Kentucky's First Asylum: A Saga of the People and Practices

Kentucky's First Asylum: A Saga of the People and Practices

by Alma Wynelle Deese

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Asylums were first established to care for the unfortunates of society. It was only later they acquired a negative image. In Kentucky's First Asylum, author Alma Wynelle Deese explores this issue by dissecting the inner workings of the Eastern Kentucky Asylum, Kentucky's first asylum and the second state-supported asylum to be established in the United

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Asylums were first established to care for the unfortunates of society. It was only later they acquired a negative image. In Kentucky's First Asylum, author Alma Wynelle Deese explores this issue by dissecting the inner workings of the Eastern Kentucky Asylum, Kentucky's first asylum and the second state-supported asylum to be established in the United States. She describes the people who were involved in the creation and maintenance of a medical school, law department, and lunatic asylum in Lexington, Kentucky.

Using historical data, Deese presents a fictionalized narrative to explore this institution's history from 1817 to the 1990s-including a chapter dedicated to 1906, a pivotal year for Eastern Kentucky Asylum. That year, four employees were charged in the murder of a patient, and this incident set the stage for the past and present history of this facility.

Kentucky's First Asylum provides a historical understanding of one early asylum that became a state hospital and serves to give broader context for the understanding of the current mental health system. It provides a platform to better comprehend the problems and processes of American psychiatric care.

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Kentucky's First Asylum

A Saga of the People and Practices
By Alma Wynelle Deese

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2012 Alma Wynelle Deese
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4620-7303-0

Chapter One


Dr. Redwine, Superintendent of the Kentucky Lunatic Asylum, ordered Colonel John Rowan Allen to come to his office in Lexington immediately. At least, Colonel Allen felt it was an order, since the message had been sent directly to him by Dr. Redwine's office. The message had none of the usual politeness that Colonel Allen always expected. The arrogance of those who ran the Kentucky institution had become a sore spot to the Colonel, and today it was especially tiresome to him.

Colonel Allen had heard that Governor Beckham had organized all the charitable organizations, including the asylum in Lexington, under one Board of Control. This new Board of Control was supposed to reduce bickering among the charitable institutions. Instead, the board eliminated the experienced Board of Commissioners, who had been administratively governing the asylum for over eighty-two years. The local citizens and ColonelAllenwatchedhelplesslyastheexperiencedBoardofCommissioners was eliminated; to many, it was just another political scheme.

While the politicians had always used Kentucky University and the asylum to provide local jobs for their own supporters, the university and law school were able to limit political appointees by establishing educational requirements. The asylum had no such limitations, and politically appointed employees often manipulated the asylum. Internal loyalty of employees was dependent upon the controlling political party rather than the needs of the patients.

Colonel Allen had visited the Kentucky Lunatic Asylum back in the 1890s, when they held weekly dances. They were pleasant occasions, and citizens were expected to dance with the unfortunates. They had to work for the privilege of attending the dances. During his last dance in 1891, Colonel Allen observed the superintendent and Board of Commissioners bickering among themselves. Colonel Allen preferred to stay out of the local bickering. He had avoided being around any of the local Asylum employees and citizens who talked about the battles between political parties and administrators while he observed how the asylum suffered.

The message from Dr. Redwine was that a patient at the asylum had been killed, and the newly created Board of Control wanted Colonel Allen to prosecute several employees for that death. Colonel Allen considered himself to be neutral and wished to stay that way. He especially disliked this new Board of Control telling him what to do.

In this year of 1906, Colonel Allen was forty-nine years old, had been practicing law in Lexington for twenty-eight years, and was currently the attorney general. As he was leaving his office, Colonel Allen observed with pride two tall buildings on Short Street that dominated the Lexington downtown skyline. Between those two tall buildings was the Northern Bank Building, which housed the prestigious law firm of Colonel Allen and Henry Timberlake Duncan III. Colonel Allen's office occupied the same building where his grandfather and uncle had practiced law. After these reflections, he got into his buggy to go see Dr. Redwine.

