State Psychiatric Hospital
In the 1920s, New York State had operated six mental hospitals to facilitate the growing need for psychiatric care, and all were extremely overcrowded.
The state's answer was to build the solution to this problem that plagued the New York City area once and for all - Pilgrim State Hospital.
Originally designed to house 12,500 patients on 1,900 acres of land, Pilgrim still holds the record of being the largest psychiatric hospital in the world - its peak
patient population at one time was 16,000. The original hospital constructed from 1930-1941 consisted of four large continued treatment groups, each having about six
separate buildings. The hospital also included a large medical building where patients and employees with acute diseases would be diagnosed, as well as housing
laboratories, consultation rooms, a nursing school, and the pathology department. This building was flanked by two large reception buildings, where new patients
would stay for an average of one month to be examined and diagnosed. These two buildings were kept separate by gender, and connecting corridors on each floor
allowed patients and staff to work closely and quickly between the common medical facility.
Also on campus was a tall hospital building for chronic patients, a theater, employee and nurses' homes, a bakery, laundry, firehouse, power plant, and a farm
which included a horse barn and piggery. Doctors and their families lived a small community on campus, but separated from the hospital by a major road
(and later the Sagitkos Parkway). A ten acre cemetery lies behind a brick water tower, where unclaimed bodies were buried with a simple headstone engraved
with a patient number. In the late 1930s Pilgrim averaged one death per day.
Treatments at Pilgrim included many types of shock therapy; methods that were risky, but the only kind of relief that science could offer at the time before
Chlorpromazine (Thorazine) was developed in the 1950s. They include:
•Insulin shock therapy: The patient is injected with large doses of insulin, which causes convulsion and coma.
•Metrazol shock therapy: Injections of Metrazol (or commercially known as cardiazol) quickly induces powerful seizures.
•Electric shock therapy: Currents of electricity are passed through the brain to induce grand mal seizures, commonly used to treat schizophrenia
and mood disorders. Pilgrim State started using this technique in 1940, and has recently been under investigation for forcing this treatment onto patients.
Pre-frontal lobotomies were performed at Pilgrim starting in 1946, and by 1959 as many as 1,000 to 2,000 lobotomies were performed here; most
procedures were done in the central medical building #23.
Historic Images: 1936 Alfred Eisenstaedt, Life Magazine- The shadow of insanity