Most accounts of assaults within insane asylum walls concern assaults on patients. However, asylum duty held dangers for staff, as well. On October 15, 1878, The New York Times published a vivid account of an assault on an attendant. Only three months on the job, Richard T. Harrison was beaten so badly by a patient at Ward’s Island Insane Asylum that he died within six hours of the attack.
A patient named William Scott had been separated from his roommate after an altercation. The following morning, Scott had to be told twice to put on his pantaloons, but exhibited no other odd behavior.
Scott apparently slipped into another patient’s room and hid; he later attacked Harrison without warning. The newspaper’s account of the attack must have been disquieting to other asylum attendants, who would have read that Harrison had been beaten so savagely that bits of his brain were splattered on a wall twelve feet away. After other attendants discovered Harrison, Scott talked to them pleasantly while they put him in a straitjacket. Later, he was so disjointed and agitated that it was clear, according to the asylum superintendent, that he was not responsible for his actions.