Charles Kurtz recently contacted the blog and offered to share his experiences at Morningside Hospital during the 1950s and 1960s. He gave me permission to post his email messages and I hope to interview him later this year. We’d love to hear more about day-to-day life at Morningside from other former employees of the hospital.
“My mother worked as a chef/cook at Morningside Hospital from the early 1950′s until 1965. I also worked there myself on a couple of occasions. As a high school summer job, I worked in the kitchen for a couple of months.
Beginning in 1962, I worked as a psychiatric aide–working nights while I finished college. I remember well–though maybe not always by name–many of the patients on the ward I worked. This was a ward mainly for men with acute psychosis. Most were in treatment focused on returning them home, so there was always a turnover, with some patients staying only a month or so. Of course there were some patients so chronically ill or so developmentally disabled they were essentially permanent residents.
It was a fascinating place to work and an interesting life experience. The history of the place along with stories of the patients and staff could take its place right alongside “One Flew Over the Cukcoo’s Nest”. During my time at Morningside, I experienced some mental health milestones, not all of them necessarily positive. For example the use of psychiartic drugs, and their overuse. Only after a patient’s death did they finally discontinue the use of insulin shock therapy. On the other hand–and not just owing to heavy doses of thorozine–there were no locked wards and the use of restraints was absolutely forbidden.
The hospital had its own farm and a prize dairy herd, so they raised much of the food for both patients and employees many of whom lived in apartments on the premesis.”
In a second email Charles wrote, “I’m happy to participate in any way I can to make sure the story of Morningside hospital gets told. Though the hospital grounds was a huge piece of land on the edge of the city and on a main street, few people in Portland were even aware of its existance. For one thing, it didn’t look like a hospital. It was comprised mostly of wood frame buildings pretty much shielded from view by a acre or so of park-like trees and lawns at its Stark Street entrance. When seen from 92nd, avenue, it was for all appearances just a nicely tended truck farm..
I was in my early twenties when I worked there last and was probably the youngest psychiatric aide at the time. Most of the other employees must be getting well up in years. The same is true for the patients–at least the ones I knew. There were children and younger adolescents on other wards, but I had little contact with them. I only know of one other person–an old college friend who worked there for a few months–who has personal knowledge of the place.”