Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dunning; The Horror Story of Chicago's Insane Asylum.

In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM introduces present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. Presentism is a form of cultural bias that creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. Historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present fact-based and well-researched articles.

Facts don't require one's approval or acceptance.

I present [PG-13] articles without regard to race, color, political party, or religious beliefs, including Atheism, national origin, citizenship status, gender, LGBTQ+ status, disability, military status, or educational level. What I present are facts — NOT Alternative Facts — about the subject. You won't find articles or readers' comments that spread rumors, lies, hateful statements, and people instigating arguments or fights.

When I write about the INDIGENOUS PEOPLE, I follow this historical terminology:
  • The use of old commonly used terms, disrespectful today, i.e., REDMAN or REDMEN, SAVAGES, and HALF-BREED are explained in this article.
Writing about AFRICAN-AMERICAN history, I follow these race terms:
  • "NEGRO" was the term used until the mid-1960s.
  • "BLACK" started being used in the mid-1960s.
  • "AFRICAN-AMERICAN" [Afro-American] began usage in the late 1980s.


In 1851, the Cook County poor farm was established in the town of Jefferson, Illinois, about 12 miles northwest of Chicago. The farm comprised 160 acres of moderately improved land and was formerly owned by Peter Ludby, who purchased it in 1839. By November of 1854, the county poorhouse was nearly finished. The building was of brick, three stories high and basement, and cost about $25,000 ($706,000 today). Additional land was purchased in 1860 and in 1884. In 1915, the land consisted of 234 acres.

The old insane department was of brick, with small barred windows, iron doors, and heavy wooden doors outside, with apertures and hinged shutters for passing food. The cells were about seven by eight feet; they were not heated, except by a stove in the corridor, which did not raise the temperature in some of them above freezing point; the cold, however, did not freeze out the vermin with which the beds, walls, and floors were alive with these scurrying critters. The number of cells in this department was 21, 10 on the lower floor and 11 on the upper floor; many contained two beds.

The complex occupied 320 acres of land between Irving Park Road and Montrose Avenue, stretching west from Narragansett Avenue to Oak Park Avenue.

For a long time, Chicagoans were scared of Dunning. The very name "Dunning" gave them chills. People were afraid they would end up in that place.

Today, the Chicago neighborhood looks like a middle-class suburb on the city's Far Northwest Side. "If peace and quiet are what you seek, look no further than Dunning," the Chicago Tribune wrote in 2009. Some of the area's younger residents have no idea what used to be there: an insane asylum, a home for the city's poorest people, and cemeteries where the poor were buried.

"I grew up in this area," says Michael Dotson, 29. "I've passed by this vicinity a hundred times and never knew anything about it." Dotson recently stumbled across a website that mentioned the old Dunning asylum. And then he saw a headline claiming that 38,000 bodies might be lying underneath the old Dunning grounds, their burial places unmarked.

That prompted Dotson to pose this question: 
What’s the history behind Cook County’s former Dunning Insane Asylum and the people buried near there?
It's a long history with many dark chapters. Curious City can't detail the entire history, so we focused on finding out who lived at Dunning — and who is still lying in Dunning's unmarked graves. In both life and death, the people who ended up at Dunning were some of Chicago's least fortunate residents.

Here's how historian Perry Duis describes Dunning's reputation in his 1998 book "Challenging Chicago": 
For many generations of Chicago children, bad behavior came to a halt with a stern warning: “Be careful, or you’re going to Dunning.” The prospect sent shivers down the spines of youngsters, who regarded it as the most dreaded place imaginable.
Chicago resident Steven Hill, who is 60, recalls: "It was a term used in the '50s and '60s — 'If you and your brothers and sisters don't behave, we'll send you to Dunning.' And that used to scare kids because they knew that it was a mental institution."
The Cook County Insane Asylum and Infirmary at Dunning began in 1885.
Mundelein resident Ross Goodrich, who is 81, heard a similar expression growing up on the West Side in the 1930s and '40s. "Whenever anyone would act a little nutsy, any of the kids, we'd say, 'Oh, gotta send them to Dunning.' It was a pretty common expression," he says.
Hill and Goodrich are interested in the history of Dunning because both of them had great-grandparents who died in the institution in the early 1900s.

It was never actually named Dunning.

