A Castle fit for Asylum

Traverse City Commons Aerial

I was in a former mental institute this weekend.  It was an odd experience.  The exterior of the building was magnificent, like a castle.  It was so hard to imagine that no so long ago (1885 to 1989) it was a psychiatric ward housing about 5,000 patients, nurses, doctors and support staff.  For approximately one hundred years those without the ability to cope on their own in society were committed to life behind these brick walls.

I have an active imagination, so as I gazed upon the building I tried to imagine what it looked like inside and what the patients may have been doing.  I also tried to imagine what it looked like now, since it has been transformed into a beautiful living space and I also learned first hand, an upscale shopping, dinning, wining district.  A woman I met was telling me I must go and see the shops and ‘what they have done with the place’ and I admit honestly I was thinking, ‘no, I think I will just admire the view from here.’  The next day I got brave enough to ask some  friends to go with me to explore this ‘must see’ renovation.  I am so delighted that I did.  It was spectacular.  The underground shopping and dinning district was beautifully done.  For pictures of the before and after click on this link: http://www.thevillagetc.com/before_after_gallery/index.html

Here is a little information about Dr. James Decker Munson, the first superintendent from 1885 to 1924:

Long before the advent of drug therapy in the 1950s, Munson was a firm believer in the “beauty is therapy” philosophy. Patients were treated through kindness, comfort, pleasure, and beautiful flowers provided year-round by the asylum’s own greenhouses and the variety of trees Munson planted on the grounds. Restraints, such as the straitjacket, were forbidden. Also, as part of the “work is therapy” philosophy, the asylum provided opportunities for patients to gain a sense of purpose through farming, furniture construction, fruit canning, and other trades that kept the institution fully self-sufficient. The asylum farm began in 1885 with the purchase of some milk cows and within a decade grew to include pigs, chickens, milk and meat cows, and many vegetable fields. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traverse_City_State_Hospital

What really did go on behind those beautiful walls?  It is hard to imagine, but what we do know is that often times external beauty hides the depths of interior darkness that lurks within.  Yet, God tells us that love covers a multitude of sins. Dr. Munson’s kindness approach may still apply today.  The renovation of our own hearts must come first, and then we have more love, light (Psalm 34:5) and power (2 Timothy 1:7) to give to others awaiting renovations.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 ESV


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