• Lots of people ended up in Byberry who didn’t belong there — people with Down syndrome, tuberculosis and “insanity caused by alcohol” — but poor Ukrainian immigrant Catherine Sinschuck might have had it the worst. As Hannah Karena Jones writes in her new book, Byberry State Hospital, Sinschuck was hospitalized after being found babbling on the streets following the deaths of her husband and baby. Only after she spent 48 years in Byberry was it discovered that her “babbling” was actually the Ukrainian language. She was released to a nursing home in 1969, at the age of 71.
• Visitors to Byberry often remarked on the overwhelming stench of urine, feces and body odor. In the late ’60s, two buildings previously used as patient housing were repurposed for training police dogs, as the extreme smell made it more difficult for the dogs to find drugs.
• Horrified by what they found at Byberry, conscientious objectors to WWII gave most Americans their first glimpse inside. According to one, the dentistry situation was so appalling that some patients went years without teeth, while others had their cavities enlarged to accommodate black-market dentistry equipment.
• The 1987 “blue-ribbon task force” led by state welfare secretary John White charged with investigating Byberry made several disturbing observations: a physician so arthritic he couldn’t draw blood, a patient with an eating disorder apparently left to die of malnutrition and a general culture of fear among patients and staff. The task force’s scathing report finally set the ball in motion to close Byberry once and for all.
• Byberry officially closed in 1990, but endured a noisy afterlife as a hangout for urban explorers, partiers and such, partly because the city didn’t want to deal with the expensive asbestos removal. It was also the site of a haunted-house attraction compliments of radio station Eagle 106 and several reality-type shows, including MTV’s Scared.
Read more on Byberry in this week's cover story.
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