However, the property just south of it was owned by the Dunning family, so when the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway extended a line to the area in 1882, the stop was named Dunning Station. Then, people started calling the institution "Dunning." (In its early years, people sometimes called it "Jefferson" since it's part of Jefferson Township.)

When it opened in 1854, it wasn't an insane asylum. The Cook County Infirmary was a "poor farm" and almshouse. County officials opened their doors to people who had fallen on hard times and could not earn a living.

"They didn't provide very many services," says Joseph J. Mehr, a Springfield clinical psychologist who wrote about Dunning in his 2002 book, "An Illustrated History of Illinois Public Mental Health Services."

"They really provided a place to sleep and food," he says. "And that was pretty much the extent of it."

But from the very beginning, many of the poor people who were sent to live at the almshouse had mental illnesses. "In some ways, it's almost similar to what we have today," Mehr says, "in that we have a lot of people who are homeless and living on the streets, and a significant portion of them were people who are mentally ill."

So, the county added an "Insane Department" at the almshouse. And then, in 1870, it built a separate Cook County Insane Asylum on the grounds.

"The feeling was it's better to isolate the population of the mentally handicapped, the indigent, and keep them far away from the city proper," Chicago historian Richard C. Lindberg says.

Mehr sees another motivation behind the asylum's location: it is far from downtown Chicago. "The idea was to get people disturbed out of stress-inducing situations," he says. "Asylums were built out in the country, and they were really pastoral, bucolic places where people could relax."

That was the idea, anyway. In reality, Dunning was chronically overcrowded, and patients were neglected and abused.

"You could think of this place as the prototypical evil dark asylum of literature," Mehr says. "There wasn't much treatment. People… weren't fed well. The food was terrible — we were evil-filled. People didn't get the kind of medical care they ought to get. For many, many years, it was really a terrible place."

Abuse and Corruption 
In 1874, a Tribune reporter described Dunning's poorhouse as "a shambling, helter-skelter series of wooden buildings" where dejected-looking people with matted hair and tattered clothing were "crowded and herded together like sheep in the shambles or hogs in the slaughtering-pens."

"The rooms swarm with vermin," an attendant told the reporter. "The cots and bed clothing are literally alive with them. We cannot keep the men clean and drive the parasites away unless they are clean."

The reporter couldn't take the smell in the room, exclaiming: "For Heaven's sake, let us get out; this stench is unbearable."

Political corruption was part of the problem at Dunning. County officials treated it as a patronage haven, hiring pals and cronies without expertise in handling mental patients. Employees got drunk on duty, partying and dancing late at night in the asylum. Some of the asylum's top authorities used taxpayer money to decorate their offices and hold lavish parties while patients were suffering in squalor.

"Everybody was a political hiree," says neighborhood historian Al Opitz. "So consequently, they had nobody to report to other than the political boss."

In an 1889 court case, Cook County Judge Richard Prendergast described Dunning as "a tomb for the living." He criticized the asylum for squeezing 1,000 patients into a space better suited for 500. "The presence of so many lunatics in a room irritates all," Prendergast said. "Fighting among the patients at night is frequent."

That same year, two attendants at the Dunning asylum were charged with murdering patient Robert Burns. They'd kicked him in the stomach and given him a gash on the head. A defense attorney claimed these "blows and kicks … were beneficial to the insane man, as they were a sort of stimulus or tonic," according to the Tribune. Jurors acquitted the attendants, blaming Dunning's overcrowding rather than the actions of individual employees.

Even under the best of conditions, doctors didn't have many effective treatments for people suffering from mental illness. The only drugs they had at their disposal were sedatives. "If a person was terribly agitated, they might dose them with chloral hydrate, which would pretty much knock them out," Mehr says. "That's the ingredient in what used to be called a Mickey Finn in a bar."

According to an 1886 state investigation, one of the sedatives used at Dunning was a mixture containing chloral hydrate as well as cannabis, hops, and potash. The investigation also found that Dunning served two kegs of beer daily; patients and employees were apparently drinking the beer.

The same state probe harshly criticized the food Dunning served to its inmates. A lack of fruit and fresh vegetables had caused an epidemic of scurvy, with about 200 patients suffering from the illness. "The cooking, we are convinced, was bad," the investigators said.

