(Day Twenty) Hudson River State Hospital, Poughkeepise

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.HudsonRiverStateHospital

 

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.

(Day One) Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania

 

In Bryn Athyn stancathedral_randy-300x150ds the astonishing Swedenborgian Cathedral. Herbert Welsh (whose feet in ancient time–1915–I will be following on my walk to New Hampshire) felt himself “deeply moved by the ancient spirit of Gothic architecture springing into life, freely, unexpectedly in the countryside near Philadelphia, the very existence of which is almost unknown even to the most cultured portions of our people.”

The cathedral, the Swedenborgians, and the town of Bryn Athyn, remain surprisingly hidden even now. When Welsh walked through, the General Church of the New Jerusalem was only 25 years old, and its cathedral was uncompleted. It’s an worth a visit.

Today Bryn Athyn is a town where, according to a recent piece in the real estate pages of The Inquirer: “More than 90 percent of its residents are members of the General Church of the New Jerusalem – or the New Church – as were their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Their town was founded in the 19th century as an enclave for followers to live among people who shared their Christian values.”

Himself a spiritual if not a religious man, Welsh was on the way to his summer home in Sunapee, and stopped here for lunch on the first day of his long walk. I hope to spend the night.