Friday, November 21, 2014

140 Years of The Women's Christian Temperance Union

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) is celebrating 140 years as a national organization this month. Founded in 1874, it is the oldest volunteer, non-sectarian women’s organization in continuous operation in the world.

The main thrust of the original WCTU was to seek social reform in a non-violent, Christian manner. The women were determined to create a sober and chaste world by promoting abstinence, purity and Christian values. Within three months members had driven hard liquor out of 250 communities; the Temperance Movement was on its way.

Francis Willard
In 1879 Francis Willard, the group’s second president, took office and began to galvanize the WCTU to take a stand against social issues of the day. The group’s slogan, “For God and Home and Native Land” stated their priorities. Willard began to seek moral and humanitarian reforms along with temperance.

Temperance Group
The WCTU spoke out for abolishing alcohol, enforcing an eight-hour work day, paying a living wage, supporting abstinence and purity legislation, campaigning for national prohibition, providing better schools and education, and encouraging women to become involved in the fight for women’s rights, and the suffrage movement.

Francis Willard
Willard led the group for 19 years, focusing on these morale reforms across the country. During that time, it became the largest and most influential women’s group of the 19th century. Willard understood the empowerment women would gain if they won the right to vote and lobbied around the country for fair and equal treatment. In 1891 she became president to the World WCTU. She died in 1898 at the age of 58.

After Willard’s death, the group distanced itself from women’s issue and began again to target abstinence from alcohol. On January 16, 1919 prohibition was enacted with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment. But on December 5, 1933 the so-called “Noble Experiment” ended when the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition.

WCTU Members in 1900
In its heyday, the WCTU had over 370,000 members between 1920 and 1930. With the repeal of Prohibition, enrollment went down and dropped about 100,000 members during the 1940s and 50s. By 1980 membership had dipped down to around 50,000 worldwide. In 2012, the latest year for membership figures, the group claims about 5,000 members still active.

During the past 140 years, the WCTU has played a part in establishing
a woman’s right to vote; stiffer penalties for crimes against women; shelters for abused women and children; promoting child welfare; encouraging physical education for women; creating uniform marriage and divorce laws; homes for wayward girls; founding of kindergartens, federal aid for education; creation of the National Board of Education; assistance in founding the PTA; equal pay for equal work; legal aid; labor’s right to organize; prison reform; promotion of nutrition, and the pure food and drug act.

The WCTU continues to operate today, standing up for social reform, and encouraging its members to sign a pledge of abstinence from alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. Throughout the years, the organization has also taken a stance against abortion, white slavery, and gay marriage. For more information visit the Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s webpage.

~ Joy

Friday, November 7, 2014

The History of the Blue Star Memorial Highway

Veterans Day is next Tuesday so this seems like the perfect time to take a ramble down the Blue Star Memorial Highway.

The idea for a designated roadway began when the New Jersey Council of Garden Clubs started a Blue Star Memorial Program in 1944. The group planted 8,000 dogwood trees along a 5½-mile stretch of U.S. 22 as a living tribute to the New Jersey veterans of WWII. The roadway was then designated as “Blue Star Drive."

The National Council of State Garden Clubs (now the National Garden Clubs, Inc.) liked the idea and in 1945 began the Blue Star Highway Program. The blue star was used because it was displayed on service flags to denote someone who was fighting in a war. These service banners were originally designed in 1917 to honor those serving in WWI, and were used again in WWII. The flags are still in active use today and can only be made by specific government license according to Department of Defense code.

The Blue Star Memorial Highway signs still look the same with a copper-colored background and the National Council of State Garden Clubs logo mounted on top. The blue star is prevalent on the sign, with the wording in gold leaf letters stating that this sign is “A tribute to the Armed Forces that have defended the United States of America.” The plaque also designates what garden club sponsored it in cooperation with the state highway department of transportation.

The Blue Star Memorial Highway covers over 70,000 miles in the U.S. and can be found in 39 states including Alaska and Hawaii. Many signs still stand where they were dedicated almost 70 years ago.

The program expanded beyond highways to include Blue Star By-Way markers in 1981. These markers are used at civic and historical grounds, parks and gardens.

Then in 1996, a third marker was added – the Blue Star Memorial Marker. This plaque is identical to the original Blue Star Memorial Highway marker but does not have the word “highway” on it. This allows for the sign to be posted at national and veteran’s cemeteries, VA medical centers and hospitals, and other civic sites.

All three signs may be ordered from the National Garden Club’s website. For current rules, visit Guidelines for Blue Star Memorial Markers.

So the next time you pass a Blue Star sign, remember our men and women of the Armed Forces of America. 

Happy Veteran's Day!

~ Joy

Friday, October 10, 2014

October's Haunted Asylums - Anoka State Hospital, Anoka, Minnesota

It is that time of year again; time for our annual Haunted Series where we've explored things that go bump in the cemetery, the restaurant, the town … and this year the asylum! Join me each Friday in October as we cast an eye upon those buildings that were feared by the residents and avoid by everyone else ... those places that are now Haunted Asylums!

