There’s been such great response to my August 2005 column about my home of Staunton, Virginia that in March 2006 some special correspondents explored the former Western Lunatic Asylum a/k/a Western State Hospital (abandoned) and the DeJarnette State Sanatorium, a former children’s asylum (also abandoned).
You read about Western State’s 19th-century history in a book by Alice Wood.
DeJarnette and Western State are only spoken of in hushed tones here in Staunton, mainly because Western State’s superintendent, Joseph S. DeJarnette, was a public advocate of eugenics and forced sterilizations of the insane. Thanks to the efforts of idiots like him, Virginia’s eugenics law was upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court and strongly influenced the development of Nazi Germany’s law about sterlization. You can read DeJarnette’s ode to eugenics, “Mendel’s Law,” at this link. (“Oh, you wise men take up the burden, / And make this you [sic] loudest creed, / Sterilize the misfits promptly- / All not fit to breed!”) Good writeups about Dr. DeJarnette are at this link and this link.
Understandably, the City of Staunton is anxious to proceed with plans to pave over the DeJarnette Center with a shopping mall and parking lot, while continuing with plans to renovate the former Western State campus into condominiums and businesses that preserve the old architecture. What I find ironic in all this is that, to my knowledge, Dr. DeJarnette worked at the former Western State campus and not in the mouldering ruins bearing his infamous name.
Pictures and further impressions of DeJarnette’s interior are published in the foreword to Horror Isn’t a 4-Letter Word.
As of fall 2012, the former DeJarnette State Sanatorium’s windows and doors were boarded up, making the inside inaccessible, but Black Raven Paranormal began giving tours of the grounds. I’m glad the Frontier Culture Museum, which now owns the property, is at least partially embracing the place. I hope they’re smart enough to get a cut of the action, because I bet there will be a lot of tourists. Deena and I joke — but only half joke — that if we had money to burn, we would buy it and turn it into a haunted house resort. I imagine some people would find it tasteless. What do you think?