Byberry, Philadelphia's notorious mental hospital known for warehousing and abusing its patients - including soldiers returning from World War II with what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder - was the direct descendant of Philadelphia's colonial poorhouse.
The Pennsylvania Alms-house opened in 1732, taking in the penniless, the orphaned, the aged and the poor mentally ill. Wealthier mentally ill patients were treated at Pennsylvania Hospital, and later, the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane.
The almshouse later became known as Blockley, after moving to a section of West Philadelphia by that name. In 1885, the "insane department" of Blockley was the scene of a fire that killed nearly two dozen patients, chained to walls by their arms or legs.
The city, which ran the institution, then began looking for another place to house the mentally ill.
But it was not until 1907 that the Byberry City Farms, later renamed the Philadelphia Hospital for Mental Diseases and then the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry, opened in the Northeast at Roosevelt Boulevard near Woodhaven Road.
Its first patient was an alcoholic man.
Later patients included a Ukranian immigrant woman who in 1921, at age 23, was brought by police to Byberry after she was found talking to herself on the street.
At the institution, she was ignored. She continued to speak what hospital workers believed was babble. It was not until the late 1960s that a Ukrainian-speaking employee realized she was speaking her native language and learned her story.
She'd become distraught after her out-of-wedlock child died and her lover succumbed to pneumonia. She was released from Byberry in 1969, at the age of 71, and lived with Ukrainian nuns until her death.
Byberry was taken over by the state in 1938, but there were many more troubling stories over the years, telling of physical and sexual abuse of patients and other problems.
During the era of corrupt city government, employees fired for abusing patients went to City Hall and were ordered rehired, one physician told investigators. Byberry's lurid chronology follows:
* May 1933: Grand jury reports "sewage backed up on washroom floors, 200 sleeping on cots in hallways . . . population 5,500, 2,400 above capacity."
* September 1938: State takes over; first superintendent calls Byberry "a medieval pesthouse." Reports "fire-trap buildings," nude, "cringing" patients, crowded wards. No mattresses, some sleeping on wet floors. "Rotten food."
* 1946: Reporter Albert Deutsch in an expose of American mental institutions says Byberry's wards remind him of "pictures of Nazi concentration camps."
* 1980: Citing failures such as one nurse supervising 150 patients living in six different wards, feds threaten to cut off aid.
* September 1987: State task force reports patients are neglected, beaten and sexually abused.
* December 1987: Gov. Casey announces plans to close Byberry within two years.
* June 21, 1990: Last few patients leave. *