The good old days were bad as well

By Dave Peyton/Charleston Daily Mail

"Political excitement."


"Kicked in the head by a horse."

"Moral insanity."

"Bad whiskey."

"Religious excitement."

"Gathering in the head."

"Bad company."


What do all of these things have in common?

Plenty. They are reasons why folks were locked up in the insane asylum at Weston between the years of 1864 and 1869.

A few years ago, Bob Weaver, the editor of the online newspaper, the Hur Herald (www.hurherald.com) wrote a fascinating article listing reasons for admission to what was to become the Weston State Hospital.

The Lunatic Asylum West of the Allegheny, started by the State of Virginia, was named the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane when it was completed after West Virginia became a state.

The name was changed to Weston State Hospital in 1913. The hospital was closed a few years ago.

Weaver listed a plethora of reasons why people were admitted to the asylum in the early years.

They are actual descriptions that came from the hospital's logbook. It "unfortunately speaks about what was considered to be mental illness in the 19th Century," Weaver wrote.

Want some more?

"Desertion by husband." "Suppression of menses." "Business nerves." "Feebleness of intellect." "Greediness." "Medicine to prevent conception." "Cerebral softening." "Laziness." "Deranged masturbation." "Over-study of religion." "Novel reading."

My wife reads about four novels a week. She cringed at the thought that she would probably have been declared insane in the 1860s.

I bring this up to point out that we have come a long way in a century and a half. We no longer lock people up simply because someone declares them insane.

In fact we rarely lock people up unless they commit a crime that can be directly linked to their insanity.

The fact is that the state can put people into a facility for an evaluation. But if, in a few days, the inmate says he or she wants out, there's little anyone can do but turn them loose.

Frankly, I know of no other humane way to do it and remain a human being. But it can cause problems. The name Cho Seung-Hui comes to mind.

He never committed a serious crime connected to his insanity until last week. He had been sent to a Virginia mental facility for evaluation.

A few days later he asked to be released and his wish was granted. Would you want it any other way?

I certainly wouldn't. To return to the good old days when someone could be locked up for novel reading or political excitement weren't the good old days at all.

A Huntington policeman once told me something that sent chills down my spine. He said the police know most of the people in any town who could snap and murder everyone within gunshot range.

"But you know, if he hasn't done anything illegal, we can't arrest him," he said.

"We can't do anything until he pulls a gun. That gives us about three seconds to do something before he kills a bunch of people."

All we can do is pray for those who are mentally unstable, and for ourselves, who might be their victims if they ever take a notion.