Despite all their appalling discoveries, the investigators quoted one doctor who said, "There were some attendants who were most excellent, who were conscientious, and endeavored to mitigate the sufferings of the insane in every way possible." However, these employees were in the minority and felt intimidated by Dunning's irresponsible workers.

The situation inside the Dunning poorhouse seemed somewhat better by 1892. A journalist who visited that year didn't encounter the same horrors others had witnessed earlier. But she reported that many of the poorhouse residents were "too old and infirm to do anything except sit about in joyless groups." The superintendent told her that many people ended up in the poorhouse as a result of alcoholism. "Whisky brings the most of them," he said, adding, "They're foreigners mostly."

Insanity Cases in the News 
In that era, Chicago newspapers often reported the stories of local people suffering from mental illness, openly describing their symptoms and sometimes publishing their names. In many of these stories, patients were taken first to the Cook County Detention Hospital (at the northwest corner of Polk and Wood streets), where judges ordered them committed at Dunning.

Here's a sample of several cases reported in 1897: 
  • Frank Johnson was committed to Dunning after he cut off his right hand in a fit of religious mania. "I think he will grow again," he told a judge.
  • John E.N., 28, believed he was Jesus Christ.
  • Timothy O'B. became "a raving maniac" after a policeman struck him in the head.
  • William Mitchell, 43, an extremely emaciated African-American man, said he was hearing "the voices of spirits" and believed that people were "after him for murderous purposes."
  • Theresa K., 35, was sent to Dunning after she refused to eat, declaring that her food was poisoned.
  • Catherine T., 56, "was something like a wild cat." Maggie Mc., who may have fractured her skull five years earlier, was described as "silly, helpless, Irish, very poor, and 28 years of age."
  • Fredericka W., 35, who was unkempt with a weather-beaten complexion, was sent to Dunning after a policeman found her sitting in a park. She said she "was searching for a prince, who had promised her marriage."
  • William L., 45, was arrested when a policeman found him "wandering about the boulevards ogling women and girls." After hearing the case details, a judge declared, "Dunning." As the bailiff quickly hustled William L. toward the door, the patient turned around and shouted, "It doesn't take long to do up a man here!"
Patients like these were sent by a special streetcar and a Minneapolis & St. Paul Railroad car from the Cook County Detention Hospital to Dunning. It was a green hospital streetcar with a doctor and two nurses aboard. The train car was called the 'crazy train' and had a security guard at each exit so inmates couldn't escape.
Special Dunning inmate streetcars "Crazy Train" at the west end of the Irving Park line.
Unique Streetcars transported inmates from Cook County Hospital to Dunning.
About half of Dunning's patients suffered from "chronic mania," according to the asylum's annual report for 1890. Other patients had conditions described as melancholia, impulsive insanity, monomania, and circular insanity. The doctors listed masturbation as one of the most common "exciting causes" of insanity among Dunning's male patients. According to the report, other patients had become insane as a result of religious excitement, domestic trouble, spiritualism, sunstrokes, disappointment in love, alcohol, abortion, narcotics, puberty, and overwork.
Today, some of the remaining tracks from Dunning's "Crazy Train" are behind the Brickyard Target store.

Dunning's Unmarked Graves 
Throughout its early history, Dunning also included cemeteries — not only for poorhouse residents and asylum inmates who died but also for anyone who died in Cook County and whose family couldn't afford to pay for a burial. Some bodies were moved to Dunning from the Chicago City Cemetery, which was underneath what is now Lincoln Park. 

Of the 300 dead from the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, 117 victims of the fire are buried on Dunning Insane Asylum property. Also buried are Civil War veterans, including Thomas Hamilton McCray, a Confederate brigadier general who moved to Chicago after the war and died in 1891.
One of the most notorious people buried at Dunning was Johann Hoch, a bigamist who was believed to have married 30 women and murdered at least 10 of them. After he was hanged at Cook County Jail in 1906, other cemeteries refused to accept his body. "In that little box that they had made at the jail, the remains of Hoch were buried anonymously somewhere on the grounds at Irving and Narragansett," says Lindberg, who told the story in his 2011 book "Heartland Serial Killers."

The same fate befell George Gorciak, a Hungarian immigrant who died penniless in 1895, succumbing to typhoid. His family took his body to Graceland Cemetery, apparently unaware that they needed to pay for a plot there. By the end of the day, they'd hauled his coffin out to Dunning, where burials were free in the potter's field.

The burials at Dunning included many orphans and infants — and adults whose identities were a mystery. In 1912, an "Unknown Man" who'd apparently stabbed himself to death was placed in the ground at Dunning.

Scandals sometimes erupted over bodies being stolen from Dunning's cemetery by people who wanted them for anatomy demonstrations. In one 1897 case, four bodies were taken as they were being prepared for burial. Henry Ullrich, a watchman who worked at Dunning, was convicted of selling the corpses to Dr. William Smith, a medical professor in Missouri.

The professor claimed that the watchman had offered to kill a "freak" and sell him the body. Smith recalled telling Ullrich, "I only want the dead ones." Ullrich supposedly replied, "That's all right, Doc … he's in the 'killer ward,' and they'd think he'd wandered off. They're always doing that, you know."

County officials denied the existence of a "killer ward."

The State Takes Control 
In 1910, Dunning's poorhouse residents were moved to a new infirmary in Oak Forest. In 1912, the state took over the Dunning asylum from Cook County, changing the official name to Chicago State Hospital.
Mehr says that conditions had already improved at Dunning over the previous decade. One reason was the construction of smaller buildings to house patients. And a civil service law passed in 1895 decreased the problems with patronage. Mehr says that after the state took control, "It ended the scandals around the issue of graft and corruption." But incidents of patients being abused still made news from time to time, he says.

Ross Goodrich says his great-grandmother, an immigrant from Prague named Fannie Hrdlicka (pronounced Herliska), was placed in Dunning when she became depressed after one of her children died.
This February 1947 photo, taken inside the Chicago State Hospital, shows the poorly ventilated, narrow, and congested hallways where some patients slept. (Chicago Daily News)
According to the family story, he says, "When the baby died, my great-grandmother rocked the baby for a couple of days and wouldn't let it out of her arms. And then, she was placed in Dunning because they thought she was a little crazy. But we suspect it could have been a case of postpartum depression. … If she was having mental difficulties of any kind, I'm not sure that there were any other places available in those days for her to go." Hrdlicka was released from Dunning and then readmitted. She died there in 1918.

Steven Hill says he doesn't know why his great-grandfather, John Ohlenbusch, was living at Dunning when he died in 1910. But the death certificate says he had dementia, so Hill suspects Ohlenbusch may have had what later became known as Alzheimer's disease. Hill says his grandmother never discussed her father's death at Dunning.

"People did not talk about the rough lifestyles they had and how poor they were," Hill says. "But I do know they had a very, very tough life."

Goodrich and Hill would like to learn more about what happened to their ancestors at Dunning, but documents are challenging to find. The Illinois State Archives in Springfield has Chicago State Hospital's admission and discharge records from 1920 to 1951, but you need a court order to see them. Some early Cook County records, showing patients sent to Dunning between 1877 and 1887, are available for anyone to see in the state archives branch at Northeastern Illinois University.

Changing Mental Health Treatments 
In the first half of the 20th century, Chicago State Hospital used several different treatments for mental illness. Hydrotherapy uses hot or cold water to soothe people who are depressed or agitated. Fever treatments induced high temperatures to kill off bacteria in the brains of patients with syphilis.

Lobotomies were not performed at Chicago State Hospital, but Mehr says the hospital did send some of its patients elsewhere for the treatment, which cuts the brain's frontal lobe. "That's like shooting someone in the head with a shotgun," he says.

For a time, some patients at Dunning and other Illinois hospitals were given electroshock therapy "once a day, every day for years, which is just an absolute abomination," Mehr says. "That was a terrible thing to do."

A new era of psychiatric treatment began in 1954 with the discovery of Thorazine, the first in a new wave of drugs that directly affected the symptoms of mental illness.

Mehr, 71, worked for a year at Chicago State Hospital during an internship from 1964 to 1965. He says the conditions he witnessed were vastly superior to the travesties of Dunning's early history. "My impressions weren't all that bad," he says. And yet, he adds, "The problem… was that these state hospitals were overcrowded."

