Very few people know about or will ever have to utilize the services of the Utah State Hospital in Provo. It's not a place you go if you break an arm, go into labor or need open heart surgery. It's a hospital owned and operated by the state to provide treatment to those who need psychiatric help and who have been committed voluntarily or sentenced there by a court. The environment is more secure than the state prison. Many folks who live in Utah County don't even know the facility exists, though.
The social stigma surrounding mental hospitals has been widely exaggerated by the media, from Victorian newspapers telling tales of the infamous Bedlam—the first asylum for the mentally ill in England—to Hollywood movies like the 1973 classic Don't Look in the Basement or 1988's Hellraiser II. Pejorative titles like "loony bin," "nut house" and "insane asylum" have crept into our vocabulary. But the reality is that these places were the primary caregivers for millions of people for hundreds of years ... people who may or may not have been criminally insane or mentally ill.
Last week, a stone marker was placed in the Salt Lake Cemetery to memorialize the many forgotten people who died in the state's first mental hospital. Few know that the original institution was at 1300 S. Wasatch Blvd. (at the south end of what is now Bonneville Golf Course). A local woman, Laurie Bryant, researched the original hospital, a wood-and-stone facility that had about 20 rooms. She discovered that 55 people died there, and pushed to have them remembered in some way. Bryant read local papers from the era and found the names of the deceased whose address was listed as the asylum.
It's nice to know that someone cared enough to give a formal remembrance to so many lives. Not everyone there might have been insane or mentally ill. Husbands could bribe judges to commit a wife they didn't want. A woman suffering from post-partum depression (an unknown health issue in the 1800s) could have been committed by her family and left there to die. We will never know their stories but we can pause in remembrance or nod in their metaphysical direction every time we drive by the golf course or the cemetery on 11th Avenue.