My route will take me several leagues out of my way, and out of Herbert Welsh’s way, on a northwesterly detour to the old Hudson River State Hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Today this evocative ruin of a high Victorian Gothic masterpiece, built in 1873, is a haunting setting for videos of intrepid urban explorers
Around 1959, my father, Jack Statt, was here.
I try to write with precise words, and am conflicted about that plain phrase “Jack Statt was here.” Was my father an inmate? A patient, a prisoner, a guest, a case, a convict or a resident? What do you call someone who was arrested and incarcerated, in 1959, for having sex with man, or with a boy? Deviant, pervert, invert, pedophile, queer?
I called him Daddy. The rolling green lawns, stately cedars, winding paths and river views of the Hudson River State Hospital are among my deepest memories. I do not recall that I entered the building on visiting days. These were my toddler days, before I had really learned to walk.
This place was a psychiatric hospital, an insane asylum, of a common type, built on the Kirkbride Plan,. According to a marvelously titled book, The Architecture of Madness, the very structure of the building and grounds “designed to be beautiful and soothing to the patient, a special apparatus for the care of lunacy, highly improved and tastefully ornamented.”
When I was a child, I thought as a child, wandering around an edifice, a special apparatus designed to create or control powerful emotions. The Hudson River State Hospital certainly had that effect on me. Now I will see it face to face.