Many researchers have wondered how inspectors failed to note the shortcomings of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, since it was inspected many times over the course of its existence. Most asylums were inspected regularly, yet like visitors to the Canton Asylum, most outsiders failed to uncover problems that made life miserable for patients.
Moses Swan, a patient at the Troy Marshall Infirmary and Lunatic Asylum (New York) from 1860-71, offers a partial explanation. “You know but little how patients are treated by attendants and others. I have seen gentlemen and ladies visit this main house . . . and remark how nice it looked, and so it did.”
Swan explained that a nicely dressed visitor looked in on him once, saw the “nice white spread” on Swan’s bed and the presumably soft mattress under it, and said that Swan’s accommodations looked very nice. However, what the visitor couldn’t see were Swan’s sleepless nights as he listened to the cries and wails of disturbed patients, how frightened he was when he was locked in a room with an uncontrollable patient, or how cruelly the attendants treated him when they desired. Swan was kept continually locked in a cell for many months after arriving at the institution, had no liberty to leave the building, and received only a few visitors over the years.
In his writings after recovery, Swan tried to warn the relatives of those who considered sending a loved one to an asylum: “O Fathers! O, Mothers! keep your unfortunate sons and daughters from these places until a reform has been brought about . . . . I would say to one and all, know you are right before you transport any to an earthly hell.”