New book shares stories of old Buffalo State Hospital

Jan 31, 2016

For more than a century, the old Buffalo State Hospital designed by famed architect H.H. Richardson cared for tens of thousands of patients who were suffering from mental illnesses. The Museum of disABILITY History in Eggertsville has just published a new book titled "Buffalo State Hospital: A History of the Institution in Light and Shadow."

While today's Buffalo Psychiatric Center off Forest Avenue continues to operate in more modern buildings, the Richardson complex was abandoned more than 20 years ago and is currently undergoing a restoration.

There are dozens of photos of the abandoned structure in the new book -- collapsing hallways, a lone hanger on a clothes rack in a patients room, plaster crumbling from shower stalls. There are also stories from former employees and patients.

Some of the treatments that went on behind the stone walls of the iconic structure in the early to mid 20th century are considered barbaric by today's standards. Still, Museum Director Doug Farley said the book is intended to send a positive message.

"There was a negative stigma. You just didn't talk about mental illness," Farley said. "Today, it should be out in the open. It's just another part of life."

Karl Shallowhorn was treated for bi-polar disorder in the early 1980s and describes his experiences in the book. Today, Shallowhorn is a mental health advocate who says he is an example that recovery is possible.