Anoka, Minnesota has an interesting claim to fame – It is believed to be the first city in the U.S. to hold a Halloween celebration in order to prevent locals from playing pranks or causing trouble around town. Since 1920, it has been known as the “Halloween Capital of the World.”

It is also home to one of the most haunted asylums in the country.

First State Asylum for the Insane
It began as the First State Asylum for the Insane. Built in 1898 in the cottage style, the hospital opened in March 1900 to admit patients from other state asylums that had become too crowded. The first 100 patients were males from St. Peter State Hospital and were considered to be “chronic incurables”- Men who had lost their minds due to heredity causes or environment.

A Numbered Grave
Residents were not to receive any type of treatment; this was the final stop for them until they died. And die they did. A total of 86 of the original patients were buried in numbered graves in the asylum cemetery.

Anoka State Asylum
In 1906, 115 women were also transferred to the asylum from St. Peter State Hospital. Then in 1909, state policy changed and the hospital was only allowed to admit female transfer patients. (The male patients were then sent to another asylum in the state.) But by 1925, another wing had been added to the building and the hospital became co-ed, admitting both women and men.

The name was changed to the Anokea State Asylum in 1919

Another name change occurred in 1937 when the institution was renamed Anoka State Hospital in an attempt to soften the image of the asylum. Although the name was kinder and gentler, treatment at the facility was not. Patients were subjected to medical experiments and suffered both mental and physical abuse.

Although the hospital provided care to the insane, cruelty and neglect were often reported during the 1930s through the 1950’s. Those deemed a threat to themselves or others were restrained with manacles and straitjackets. Others that were seen as less dangerous were left to wander the grounds and buildings.


From 1948 to 1967, the hospital also treated mentally ill patients with tuberculosis. Actual treatment of the mentally ill began in the 1940s but many times that treatment “progressed” to lobotomies, hydrotherapy, and electroshock therapy.

Gov Luther Youngdahl
Conditions became so bad in the Minnesota asylums that in 1948, Governor Luther Youngdahl took a reporter and photographer with him on Halloween to witness his stand against the cruelty being inflicted at the state’s seven asylums including Anoka. With a torch, Youngdahl burned piles of leather wrist straps and straitjackets in front of a nighttime crowd of over 1,000. The governor also began to allot more funding for the state’s hospitals and the care of the mentally ill.

Building on Complex
With the advancement of psychoactive drugs in the 1960s, the winding down of these asylums began. Anoka’s population went from 1,085 in 1960 to just under 500 by 1970. It was during the 1970s that the facility also began treatment of emotionally disturbed children and adolescents.

In 1985, the hospital underwent its final name change to the current Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center. The original hospital complex closed in 1999 and residents were transferred to a new facility located close by.

Aerial of the Complex
The buildings and property were then given to Anoka County to use for offices and to house the county workhouse. The remainder of the buildings were closed and boarded up.

With such a sordid past, it is no wonder that the Anoka State Hospital has been rumored to house phantom patients. Former employees have reported that while unusual occurrences happen throughout the buildings, the most paranormal activities are linked to the tunnels located below the buildings.These tunnels were used as a way of transferring patients from one building to another without risking escape.

Ironically, many patients believed these tunnels would lead them to freedom and so they tried to escape by going down into them. But after a few twists and turns, escapees realized that the tunnels were more of a maze than an escape route. Without an understanding of where each tunnel went and how they joined together, it was easy to get hopelessly lost in them. Several escapees became so disoriented and distraught that they took the only way out that they felt was left to them and hung themselves from heavy pipes suspended along the ceiling.

For years, employees would report hearing footsteps trudging through the tunnels, stopping, pausing; maybe a "former" inmate considering which way to go ... There were also reports of whispering and low voices in conversation, but the words were not understood. Could a past patient have been trying to warn those still using the tunnels of the dire consequences when you didn't know where the routes led? The sounds of voices, plaintive and pleading, seemed to follow those who made their ways from one building to another. At times a burst of laughter might be heard in the dark tunnels, along with odd, ominous noises. And many former employees reported cold spots that moved all too frequently throughout these dark catacombs.

The paranormal activities became so rampant that most employees refused to use the tunnels because they were just too eerie. Today, only maintenance and security are allowed in them.

While there may be other state hospitals that were far worse in the treatment of their patients, some of those who lived at Anoka have apparently not forgotten, or forgiven, their experiences under the guise of medical treatment.

Anoka County Board
Today, the county owns the buildings that made up the former insane asylum complex. Although the complex was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, it appears that time has past. The current buildings are in a state of extreme disrepair. It has cost the county $22,000 a year, per building, to preserve them. Now, the county spends about $5,000 for each structure, per year, with no money for unkeep allotted for 2015. 

Information released on September 30, 2014, indicated that the County Board hopes to use three of the buildings as locations to house homeless veterans. But with the condition of the buildings, it remains to be seen if the plan is feasible.  If not, the Anoka State Hospital would be slated for demolition in 2016.

And who’s to say whether the destruction of the facility will lay to rest those ghosts who remain there; only time will tell …

~ Joy

Friday, October 3, 2014

Haunted Asylums - Peoria State Hosptial in Bartonville, Illinois

It is that time of year again; time for our annual Haunted Series where we've explored things that go bump in the cemetery, the restaurant, the town … and this year the asylum! Join me each Friday in October as we cast an eye upon those buildings that were feared by the residents and avoided by the living: those Haunted Asylums.

Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane
Construction for the Illinois Asylum for the Incurable Insane began in 1895 in Bartonville, but it was seven years before the facility, built in the “cottage-style” with 7 buildings, would open its doors to the first 100 residents on February 10, 190.

Dr. George Zeller
Patients who were characterized as being “incurably insane” were transferred from other hospitals, almshouses, and institutions around the state to Illinois’ newest facility. The asylum was quickly placed under the direction of Dr. George Zeller by the autumn of 1902.
Dr. Zeller Researching

Dr. Zeller was a new breed of asylum doctors; he believed in a humane approach in dealing with the mentally ill. Zeller also thought that the public needed to understand the mentally ill, so he held meetings and invited local newspapers and community members to visit the hospital.

Wrist Restraint
Cemetery on Hospital Grounds
Color therapy and light therapy were both first introduced during the early years of the hospital. In 1905, Dr. Zeller ordered all bars and mechanical restraints removed from the buildings. He also arranged for burial grounds to be set aside on the property for those patients who had no relatives. The site eventually grew to include four cemeteries where over 4,100 patients were interred.

Thanks to Dr. Zeller, in 1907, the term “incurable” was dropped from the name and the institution became known as the Illinois General Hospital for the Insane. In 1909 the name was changed to the Peoria State Hospital, but locals also called the asylum the Bartonville State Hospital.

Dr. Zeller with Colleagues
Dr. Zeller remained with the facility until 1913 when he accepted a position as a state “alienist.” (psychiatrist) But by 1921, Zeller was back on board as Superintendent, He found such neglect and ill treatment that he checked himself in as a patient for three days, living on a different ward each day. At the end of his experiment, he ordered all staff to spend 8 hours being treated as an inmate.

Patients Lining Porches
In 1927, the hospital celebrated its 25th Anniversary. More than 13,500 patients had come through the asylum’s doors. The current population was listed at 2,650 residents.

Dr. Zeller
In 1935, Dr. Zeller stepped down as Superintendent but he continued to live on the grounds in the Bowen (administration) Building. He died there on June 29, 1938.

Electro Shock Therapy
Soon after his death, The Peoria Hospital took a turn for the worse. Insulin Shock Therapy was introduced, lobotomies were performed, and Electro Convulsive Therapy began to be used. The days of kindness and understanding were over.

Patients at Peoria State Hospital
The 1950’s were peak years at PSH with over 2,800 patients residing here, but several patients were killed or died of mysterious circumstances during this time. At one time over 40 buildings were located on the property.

By 1972 only 600 patients were living here and the imminent closure of the facility was announced. The Peoria State Hospital closed in 1973.

Abandoned Building
The buildings remained empty after the hospital’s closure. Plans were made but development ideas were never successful. Over time, many of the buildings were demolished, others renovated as the community tried to find uses the buildings. 

Peoria State Hospital
But even though the buildings appeared to be empty, many say that spirits still reside here. There are four cemeteries located on the property and all are said to be haunted.

The Bereft
An Old Elm
Dr. Zeller wrote a book in the 1920s called “The Bereft” about his experiences at the hospital. In it he also documented his paranormal experiences at the facility. One of the first unexplainable incidents that occurred at the hospital, which Zeller witnessed, along with hundreds of other patients and staff, involved a mute patient known as Manuel A. Bookbinder. “Old Book” worked with the burial crew at the facility. After each funeral service, as the body was being lowered into the grave, Old Book would remove his cap, lean against an elm tree and sob. No one knew why.

Plaque to Manuel Bookbinder
In 1910, Old Book died and Dr. Zeller along with hundreds of patients and staff attended his funeral at the cemetery. But as the service was being conducted, the sight of Old Book, leaning against the old elm tree, crying, caught everyone’s attention. The funeral was stopped and the casket opened to find the body of Old Book lying peacefully in his coffin. The apparition had vanished and no one could logically explain what had just happened.

Mist at Peoria State Hospital
Empty Hallway
Other apparitions have been seen wandering along hospital corridors, shadows flit about the abandoned rooms, sobs and whispers can be heard throughout the remaining buildings along with footsteps.

Abandoned Hospital
Although Peoria State Hospital might be considered “mild” in comparison to other haunted hospitals, it was voted “Scariest Insane Asylum” in 2012 by Ghostly World visitors, and has been featured on the television show, “Ghost Hunters.”

Today, a group known as “Save the Bowen” owns the asylum. The group is seeking assistance, including financial and volunteers, to save the historical administration building. Find out more at Peoria Asylum.

Next week, we’ll travel north to another insane asylum that has tunnels brimming with paranormal sightings and discover “what lies beneath” …

~ Joy