||The Story of the Magic
In 1841, the Pennsylvania Hospital for the
Insane, later the Institute of the Pennsylvania
Hospital, opened its doors headed by Dr.
Thomas Story Kirkbride. Mental illness was
not viewed in the same way as physical illness;
difficult to treat at home, even the affluent
sought institutionalization for mentally
ill family members. Until the mid-1800s,
confinement, not a cure, was the purpose.
Physicians during the mid-nineteenth century
no longer viewed mental illness as a spiritual
possession, or demonic in nature; instead,
insanity was understood as a clinical disease
and could be cured.
A Quaker, Kirkbride practiced what was popularly
known at the time as "moral treatment." At
around the same time, the field of photography
was on the rise, and provided Kirkbride with
an innovative technique to assist patients
in returning to society. Kirkbride believed
images would provide stability for patients
by providing a rational perception. As the
audience, patients were part of "normal" social
life and this allowed for rational patterns
of brain activity to be exercised, supposedly
bringing the patient back to mental health.
Using the new technology of the time, Kirkbride
began his "magic lantern" shows
to serve as both therapy and entertainment
for patients. The magic lantern was an early
form of slide projector, lit by candles initially,
with slides manually inserted. Topics ranged
from astronomy to history, religion to temperance.
Travelogues were popular shows, taking individuals
on trips to far away places such as Paris
or London, or around the corner to Philadelphia.
Slide shows took place in a specially designed
room, with benches for visitors and a podium
for the lantern. Guest lecturers would speak
on various topics while images were projected.
Two restrictions were made: patients were
not allowed to be photographed, and "ghost" images
The magic lantern slide shows aided Kirkbride's
view that an active, daily routine, consisting
of mental employment, would bring about restored
mental health. In reality, they were just
More information on Dr.
Thomas Story Kirkbride
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from Pennsylvania Hospital's Past