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Stories from Springfield

The Original Patterson Mansion

Before there was the hospital, there was the mansion. Before there was the mansion there was nothing much, maybe a shack or two, and land.


But then came William Patterson, and then George Patterson, and later Frank Brown. And the mansion kept growing, until it became huge.

The famous Elizabeth "Betsy" Patterson climbed out one of these windows one night and rode a mule, or maybe a horse, to meet young Jerome Bonaparte at a ball. Or maybe she didn't. There are many versions of the story. Who knows what's precisely true? Except that she did marry Jerome, brother of Napoleon, and spend the rest of her life suffering because of it.


George Patterson was Betsy's youngest and favorite brother. He turned the land into a thriving plantation filled with fine horses, cattle, and slaves. He died. His daughter Florence inherited his land, but she died at 31, while giving birth to a baby they buried on top of her.


Her cousin Frank Brown, future governor of Maryland, eventually took possession of it all, the land, the mansion, and all the buildings, and ran it for years. While he was governor, his wife died. She was only 38, and with her gone, and all his future plans dashed, he lost interest in Springfield.


When he became Governor, he moved to Annapolis with his daughter, his son. his wife, and mother. At the end of his term, he sold 700 acres of land, the mansion, and all the buildings on those acres to the state, and moved on to Baltimore, where he spent the rest of his life, and a great deal of time and money, bailing his son out of trouble, and meddling in Baltimore and state politics.

Frank, Jr. got into a lot of trouble, but for a while, he was the toast of what the papers referred to as Baltimore's "smart set." Frank's incredibly accomplished daughter would become a well-known member of New York high society.


The First Maryland Hospital for the Insane

They built a hospital there on the land Frank Brown sold to the state. There was a hospital called Spring Grove in Catonsville, but it was overflowing, and the state was looking for somewhere to house what they referred to as the "incurable insane." They estimated there were about a thousand or so living in poor conditions throughout the state.

The first superintendent was a man named Rohe, who had previously managed Spring Grove. He lived in the mansion, but he died shortly after taking charge. Then came Dr. Clement Clark, a man with a big mustache, big ideas, and an apparent belief that the practice of open doors, steady labor, fresh air, and eugenics would be a good means of reducing the population of the mentally troubled that seemed to be forever increasing in the state and the country.


He believed that rampant immigration from certain parts of Europe was actually leading to a large increase in the number of what he would refer to as morons, imbeciles, idiots, and other such terms. These were actually officially established designations for categories of patients.


He thought that the mental quality of the arriving Europeans was polluting the genetic pool with inferior material. Therefore to reduce insanity, it would be necessary to better control immigration.

One night, the mansion burned while he slept. His mother barely made it out alive. But she did, and so did he, and for the next 20 years or so, Clement Clark ran Springfield Hospital, as the doctors and nurses and sick moved in and filled the lands, where once George Patterson raised fine Devon Cattle that apparently originated from a royal herd in England.

The hospital grew. It sprawled. More acres. More buildings. More cows and horses and crops and people. Springfield became a city unto itself, with its own power plant and rail line to Sykesville that brought in the coal the plant would burn. There was never enough room and never much understanding of how to cure the thousands of patients who came and often never left, and were not so much treated as housed and fed.


There were attempts at treatment. There was water therapy, insulin therapy, electro-shock therapy. They even did a few lobotomies, with a man named Walter Freeman, who invented the so-called "ice pick lobotomy," visiting and performing on at least one occasion in 1950 or thereabouts.


The official name for one Freeman's lobotomies was trans-orbital lobotomy. He did the first in 1946, could perform one in 10 minutes, and did thousands over the years. The procedure involved shoving some sort of shaft, such as an ice pick, down through the area above the patient's eyeball, gaining access to the frontal lobes, and then wiggling it around in there. Then he would do the next side. He could even do both at once.

Springfield and Sykesville

The story of Springfield Hospital is a huge one, and it would be impossible to tell the story of Sykesville in the 20th century without talking a great deal about Springfield.

Up until recent times, the two were very closely linked. You might say intertwined. It's quite possible there would be no Sykesville without Springfield, and to a lesser extent, there would be no Springfield without Sykesville.

In fact, people from outside the immediate vicinity used to refer to the hospital merely as "Sykesville." For instance, someone in Hagerstown might say, "They took him to Sykesville." Meaning Springfield.

When a band named Claude Jones released a terrific song called "Sykesville" in 1971, they weren't talking about the town at all. They were referring to the institution at the edge of the town.

So here, we will tell stories about the hospital. Not the history of the hospital, not a chronological march through the decades, but just stories, as we learn them.

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