for before, including the slightly overwhelming ‘Richel collection’ of sex magic artefacts, and many recent ritual artefacts from covens around the country.
However The Museum of Witchcraft is not just about witchcraft, it’s a capsule of social history, a time when people would go to the local Wise Woman for a good luck charm for their new house, to heal their cattle or find out if their lover was faithful to them.
In some cases that time was not so long ago – people would visit Charlie Bennett in Local Tintagel to ‘charm away’ warts and ringworm well into the 1980’s.
I remember being surprised to see, pinned up on a beam, the same rhyme I said each night to wish on a star.