Looming on the outskirts of Philadelphia County since 1906, the mental hospital most commonly known as "Byberry" stood abandoned for 16 years before being demolished in 2006. At its peak in the 1960s, Byberry was home to more than 6,000 patients and employer to more than 800. With its own self-sustaining farm, bowling alleys, barbershop, ice cream parlor, federal post office, and baseball team, Byberry was a micro-community. Throughout its history, the hospital served as an educational institution for Philadelphia's medical, nursing, and psychology students; was the site of a World War II Civilian Public Service conscientious objector unit; and a volunteering hot spot for local churches, schools, and Girl and Boy Scout troops. This book provides an unprecedented window into the good, the bad, the unusual, and the forgotten history of Byberry.
Hannah is a writer, reader, and publishing professional who loves all of the above plus dogs, Earl Grey tea, dark chocolate, museums, summer, and ghost stories.
Her first book, Byberry State Hospital, (Arcadia Publishing, 2013) is a non-fiction pictorial history about the abandoned state mental hospital located in the outskirts of Philadelphia, near her childhood home. She used to pass it every Saturday morning on her way to roller skating lessons (thanks to which she can skate in public--forwards, backwards, in circles, and with minimum injury or embarrassing falls). She used to ask her parents a million questions about the hospital and now she finally knows the answers.
She is currently working on a variety of middle grade and young adult novels.
While I enjoyed the photographs that depicted the daily lives of patients and staff of Byberry State Hospital, I was hoping to learn more than a few tidbits of information. Jones did an excellent job of collecting archival photos for this book. But she also chose to group them into sub-categories that bounced between decades of time. I think that this pictorial history piece would have been better served in chronological order. The very history of the hospital from its ambitious start to its slow and painful decay was interesting enough to read, without lumping the photographs into categories that could leave readers confused as to the hospital's timeline of events.
The topic of mental health (and local lore, since this hospital was a local fixture in my hometown) kept me interested, but the scattered photographs and bits of information left me wanting more.
While the photos were interesting and the historical bits were enlightening, far to many of the captions were unimportant puff-pieces from the author herself or blindly repeated, un-criticized, self-serving commentary from old publications.