Leaving Short Street, Colonel Allen turned left onto Limestone Street. He continued north on Limestone Street and turned left onto Fourth Street. He observed many old, beautiful homes for several blocks and noticed how the area was changing as he got closer to the stockyards on Fourth Street.

The stockyards had developed on the east side of the railroad and across from the asylum. The area was losing its appeal because the smell was drawing complaints from many of the neighbors. The changes were disturbing to Colonel Allen as he continued on with his journey.

Colonel Allen approached the asylum's two-story entrance gate and knew that he had to ask the guard on duty for permission to enter. Permission was granted since the guard knew that he was expected. He followed the road leading to the original building of Kentucky's first asylum. He knew that this older building was used when his father had been superintendent. On the left was the newest building, called the Administration Building, built around 1894; Colonel Allen stopped his carriage in front of it. He tied his carriage to a post and entered onto the front porch.

Colonel Allen opened the front door and walked inside to a foyer. A young man got up from a desk and approached him.

"Colonel Allen, I presume?" the man asked, shaking his hand.

"Yes, sir; to whom am I speaking?"

"I am Mr. Hiram McElroy, Dr. Redwine's personal secretary. Dr. Redwine requested that I greet you; I will now check to see if he is available."

"Thank you, sir," Colonel Allen said; he noticed the wide hallway and a beautiful oak stairway on the left, curving up and around toward the right side onto another landing.

He noticed how clean the building appeared. On the left side of the hall was a sign boldly displaying Dr. Redwine's name.

McElroy returned from that direction with a very dignified man following him.

He approached Colonel Allen and said, "I'm Dr. Redwine; I sent the message for you. Would you come into my office, here on the left?"

"Yes," Colonel Allen said. "I have not been inside this building before. It is nice and clean." He followed Dr. Redwine into his office.

"We are happy with it," Dr. Redwine said, "but the whole facility is still inadequate. I understand that your father was employed here before the newer buildings were added?" Dr. Redwine sat in his chair while offering Colonel Allen another chair.

"Yes, he was in the oldest building, but that was before my birth, and now, even as a longtime citizen of Lexington, I have not kept up with the current changes in this facility." Colonel Allen sat comfortably in his chair.

"I will be happy to show you around after we have our discussion. But what we must discuss at this time is more important."

"Yes, I understand." Colonel Allen asked, "I heard you had a death here?"

"Yes, we did; Mr. Fred Ketterer recently passed away." Dr. Redwine lowered his voice, indicating a sadness and reverence, and added, "Any death is bad but this one raised questions for the Ketterer family."

"Is that really unusual? I thought it was common for lunatics to die outside and even inside of institutions from poor health."

"Yes, it is not unusual, except that there are new members on our Board of Control. They wish to prove that the patient died from neglect by four of our employees. They have a witness who says that R. R. Champion, an employee, admitted to hurting Mr. Ketterer."

"What did this Mr. Ketterer die from, sir?"

"We do not know. His body was badly beaten, so the Board of Control wants you to charge the four employees on duty with Mr. Ketterer's death."

"They want me to file charges against all four employees?"

"Yes, and prove their guilt," added Dr. Redwine.

"Dr. Redwine!" Colonel Allen showed his irritation by standing up. "I have trouble believing that any employee would do that. I know there have been many disputes among the employees, board members, superintendents, and even governors over wages, hiring, and anything else you can imagine, but employees killing a patient? I have trouble accepting that." He remained standing.

"Colonel Allen, I am doing what I have been told to do by the Board of Control. I'm not saying I believe that the employees did this. Please, sit down and hear me out."

Colonel Allen returned to his seat. "Oh yes, sir, I'm sorry for my lack of manners. Please continue."