Chicago State Hospital's buildings closed after it merged in 1970 with the nearby Charles F. Read Zone Center, which had opened on the west side of Oak Park Avenue in 1965. Since 1970, it has been known as Chicago-Read Mental Health Center. Today, for better or worse, fewer people with mental illnesses stay for prolonged periods in hospitals.

Bodies Discovered in 1989 
In the years after Chicago State Hospital closed, the state sold much of the property. Today, the land includes the Dunning Square shopping center, anchored by a Jewel store; the campus of Wright College; the Maryville Center for Children; and houses and condominiums.

State officials apparently didn't realize that human bodies were buried underneath a section of the Dunning land when they sold it to Pontarelli Builders, which began work putting up houses. In 1989, a backhoe operator working on the project found a corpse. The state had recently passed a law requiring archaeological assessments before construction is allowed on any property where human remains have been found, so archaeologist David Keene was hired to examine the site. Keene was on the faculty at Loyola University then, and now he runs his own company, Archaeological Research. "The area was just littered with human remains, with human bone all over the place, where they had disturbed things," he says.

Keene has a vivid recollection of that corpse found by the backhoe. It appeared to be a Civil War veteran. Much of the body was still intact, probably because it had been embalmed with arsenic, a common treatment at the time, which would kill any organisms that would try to consume the flesh.

"He was cut in half at the waist by the backhoe," Keene says. "His skin was in relatively good condition … I mean, you could see his face. But there was considerable deterioration on the face. You could see the mustache. You could see his hair. He had red hair, but it was patchy. The other distinguishing features of the face were no longer there. And he had a jacket on … it was obviously a military jacket. We only saw it briefly. We didn't spend much time with it — mostly because the odor was unbelievable, to say the least."

Keene guided a careful excavation of the land around this gruesome discovery — stopping the digging whenever a coffin or human remains were revealed. He determined that a five-acre cemetery was hidden just northwest of the current-day corner of Belle Plaine and Neenah avenues. As a result of Keene's findings, that property was set aside as the Read-Dunning Memorial Park, which was dedicated in 2002. Construction was allowed on the land south of it.

This was just the second-oldest of three cemeteries on the Dunning grounds. The earliest cemetery was near the original poorhouse, just west of Narragansett Avenue and north of Belle Plaine. County officials had supposedly moved the bodies out of that cemetery into the second graveyard, but Keene says bodies did turn up there during another construction project. "We found a little over 30 individuals there, and we were able to remove them so (the developer) could build his building there," Keene says.

And when Wright College was under construction on the former asylum grounds in the early 1990s, scattered human remains surfaced there, too, Keene says.

"A femur would pop up," he says. "And it wasn't associated with a grave of any sort. It was just mixed in with the soil from previous construction and the removal of buildings in the past. In this area, you can walk into any of these yards, dig in the flowerbeds, and come up with human remains. They're part of the scattered remains from construction activity in the '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, and '60s. Every time they built a building, human remains would go flying."

As Keene explains, state officials constructed the hospital buildings between 1912 and the 1960s on this land without any regard to whether people had been buried there.

"The state came in and — as far as we can tell, from the archaeological evidence — removed any surface evidence of burials in the entire area," Keene says. "They actually built right on top of graves."

The third Dunning cemetery was located farther west — underneath what is now Oak Park Avenue near Chicago-Read Mental Health Center. While Keene was conducting his investigation in 1989, some workers walked over and told him they'd found human remains while they were working on a broken water main at Chicago-Read's entrance.

"So we just walked over there," Keene recalls. "And sure enough, there were human remains everywhere. And so we began doing some research there to figure out what the boundaries were."

Keene says it's obvious that someone must have known about the existence of those graves when the road was put on top of them. "It's pretty clear," he says. "When we were there — and this is just the plumbers trying to get to the leak — they were cutting right through coffins. Somebody had to cut through some coffins to put the original lines in."

In 1989, genealogist B. Fleig studied the records about Dunning and documented that more than 15,000 people had been buried in the graveyards. However, the records are incomplete, and Fleig extrapolated that the total was closer to 38,000.

Opitz says the county's record-keeping was slipshod. "So consequently, the number of cadavers or people that were buried here is somewhat nebulous," he says.

The figure is unknown, but Keene says 38,000 is a reasonable estimate. For Keene, the lesson of the Dunning graveyards is that burial places are not as permanent as many people think they will be.

