Thursday, October 29, 2015

Halloween and asylums visits: Are ghost seekers being disrespectful?

As Sarah Handley-Cousins writes in:  
Ghosts are Scary, Disabled People are Not: The Troubling Rise of the Haunted Asylum

"This past spring, the defunct Willard Psychiatric Center in Ovid, New York, opened its doors for tours — one day only, with no advance sale tickets."

"I left bright and early from Buffalo and arrived in Ovid with plenty of time before the tour. But instead of getting my ticket, I found myself at a dead stop, just before the asylum grounds, in a line of hundreds of cars."

"When the tour of the asylum was announced, news had apparently traveled through local ghost-hunting circles. Most of the folks who had lined up by the thousands to tour the old asylum weren’t interested at all in the history of asylums — they were hoping to see a ghost."

"I like a ghost story as much as anyone, but the patients who lived in institutions like Willard and Pennhurst weren’t spooky spirits — they were human beings with complex lives."

"Haunted attractions that use asylums as settings rely on reductive and offensive portrayals of the mentally ill as horrifying, dangerous, and evil people that must be kept within an asylum for the protection of the public. They exploit the ways that the real patients of mental institutions were treated for cheap thrills — “patients” are often depicted in restraints or undergoing medical procedures and experiments. Indeed, part of the “creep” factor is the general disrepair of the institution, invoking the very real neglect patients experienced. The thousands of “paranormal investigators” who hoped for a tour of the Willard Asylum were looking for... an eerie setting filled with the ghosts of scary, dangerous lunatics. In the process, they disrespected the grounds of Willard and likely influenced New York State to think twice about opening the grounds for tours in future years, making it even harder for historians to gain access to the asylum."

This Halloween, do me a favor: think twice before you buy a ticket and stand in line to visit a “haunted asylum” attraction. Consider picking up a book about the history of those women and men deemed mentally ill instead."

Are asylum ghost seekers being disrespectful? Getting cheap thrills?

Love to hear your thoughts about this.

With thanks,

Read more at Nursing Clio, an open access, peer-reviewed, collaborative blog project that ties historical scholarship to present-day issues related to gender and medicine.

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