Book Review: Detroit Breakdown

D.E. Johnson’s Detroit Breakdown is a mystery and suspense novel set in Detroit’s most infamous insane asylum– Eloise. The story, the third in a series of stand-alone novels, takes place in 1912 and plays heavily upon the historical abuse of mental patients as the two main characters– Will Anderson and Elizabeth Hume– try to free Elizabeth’s “cousin” Robert and discover who is killing patients at Eloise in the style of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera. The story pays homage to Nellie Bly’s exposé Ten Days in a Madhouse as the pair decide the best way to determine the identity of the “Phantom” killer would be to have Will committed.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story both from a historical standpoint and as a book enthusiast.

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Old Camarillo State Hospital

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Imagine yourself as an 18 or 19 year old, fresh from high school, heading into college. The college of your choice sits on a picturesque area of land, most buildings are original 1930s Spanish mission-style architecture. Not only is the campus itself beautiful, but you’re in sunny California, just miles from Los Angeles and Hollywood. What could be better, right?

Well, if you’re a current student enrolled at California State University, Channel Islands, I imagine nothing could be better… unless you’re one of the students who’s experienced the former residents of CSUCI. It’s been only 14 years since the campus of CSUCI hosted residents of a different sort. Prior to 1997, the campus functioned as the Camarillo State Mental Hospital. It opened its doors as a branch of the California State University system in 2002.
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Central Louisiana State Hospital

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Although the Kirkbride Plan for mental institutions was popular during the turn of the last century, there was one major flaw in its design: it lacked the proper facilities for noisy and violent patients. The solution to this problem was called simply the Cottage Plan. Using this plan for hospitals allowed patients to be separated more efficiently and those who were noisy or violent could be kept from those who were neither.
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Athens Lunatic Asylum

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As we continue our journey into the asylums of long ago, I feel compelled to speak a bit about the state of mental health care today. De-institutionalization was enacted by President Ronald Regan in the 1980s, releasing many patients who were functional yet still had the need for more assistance in the outside world. This assistance did not come easily and in some cases, never came at all. The conditions in many of these hospitals were awful and the treatments barbaric–and yet to many of the patients, it was far more frightening when they were turned out of the only home they ever knew. The system is far from being perfect, even in today’s modern age. The mentally ill continue to face much ignorance-based prejudice and state hospitals are still crowded and understaffed. We’ve changed the language to make it all sound better when the first step should have been to actually work to make it better.
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Sunland Mental Hospital: Tallahassee, FL

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Sunland Mental Hospital: Tallahassee, FL

The complex that came to be known as Sunland (or Sunnyland to locals) Mental Hospital was originally the W.T. Edwards Tuberculosis Hospital when it opened in 1952.  The five story building was constructed with large banks of windows that were equipped with cranks so they could be opened easily to allow the fresh healing breezes to penetrate the patients’ rooms. Doctors tried numerous ineffectual cures for tuberculosis, many of which caused the suffering patients further misery before their inevitable demises. Eventually, after countless deaths had occurred at the facility, a vaccine was discovered to combat the killer and the hospital was needed no longer. The building’s next incarnation was as the infamous Sunland Mental Hospital.

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