"The incident must be reviewed by the legal system because the Ketterer family is suing this institution. The Board of Control believes that the only way a state institution can keep from being legally liable is to bring charges against the employees who were involved," Dr. Redwine finished, reclining back into his chair.

"Well, I will certainly need to interview all four employees and others to determine if criminal charges are appropriate," Colonel Allen said.

"Yes, please. We are trying to have a progressive institution here," Dr. Redwine stated emphatically. "Employees must be held accountable for what happens."

"I have trouble believing that employees are at fault, as most employees are duty bound and care about their charges," Colonel Allen responded quickly, "but I will reserve my opinion."

"In the past, no one, including employees, was held accountable." Dr. Redwine tried to maintain control of his voice as he continued. "Now, the Board of Control wants someone made accountable, and the employees are the ones providing the care!"

"But, sir," Colonel Allen stated firmly, "my investigation must prove that the employees involved had the intention of killing this patient. It is up to you, as administrator, to control the board and politics of this facility. The politicians could also prove to be the ones responsible, by putting their own interests ahead of the needs of the patients of this institution."

"Oh, yes, I will agree with you, but that is not the issue at this time." Relaxing, Dr. Redwine stood up to gather some files and returned to his desk. "I will offer you my services, their files, and any office you wish." He handed Colonel Allen the employee files. "But the Board of Control insists that you bring criminal charges against these employees."

Colonel Allen tried to control his anger as he said, "Sir, this Board of Control does not tell me what to do! I will determine if such charges are necessary when I conduct my own investigation. I hope that is understood." Colonel Allen started looking through the employee records.

"Yes, we understand each other," answered Dr. Redwine.

"Sir, one question for you," Colonel Allen said as he looked over the four suspected employee files. "The employees whom you and the board have specified, how many of these four did you hire?"

"Three," he replied. "The fourth, Mr. Champion, was appointed in 1896 by Dr. W. F. Scott. He is reported to have done the beatings."

"If I remember correctly, Dr. Scott was appointed by his brother-in-law, Governor William O. Bradley; he was a Republican, wasn't he?"

"Yes, there was a lot of trouble with Dr. Scott, here."

"But now," Colonel Allen concluded, "the Democrats are in control. Since Mr. Champion was appointed by a Republican, isn't he a political scapegoat for the current board?" Having difficulty controlling his anger, Colonel Allen rose again from his chair.

"Now, Colonel Allen, you cannot make such a conclusion, regardless of politics. There has been a wrongful death here that no one can explain. Please be seated again."

"Yes, you are right," Colonel Allen said as he returned to his chair. "I just don't like being put in the middle of a political war, as I now fear I have been."

"I would hope to avoid that also," Dr. Redwine added as he discussed the details of Fred Ketterer's death. Following Ketterer's death, his body was shipped to relatives, who noticed excessive bruises and broken bones and called for further investigation.

Dr. Redwine told Colonel Allen that the family did not notify him, as the superintendent, which was the regular procedure, but rather notified the new Board of Control. The board saw this death as evidence of mismanagement within the asylum.

Dr. Redwine showed his dismay; he looked tired and weary. "This new board does not listen to me, Colonel Allen, and you are the only one who can help."

"Well, I need time to review the cases. I will start the interviewing tomorrow. I must excuse myself for the rest of the afternoon."

Dr. Redwine agreed and noticed that Colonel Allen had lost interest in the Administration Building as he was leaving. Hoping to encourage him, Dr. Redwine said, "I would be glad to show you around this new building."

"Thank you, but I would prefer to see it later," Colonel Allen said as he left; he was feeling disgusted with the whole process and trying to hide his own internal uneasiness. "I just need some time to review some facts on my own." He rose from his chair for the last time.

"Well, then, can I expect you early tomorrow morning, sir?" Dr. Redwine asked as he escorted Colonel Allen out of his office.

"Yes, you can. Thank you for your kindness," Colonel Allen said as he walked out. He needed time to review the disputes that had been part of that institution for the last few years. He needed time to think, as he hurriedly left the building. Forgetting his usual manners, Colonel Allen ignored Dr. Redwine's secretary and rushed to his buggy.

Returning to his office, Colonel Allen preferred to think about Lexington's history. The city was part of the Old Buffalo Trail, which steered the early settlers from the northeastern to the southwestern part of Kentucky. The Buffalo Trail started from the northernmost settlement, Limestone (later renamed Maysville), and continued through Lexington as Mulberry Street, which was officially changed to Limestone Street in 1902.

As a child, John R. Allen Jr. had grown up with stories about the Kentucky Lunatic Asylum from his father, who was the superintendent. While Colonel Allen had not grown up in Lexington, his mother's family did, and he often visited there after returning to Kentucky to study law. He achieved the military title of "colonel" in the Kentucky State Guard. He retired at the age of twenty-eight from his regiment and started practicing law.

Both his father's and mother's families were from Green County, Kentucky, but his mother's family moved to Lexington in the early 1800s as her father, Richard A. Buckner Sr., practiced law and became a judge. Colonel Allen's father had studied at the Transylvania Law Department and returned to Green County. By 1835, he left Green County after being a Kentucky senator and returned to Lexington to study medicine at the Transylvania Medical School. He had rejected the common practice of "bleeding" the lunatics and had expected to provide better care methods when he became superintendent of the Kentucky asylum. Dr. Allen experienced both successes and failures as superintendent, but he felt the defeat most because he left Kentucky in 1855 with his family, moved to Keokuk, Iowa, and returned to politics until the Civil War. Dr. Allen and his family moved to Memphis as John R. Allen Jr. grew into adulthood, and Dr. Allen provided medical care for Civil War soldiers.

After Colonel Allen arrived back at his office on Short Street, he saw his partner, Henry Timberlake Duncan III. Colonel Allen had married his partner's sister twenty-one years earlier, while Duncan was still single at the age of thirty-eight. They still had a great deal in common with their families, law, and the history of Lexington. He asked Henry to come into his office as his mind kept returning to the mess at the asylum.

As both settled down into office chairs, Colonel Allen asked, "Do you remember the last time there was a dispute between the superintendent of the asylum, Board of Commissioners, and governor?"

"Well, the last one, I think, was this year when the governor did away with the previous Board of Commissioners," Henry stated. The governor claimed that the previous commissioners were incompetent, and therefore, he was justified in appointing his own friends to a new Board of Control. This new board would control all Kentucky asylums from Frankfort, from where they make all decisions, not where the asylums are located.

"But I hear the previous commissioners were all well-respected Lexington citizens," Colonel Allen said.

"Oh, there were negative rumors spread against the local Board of Commissioners to allow a new Board of Control for the governor's own supporters," added Henry. "That is Kentucky state government as usual." He shrugged his shoulders in disgust.

"That was early this year?" asked Colonel Allen.

"Yes, but years earlier, Governor William O. Bradley, a Republican, replaced the hospital superintendent with Dr. W. F. Scott. That was a real mess."

"Yes, I remember hearing about that," added Colonel Allen.

"I understand that Dr. Scott fired all the employees, including the experienced ones, and put his supporters into those jobs. This was around 1896-1897," concluded Henry in his usual casual way.

"How can someone be so uncaring about the needs of the patients? That facility needs caring employees, not political supporters," Colonel Allen said.

"If you are the governor of Kentucky, you can do as you wish," Henry said as he smiled.

The Board of Commissioners had threatened to resign if the governor did not remove Dr. Scott. The governor took his time, so the National Guard had to be called in to maintain peace among the employees until the dispute was settled. Several patients were left unsupervised, and some of them died.

"Why don't lawyers question what happens in a state asylum?" asked Colonel Allen.


Excerpted from Kentucky's First Asylum by Alma Wynelle Deese Copyright © 2012 by Alma Wynelle Deese. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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