Mental hospital seeks to preserve its history

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Retirees and staff, former patients and their families are combing through thousands of pictures from the archives of Springfield Hospital Center.

Maybe memories working together can assign names to photographs in time for the January opening of a museum at the Sykesville mental hospital.

"It has been like old home week with everybody coming in here," said Barbara Kelly, a registered nurse who has worked 10 years at Springfield and who is helping to establish the museum. "We )) are all having the best time looking at the pictures and meeting old friends."

Ms. Kelly and her museum co-chairwoman, Darla Walton, have scheduled four picture days to help with the museum, the first project in a yearlong celebration of the center's centennial.

"Our history here needs to be preserved," said Ms. Walton, a registered nurse on the staff for 13 years.

The women have searched every building in their quest for all things historical.

"We have an old movie projector, doctors' instruments, cooking utensils, farm tools, even a fire engine," she said. "We are trying to locate something from every department. There is so much nobody has gotten to see for a long time."

Springfield was an almost self-contained community, said Ms. Kelly. It had its own fire and police department -- the fire engine and a fireman's uniform are part of the exhibit -- and a farm, where patients who were well enough worked.

"We had a working farm and we were self-sufficient," said Ms. Kelly.

Among the items found are some listed as "we don't know for sure what they are."

Some volunteers are helping with the photos.

Dr. Suha Ozgun, director of medical services, concentrated on a group shot. He said he knew the names would come.

"I am better with phone numbers than names," he said. "What a treasure this museum will be for the whole hospital."

Dorothy Manner, who took her training as a licensed practical nurse on the hospital campus and worked there 40 years, found herself in one photo.

"This is me at an award ceremony when I was young," said Ms. Manner, who came to work at Springfield shortly after she graduated from Sykesville High and stayed until she retired. "I know a lot of these faces, but it will take a while to think of the names."

The hospital, which at one time cared for 5,000 patients, employed several generations of the same families. Ms. Manner felt certain she would come across pictures of her mother and son, who also worked at the hospital. She plans to donate her mother's navy blue nurse's cape to the museum.

"I lived all my life right around here and many people came to work here," she said. "It was a real family thing. Mom had my job waiting for me."

That job often was arduous. The staff worked 12-hour shifts, 6 days a week.

"We did everything," said Ms. Manner. "We bathed and dressed the patients, served them meals and took care of them. We washed windows, scrubbed floors, made up the patients' food trays and folded the laundry. We even had to break up a fight or two."

Wards often had more than 100 patients, supervised by a charge nurse and two aides, she said.

"This museum will be a real eye-opener to the community," said )) Betty Jean Maus, coordinator of volunteer services and a hospital employee for 41 years. "The photos can give people an idea of what went on here."

Nancy Barnes also "got out of school one day and came to work at Springfield the next. Everybody came to work here when we were growing up. It was steady employment and close to home. Many of us walked to work."

At her home in Sykesville, Ms. Barnes has a picture of herself, as a 3-year-old swinging on the hospital gates. She and her grandfather used to accompany her grandmother as she walked to work.

Ms. Barnes wrote a few last names on the backs of the pictures. Maybe her effort would jog her memory for first names, she said.

The pictures and the other collectibles will be displayed in the south wing of the Hubner building, erected in 1913. The fire engine will have to stay in the parking lot.

Hubner, largely empty now, was once the admissions center. It also had operating rooms and laboratories. The staff cared for as many as 500 patients in its four wings.

The museum is selling memorabilia, including wooden painted replicas of Hubner and several hospital buildings, for $15. Each has a printed history on the back.

Of the 38 original buildings, only seven are in use today. The patients now number about 400.

"It may take years, but eventually we will do a replica of every building," said Ms. Walton.

The museum will accept donations or loans of artifacts and will guarantee anonymity to those with items "which have walked away from the hospital," Ms. Kelly said.

A $35 "adopt-a-picture" donation for matting and framing should help fill the museum walls. Ms. Kelly has adopted the picture of the train engine, which once transported coal to Springfield from the station in Sykesville.

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