Southern Belle's History

History from a southern belle.

Bryce Hospital, Tuscaloosa, AL

 

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Michelle Smith at Bryce in 2008, during APRT’s investigation

Close your eyes and take a deep breath…Open them to step back in time. Drive down the winding road, covered by the canopy of Alabama trees and pull to the doors of this wicked shell of the past. Take another deep breath as the trapped souls of Bryce Mental Hospital call out with demented laughter and grasp at your fear with impregnable strength.

A poorhouse is defined as a publicly maintained institution offering accommodation to the poor at public expense. Populations at these facilities boomed in the early 1800’s and conditions became deplorable. Workers were incapable of caring for many residents who were considered mentally ill, and these residents were often kept in pens or chained to the walls like animals. The answer to these conditions was to build large institutions to care for those in need. Built much like a warehouse or factory, these institutions were built to care for hundreds of people at one time. Row after row of beds

Dorthea Lynde Dix (1802-1887), the once superintendent of the United States Army Nurses, became an advocate for improvements in the treatment of mentally ill patients. In 1849, Dix, along with Alabama governor Henry W. Collier and Senator Robert Jemison, Jr. lobbied to establish a state psychiatric hospital in Alabama. An act was passed in 1852 and the “Alabama Insane Hospital” was erected on 326 acres in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Peter Bryce was elected to be the first superintendent. Bryce was a physician and a psychiatric pioneer. During his reign, he abolished straightjackets and restraints and insisted on the kind and dignified treatment of patients. Bryce opted to provide the mentally ill and handicapped with work opportunities, such as gardening and farming; many of these opportunities helped fund the hospital. Because of this revenue, the state reduced funding to the hospital. On his death in 1892, the hospital was re-named Bryce Hospital in his honor and he was buried on the hospital’s grounds.

By 1970, there became a concern that many long-term residents were kept there for nothing more than free labor and reports of abuse and deplorable conditions came to the forefront. By this time, Bryce had around 5,200 patients and the Montgomery Advertiser likened the condition to concentration camps.

In October of 1970, Ricky Wyatt, a “juvenile delinquent” who was housed at Bryce, despite no mental illness, became the plaintiff in a lawsuit that quickly became a class-action suit. Many testified to the terrible treatment and terrible conditions. It took 33 years for the case to be resolved. Judge Myron Thompson of Alabama claimed the state was finally in compliance to a minimum standard of care and dismissed the suit.

Despite an outcome to the case, many who suffered and died at Bryce may not be so happy with the results. In 2008, the facility lay abandoned and in ruins, but once inside the walls of Bryce and the neighboring Jemison center, you could hear voices and laughter, feelings of dread and lunacy, comfort and sadness emanated down the halls. Audible recordings of an intercom and a nurse calling for a doctor as well as the wicked laughter fore were collected by the Alabama Paranormal Research Team. They report there was fear, but for the living more than the dead. Many squatters had been known to frequent the place as well as thrill seekers and drunkards alike.  APRT reported both buildings to be in shambles, asbestos rotting floors were a constant threat. There have been undocumented reports in the Jemison center’s surgical wing of being thrown by an unseen force by other paranormal teams who visited the location. APRT has documented video and photographs of someone being scratched by an unseen force while they were there.

They also reported that there were spikes on a tri-field meter (a device that measures electromagnetic energy) when the question was asked if the person they were speaking to was disobedient to their husband. The question was then asked to the woman, “why are you here” and the recorded response was “because I am queer”. The evidence gathered pointed to a woman who was sent to Bryce by her husband when it was discovered she was homosexual.

A question was also asked “would you like me to move” and an EVP responding “you may have to.” Undocumented personal experiences of hearing a tune of “trailers for sale or rent” as well as a British voice have been reported as well by members of APRT. It was later discovered one of the workers at old Bryce was from England. Black shadows in the shapes of small animals and men were seen and a strange whiff of death and decay would often sneak up on the team members.

It is off-putting and disturbing to see a sign that says fire exit only and to follow the stairs to a four cell wing with iron doors and bars (like a jail) and NO EXIT. Perhaps these cells were purposely hidden away from visitors. APRT tem members stated when they walked into that wing, many of them felt the pressure and fear that even the most hopeless of the mentally ill felt while in these small rooms.

The future of Bryce hospital seems clear to continue under better conditions, but the fate of the old facility and the lost souls that died within its walls seemed doomed for eternity. The land has now been gated off to avoid liability of danger to trespassers and thrill seekers. It seems that the spirits of Bryce may be spared the constant threat of the three-ring circus that has befallen the paranormal community thanks to the constant police presence; but perhaps that is of little comfort to those doomed to spend eternity in a state of mental-illness and despair. To read more about Bryce and more haunted locations in Tuscaloosa, check out Haunted Tuscaloosa by David Higdon and Brett Talley, available at all major bookstores or at historypress.net.

August 23, 2013 Posted by | History | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment