Come and See Crazy People

Tourist Plate

Tourist Plate

In the 1800s and early 1900s, many insane asylums  (as well as prisons and orphanages) were treated as tourist attractions. This practice had started long ago, when visitors to Bedlam in London, paid a penny to see the lunatics there. They were allowed to bring in sticks to poke the inmates with, to stir them up.

The situation was not so bad in America by the 19th century, but many people were curious about insane asylums and wanted to see inside. Some visitors were  curious gawkers–the same kind of people who enjoyed freak shows at the circus–but many others were sincerely interested in seeing how patients were treated.

The pictures are of tourist items created for the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians.

Souvenir Spoon

Souvenir Spoon

Close-up of Spoon

Close-up of Spoon


4 thoughts on “Come and See Crazy People

  1. Jackie Serc

    There were also post cards that were available, and if i’ not mistaking a couple of those still exsist as well.

  2. Carla Joinson

    Thanks. That spoon also came from the Canton Asylum; I saw it on ebay. I got the other pictures just on searches. I’m just about positive that there aren’t any existing visitor logs, though I’ve got a couple of accounts of visits to use.

    Remember, there wasn’t any TV back then. 🙂

  3. Adelaida Lower

    Interesting entry, Carla. And photographs. Hard to believe people would travel to see an asylum. I wonder if they were local tourists. Did they keep a log of visitors? That would be a fascinating exercise–reading the visitor logs and comments if they left any. Where do the spoons come from?

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