Neighborhood resident Silvija Klavins-Barshney, 50, says she was shocked when she learned about Dunning's graveyards a few years ago. She serves as the vice President of the church board of the Latvian Lutheran Zion Church, located inside a building that was part of Chicago State Hospital.

The Illinois Department of Central Management Services owns and maintains the park.

"The more research I did, the more I felt that the story needs to get out," she says, "because most of the people… who were buried here were forgotten in life. They were just left. Or disposed of. Or hidden. And if that's how they lived their lives, how dare we allow them to live their afterlife like that? How can 38,000 people be buried and then forgotten?"

Although rumors of human bones being found during earlier construction projects have circulated in the neighborhood for years, the first remains to be officially found at the Dunning site were discovered by sewer excavators on March 9, 1989. Among them was the mummified torso of a man so well preserved that he showed the handlebar mustache and mutton-chop sideburns of the 1890s. There were other remains: several baskets of bones, perhaps representing the bodies of several dozen people, according to a pathologist's report.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. Awesome information...I was a ware of Dunning when I was Young and passed the area on a regular basis but never was aware of the history as revealed in this detail and it's beginning...But All the information revealed here makes and explains so much that One is not aware of... Thank You for filling in all the questions that came when we were made aware of Dunning Hospital......

  2. I remember back in 1954 waiting for a bus to take me further west on Irving Park to Harlem Av. Dunning was directly across from the bus stop.

    1. I remember around the same time catching the bus going to and from my grandma's place by the 6 corners and we lived in Northridge.

  3. The victims of the Chicago fire were taken there. Graves were also relocated there to open the land for the Chicago Hisorical Society and it’s Park. The family who refused still have graves near the building.

  4. What a poignant story, and well told. However, I chuckled when I read how parents would scold their children with the threat of being sent to Dunning. I grew up near Detroit and not far from the city of Ypsilanti, which also had an insane asylum. Back in the day we heard the warning, "I'll send you to Ypsi!"

  5. i remember my mother telling me we had an aunt at Dunning. my mother would say "she was a little different". the aunt passed away there and buried there. i also remember my uncle telling me that inmates would jump the fence and run over to the bars across the street for a beer if they could get one before getting tracked down. what a bad place. i could never think about living on that land.

    1. My grandparents lived across the street and when we would visit patients would be running around the property.Plus the gangway.

  6. My mom used to hand out cigarettes and cookies to inmates who would stand behind the high fence which surrounded the bus turn around just west of Narragansett on Irving. She would be crying the whole time because it made her so sad.

  7. We lived near Montrose & Narragansett and, one daydin 1988 or so, my mom took in a young man, maybe 16, when he had wandered off the grounds. She fed him a sandwich while I called the cops from my bedroom land line!

  8. This is Chicago Reed a inpatient pysch facility owned by CMS state of Illinois is ts still a marginalized institution

  9. My Great Grandfather spent the last 21 yrs of his life at Dunning. I was able to secure his medical record and it is amazing that this happened to him. He apparently was placed there by his sons after his wife passed away and turned to alcohol. I was pleased to see a photo of him as he passed away in 1941 or 42.

    1. Does anyone know how to obtain a medical record for a family member? My grandmother was a patient there from about 1923 to 1943.

    2. My mom was there for a short time and I would love to get her records.

    3. You can obtain medical records of Dunning patients via court order, which I believe includes proving your relationship. Some very early records are publicly viewable at the State Archives repository located in Northeastern Illinois University, in Chicago.

  10. I was to be sent there numerous times as a kid but I buckled down quickly.

  11. You mention "Chicago State Hospital’s buildings closed after it merged in 1970 with the nearby Charles F. Read Zone Center, which had opened on the west side of Oak Park Avenue in 1965. Since 1970, it has been known as Chicago-Read Mental Health Center." This is incorrect. I did my student teaching as a Special Education teacher at the Irving and Narragansett facility in 1972-73. Classes were held in the "old" buildings as accurately described in the article. Facilities and care were both terrible.

    1. Correct, Dick. My ex-husband and I, shortly after our wedding in Jan 1971 both worked there, on adjoined boy/girl wards for teenagers. This was definitely in one of those old buildings.

