The Third Floor

In 1936 F.W. Parsons, a State Commissioner of Mental Health, decided it was time that American psychiatrists learned about a promising new kind of treatment - insulin coma therapy. It was the first form of shock therapy ever used in mental facilities. It involved administering a dose of insulin large enough to put the psychotic patients into a temporary coma, from which it was said they emerged with clear signs of improvement.

The treatment was developed by the Viennese psychiatrist Manfred Joshua Sakel, who, after accidentally overdosing one of his patients, tested the effects of insulin on animals in his kitchen instead.

Parsons managed to raise enough funds to bring Sakel from Europe to the asylum pictured here. For some time in the late 1930's Sakel taught courses at this facility to other psychiatrists interested in convulsive treatments.


This hospital is scattered across nearly 1000 acres. In addition to the larger clinical structures it includes several cottages meant to serve as daycare centers and residential wards.

One particular building, a picturesque, low-security mansion, once housed about ten patients. The residents were under continual supervision. Notes regarding their progress still litter the hallway. Reading these papers, it is possible to surmise a bit about the building's history, especially one particular patient's feelings about the floor leading to the attic.

The following is taken verbatim from a staff memo written by a supervisor in 1992.

"Sara H.: There will be no venturing of any sort up to the third floor to 'just check it out' by any staff or other residents. The third floor is not used except for storage and Sara needs to be reminded of the fire codex as well. We as a staff team can not feed into her beliefs about the malignant presence up there or within the house. I expect all staff to gently discourage her away from viewing the third floor, and redirect her thoughts toward productive activities."

Sara H. would not have had an easy time going up to this floor. The staircase leading there is in the rear of the house, hidden behind a small door which was presumably kept locked. The passage is uncomfortably confining, like something out of a dream.

A dream that takes place in the house one has always lived in. Except now one stumbles across a narrow door that was never noticed before. Behind it lies a tight staircase winding up. "It can't be," one reflects. "All my life I have lived here and not known about these stairs." On the upper floor, in the secret space, everything is broken, dangling, oppressive.

Below are photos of the third floor and another memo by the same supervisor to her staff:





All photos © Julia Solis. Contact.