Portraits from Longfellow Clinic

They took portraits of all the patients, not because they were artists, but because that was the nature of photography back then and they needed a record of each and every one. You sat for a portrait, holding your body still for as long as it took to render an image on the plate. Consequently, looking at the images of the patients now, so rigid and staged, they actually seem like unintentional art. Poor, mentally ill men and women stuck in a ghastly institution where many would live out their final days.

I didn’t know what to make of the portrait book when I found it in my Uncle’s old trunk after he died. It was undeniably fascinating, but the faded photos seemed to be laced with tragedy, as if the people were trapped both within the frame and the hospital at the same time. Some were imprisoned there-that much I learned from my research online. Others passed through, doing their time to get well enough to earn a release back into a world that wasn’t equipped to treat them fairly.

I brought the book home with me because it deserved a home. A place for memories. The patients were due this last shred of respect.

© 2021 Jeff E. Brown. All rights reserved.

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