  12. I had a relative at Dunning. My family would visit him and I'd go along as a teenager. The place frightened me. People walked around like the living dead. Many seemed catatonic. I believe my relative had early onset dementia. They stuck him in there because they couldn't do anything for him. He worked in construction and had a bad fall which may have damaged his head. I'll never know, but it was a dismal place and people did not get good care there. We always brought nice clothes and food to our relative, yet whenever we visited him, he was wearing rags and wasn't particularly clean. Such a sad, sad memory.

  13. Amazing! What is more amazing is that Facebook won't let me share to friends or family because the article is against Facebook's Community Standards

    1. Facebook had nothing to do with blocking a share. There is no sharing from Private groups on Facebook.

  14. I remember being about 8 and driving with my parents on a Sunday. I was in the backseat and we drove past a fenced area of Dunning. There was an older woman next to the fence just staring. I remember feeling sorry for her but didn't know what was wrong with her. I don't think I had a conversation with my parents about her. If I did I don't remember their answer. I just remember feeling sad for her. Years later reading about Dunning reminded me of stories I had read about Bedlam in England. So sad.

  15. I remember as a child, maybe 7 or 8. Sitting in my Mom's car as she drove down Narragansett I guess. I hated getting the stop light at Irving because there would be the people, dressed in dark sad clothes, just standing by the iron fence... looking out. To think of it now... how strange...for this 7 year old girl,me, comfortable in a car, to turn my head to the right and stare... did they see me? I knew nothing of their lives, I knew nothing of sadness, illness, being poor, I was the future, these poor souls had no future. I carry now only the memory... I truly hope God has accepted them into His kingdom

  16. I lived at Bernice & Austin & Montrose & Melvina .... as a kid one patient would escape & a siren went off & we would tell the police where they were so then they wold be caught & returned Wild days .... looking back now .... over 60 years later !!!

    1. And 50 years ago, I was one who climbed over the fence to escape, but I was a visitor, and a child of 14 years old, visiting my sister of age 21. It scared the hell out of me, too much unpredictable behavior from adults, I was made aware of mental health issues way back when! WE couldn't find the exit, were frightened, so we scaled the fence, found the bus stop, and thanked our lucky stars, no one thought we were patients escaping! Crazy!

  17. So where are the remains now? There was never a huge excavation of bodies in the news. Just like the ohare expansion thru bensenville, cemetary moved? Highly doubt it. Disgusting and disrespectful.i walked on the grounds in 1996 for a concert. Yes. A concert. On west side of oak Park. The ground was not solid. If you stood still you could feel yourself sinking. Years later I think...oh sweet Jesus. Did they just move the remains to this other abandoned lot? I still shiver when I drive by and now see a high school there. Horrible.

  18. I grew up near there. While waiting for a bus one day just outside their fence, my mother held our hands & said "don't look" but of couse I did. A man was on top of a woman on the grounds, we had never seen that before, my mother was mortified & just kept saying, "don't look!" Growing up in the 50's we were protected from all that. I feel so sad for all those people. May They Rest In Peace.

  19. My Grandfather was the chief engineer for the buildings at Dunning until 1963 when he died. He had to live on the grounds, it was a very inhuman environment and so sad for the people that were institutionalized there. I would spend weekends there visiting my grand parents and roamed the buildings with my grand fsther.

    1. I totally get you. I spent a year and a half going to a nursing home every day so my mom could feed grandma (her mother) dinner. It's admiral, but not for young children, and definitely not every day. It was 1966-67.

      I'll never forget the smell the second we got inside. Death! It was dimly lit. There was a lava lamp that, to this day, sends chills down my spine when I see one, on or off. I was 6.

      My older sister and I were deathly afraid of "Crazy Mary," who walked like Frankenstein trying to 'catch us' at 1/32 mph. We found out she had dementia (Alzheimer's today).

      I hope getting that off your chest feels good. If someone else can cleanse themselves, well, so can I.

      Thank you for posting.


  20. Thank you for this article. My grandmother was at Dunning until her death and I remember being terrified to go there, every Sunday to visit. Of course I never saw her, my parents did not think it wise to expose me consequently I had this huge fear of anyone retarded because I might catch it. .Silly? Now I think so but I was five then and it was a fear I carried for decades


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