Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Visitors gather Tuesday in front of Old Superintendent's Home at the Utah State Hospital. The home now serves as the hospital museum.

PROVO — Some aspects of the Utah State Hospital's history may be harsh, but a hospital museum opened Tuesday with the aim that the past shouldn't be forgotten.

The museum on the Provo campus tells the hospital's 120-year history through photos and artifacts displayed in two rooms at the historic Old Superintendent's Home. The building was constructed in 1934 out of materials collected while remodeling the old Utah State Insane Asylum building.

Hospital historian Janina Chilton said the museum idea got rolling when offices formerly housed in the Old Superintendent's Home moved into other facilities. She said the history of the hospital can't be neglected.

"Even though some of the things seen here are horrifying by today's standards, we can't forget the past," she said.

The museum's exhibit provides a window into the history of mental-health treatment. Visitors can see straitjackets and other restraint devices used during the last 100 years to control or restrain patients. A Utica crib, essentially an adult-size bed with bars and a lid, and a tranquilizer chair used to hold and sedate patients, provide vivid examples of how far mental-health treatment has progressed in the past 70 years. Both the crib and the chair were used to treat the manic aspect of bipolar disorder before experts understood the condition.

Chilton said implements and devices were used by staff at the hospital who thought they were doing their best for the patients. She said the hospital staff members weren't mean but merely followed the accepted mental-health practices of the time. However, she said, visitors to the museum should see history as it really was.

"The stigma's still alive and well," Chilton said. "(It's) still not popular to be mentally ill."

All of the items in the museum were used at some point at the Provo facility. Chilton said many of the items were collected over the years during various renovations and stored in a warehouse on the hospital property.

During one demolition and renovation, a large safe turned up, Chilton said. Inside, she found decades of historical records and photographs.

The hospital opened its doors in July 1885 and has been functioning ever since. In 1955, the hospital experienced an all-time high number of patients of 1,500. Just a few years later, mental-health treatment across the nation moved more toward community-based treatment, and the hospital's population dropped. Today, there are about 370 patients at the facility.

The museum is free and open to the public every Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Interested groups are welcome to call ahead to arrange another day for a visit.


E-MAIL: jdavis@desnews.com