Insane Asylum: Bryce Hospital


Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA
Built: 1859
Operation Time: 1861 – Present
Type: Kirkbride Plan
Status: Open

History

In 1852, the State of Alabama began planning to build a state mental hospital that would be part of the Kirkbride Plan. Behind the hospital’s construction were Dorothea Dix and Thomas Story Kirkbride, advocates for the plan. The construction began in 1853 based on designs by Samuel Sloan. The project was not finished until 1859. The hospital became the first building in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to feature gas lighting and a central head.

The asylum opened under the name of Alabama Insane Hospital in 1861, close to ten years later. The hospital was later renamed Bryce Hospital in honor of Peter Bryce, a 27-year-old psychiatric doctor and the hospital’s first superintendent. Originally from South Carolina, Bryce had studied psychiatry in Europe, worked in New Jersey, and later Alabama.

At the time, Bryce was revolutionary in the world of psychiatry. He wanted to treat patients with kindness, respect, and courtesy, morals that most psychiatric doctors didn’t do. Bryce also refused to use shackles, straitjackets, and any other restraints, and abolished them in the asylum completely by 1882. Patients wrote and edited their own newspaper, The Meteor, from 1872 to the early 1880s. Nowadays, these papers provide information on life in a 19th century mental institution.

By the 20th century, the patient population grew as the hospital’s standards greatly decreased. In February, 1967, the governor of Alabama, Lurleen Wallace, visited the hospital and was moved to tears when an overweight and mentally challenged 9-year-old attempted to hug her, meanwhile crying “Mama! Mama!”.

Wallace asked her husband, George (who had the power behind her governorship), to fund the hospital. Three years later in 1970, Alabama was ranked last among U.S. states in funding for mental health. During this time, Bryce Hospital housed 5,200 patients in “concentration camp conditions”, quoting the editor of the Montgomery Advertiser.

Exactly one hundred employees were fired from the asylum, including twenty professional staff, all due to cigarette tax depleting mental health funding. In October, with the hospital’s quality decreasing, 15-year-old Ricky Wyatt, who had been labeled a “juvenile delinquent” and lived at Bryce despite he wasn’t ill, was inspired to settle a lawsuit with the hospital.

W.C. Rawlins, Ricky’s aunt, was one of the employees to lose their jobs. The two were against the horrendous conditions and treatments that were used to keep patients “manageable”. In 1971, the lawsuit expanded to include patients from both Camp Partlow and Searcy Hospital, two other Alabaman mental hospitals. The court created federal minimum standards for the care of the mentally ill within these institutions.

In 1999, a new settlement agreement was made in order to recognize the progress that had occurred in court. The case was finally closed on December 5th, 2003 by Judge Myron Thomson.

The hospital is haunted by patients who died of neglect. Odd writings on the walls have appeared (excluding graffiti), strange noises, the sensation of being watched, and cold spots are just some of the activities reported within Bryce Hospital’s walls. Even though the hospital has no active phone number, there have been reports of telephone’s ringing. Furniture has been known to move on its own, footsteps have been heard in the empty hallways, and temperature swings have been felt in several spots.

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