Screening Of Athens Asylum Documentary At OU-Lancaster

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A special screening of the documentary The 1900: Voices from the Athens Asylum will be held at Ohio University Lancaster on Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. in the Raymond S. Wilkes Gallery for the Visual Arts. 

The documentary originally aired on WOUB TV in March 2013 and was produced by Ohio University Lancaster | Pickerington Communications and Marketing Manager Cheri Russo when she worked at WOUB.

The Athens Lunatic Asylum, now known as “The Ridges,” is a place of mystery. The Victorian-style buildings loom large on a ridge overlooking Athens, Ohio, and were home to mental patients in southeast Ohio for more than 100 years.

The 1900: Voices from the Athens Asylum gives a voice to those buried on The Ridges, many buried with only numbers on their tombstones. No one knows for sure why buried patients were only identified by numbers. Many believe the stigma of mental illness was the cause, others believe they were forgotten people.

To demystify and give recognition and respect to the more than 1,900 people buried there without identities, representatives from several agencies pushed to have the names associated with numbered tombstones released to the public. 

The information gave researchers an opportunity to explore the life stories of the people buried there. Then, they began the journey of trying to contact family members and listing names on the tombstones.

One of the researchers involved in the project, Doug McCabe, will be at the screening. He and Russo will talk about the project and what he has learned about the people buried at the old asylum.

The research found the patients came from many walks of life from all parts of the country. Their backgrounds were varied – they were mothers, grandmothers, civil war soldiers and criminals.

The documentary tells the stories in the patient’s voice and goes through their lives, what brought them to the hospital and how they died.

Russo became fascinated with The Ridges during her time as an undergraduate student at Ohio University. After she returned to Ohio University as an employee, she learned about one patient that she connected with. Viola Rapp was admitted to the institution for postpartum depression, and Russo says it became a personal story for her.

“Her story was one I identified with,” she said. “[Rapp] suffered from postpartum depression after having a child and was sent to the Ridges. I suffered from postpartum depression, as well, and really became fascinated with her story. I knew it was a story that needed to be told.”

As Russo completed the documentary, she was surprised at the reasons behind many patients’ admittance to the institution.

“Many of these people just needed a little help and compassion at a difficult time in their lives,” she explained. “But, instead they were hospitalized and eventually died. The stories are very sad and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to give these people a voice. It’s a voice that they did not have in life or death, until now.”

The 1900: Voices From The Athens Asylum is one hour in length. It was edited by Evan Shaw and narrated by Doug Partusch.