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Preston Interview page 3

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John- What was the worst incident you witnessed involving a patient?
Preston- Back when they started dual diagnosis they transferred this 15 year old boy from Hogan to DSH. This boy had a habit of crawling into heat ducts. The heat ducts don't go anywhere at Hogan, it's a newer building and you can't get hurt. Anyway they sent him up and he was up there for about 3 weeks and he disappeared. We searched everywhere for him. We looked all over and we couldn't find him. The staff over at J ward started to notice a horrible smell getting worse and worse everyday. Anyway to make a long story short, he got inside the duct work in J Annex. The duct work in DSH goes right down to heating coils. He slid down , couldn't get up , got trapped and died. His feet landed right on the coils and literally burnt off up to his shins. I was there and had to go over there and help cut him out of the wall. There must of been 25 people in that room that day. The Medical Examiner, clinicians you name it. I cut the wall and Butch (The Tinsmith) was there to cut the tin duct work. When we cut through it all, and opened it up the kid was right there and looked almost frozen. The pathologist reached in to take him out and his hands sunk into his chest like jello.The smell was disgusting it was a nasty stench and we all got sick. His death brought on a major,major state investigation. His parents were mad as hell and rightfully so. We had big wigs from Boston and the State Police lab up there for weeks. It was just an horrible experience. I've seen a lot in my 24 years and that was by far the worst.

J-Do you ever recall hearing about a pathology lab and morgue in the Kirkbride prior to you working there?
P-No. The morgue was over in the Bonner on the first floor. That side loading dock on the right side was where the hearse would pull up. It was a large morgue. It had 8 freezer drawers and had an observation room for doctors and nurses who were in training. I got to see a couple autopsies myself. Dr. Towbin who did they autopsies back then let me even watch a couple. Dr. Foote ran the lab and that was located on the 6th floor (prior to the DYS using the 6th floor towards the later years) In the basement was where they kept body parts and brain tissue. They had a freezer there and it was filled with that sort of thing. Maintenance would have to go down there on occasion because there was heat pipes running through and we'd have to climb up and do our work and there'd be all these lab bottles filled with specimens and baby fetus's in bottles just like you'd see in a movie. That lab was constantly busy. They were always working up there. Always doing research on something.
J- When did the morgue close?
P-I'd say around the mid 1970's. They started shipping bodies off the property and they eventually closed everything. They renovated the morgue into the canteen area not long after it closed. They closed the original canteen that was located over by the maintenance shops, behind the Kirkbride and opened up a new one where the morgue used to be in the Medical Building.

 

Doctor Towbin's files. ©John Gray

 

J- Was the operating building off of A ward ever used while you were there?
P-No. That was the old surgical unit. Surgeries were done out of the Bonner when I was there.

J- Do you recall any family members attending patient funerals?
P-I've never seen a funeral up there personally because they stopped burying patients in the cemeteries the same year I started which was 68. I heard most families never showed up. The hospital would notify them and they wouldn't show.

J- Do you know who was in charge of buring the patients in the past?
P-Horace Clark and his crew was in charge of burying the deceased. I remember a couple months after I started they needed me to build a wooden box for a patients leg that was in the freezer over in the morgue. They operated on this man and he died. They had a funeral for him and he was buried but they kept his leg probably for further research. He was buried for about a month before they buried his leg next to him. I remember feeling weird about the whole thing, it was sort of bizarre because I just started the job. The old carpenter Eddie Osborne calmed me down and said "it's just a box, you're building a box that's all" and I built it , Horace's crew picked it up and placed the leg in it and they went and buried it. To the best of my knowledge that was the last patient buried there.

 

J-The hospital always had impressive landscaping throughout the years. I've seen pictures from the 1890's and 1930's and it was amazing work. Did they continue that during the years you were there?
P- They sure did. Charlie Sawyer ran the green house for years and years. God he did beautiful work. He grew everything. All the plants in the wards, all the tables in the kitchens would have flowers on the them. He was always growing something all year round and those beds were always full. Easter plants, Christmas plants you name it and he kept that green house spotless. He always had 3 or 4 patients working with him. I was speechless when I first went there. We had people from all over visiting the grounds. It got to be such a problem we had security start turning them away and kicking them out. The Danvers Herald was always there taking pictures, families having picnics and so on. And then we had people who were not even visiting a patient and they just wanted to hang around because it was so pretty. We also had groups who just visited because of the wildlife. We had deer, hawks all kinds of rare birds , foxes. Those gardens in front were spectacular and they had these circular gardens on each side that were just beautiful. Unfortunately one of the very first things to close was that green house and it all stopped.

J- What was the condition of the Kirkbride wards like when they first closed? Where they deteriorating at all?
P-They were in good shape. We used them for storage after for the beds, desks and furniture. To be perfectly honest, the wards didn't really start to deteriorate badly until they shut the heat off and the pipes froze. They shut the heat off but didn't shut the water off and pipes split. We had major damage over on the H, I and J units. It was all water. It took down floors and caused major,major damage. I have no idea why they'd shut the heat off. The power station is there heating Hogan and they'd just blowing off the excess steam that would of heated the Kirkbride. Why shut it down? What's the purpose? It doesn't cost them anything. Again this sort of call was made from Boston. We had no control over that.
J- Speaking of the Hogan Center, did the DSH patients use their recreation facilities often? The swimming pool etc?
P-Yeah they did. Hogan had a pool and bowling alley the patients used. Danvers never had a bowling alley as far as I can remember so they just went down the hill to Hogan. It was shared system. We had Hogan patients come up to Danvers to watch movies in the auditorium and attend fairs, things like that.

J- Did the auditorium ever have an larger extened balcony? The one that's currently up is very small.
P- Yes there was. It was before I came there but I believe it was around 1961 or 62 they ripped it down, took the seats out and did it over as you see it today with the gym floor.

 

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This interview was recorded then written for this web site. The statements Preston made were not altered or changed to dramatize his story.