From Under the Steeples: Unearthing a Personal and Imaginal History of Asylum Ruins and Redemption blends personal memoir with fictionalized stories from a 19th century women’s mental ward known as Seven Steeples. The book links my healing journey to a wider story of collapse and renewal, represented by a farm built atop the old asylum’s buried remains.
After recovering from an inexplicable mind-body ailment, I found my way to the grounds of Central State Hospital, where a new farm had just been established. There I learned the story of Seven Steeples, the 19th century women’s mental ward buried underground onsite, and began helping the farmers grow vegetables on the land. My season of farming provides a backdrop for examining the history of my own collapse and recovery alongside accounts of women who had been committed to the asylum in the 1880s and 1890s.
Untold lives were buried with the rubble of Seven Steeples. By imagining female “inmates’” stories based on intake forms, autopsy records, and other sketchy public information, I give voice to these voiceless women.
Knowing that I myself would likely have been institutionalized in an earlier era, I feel a deep connection with Seven Steeples’ inhabitants. In linking my story to the female mental patients’ lives, I offer a larger perspective on “madness,” one that honors the potential of feminine wisdom and creative life force awakened.