The day they ran Walter Jones down

By Daniel Dunkle | Mar 14, 2019
Source: AsylumProjects.org

The following story appeared in the Tuesday, March 18, 1919, edition of The Courier-Gazette:

"PURSUED INSANE PATIENT

"Former Marathon Runner Led Rockland Police a Lively Chase, But the Patrol Was Too Much For Him.

"Considerable excitement was caused in the western part of the city Sunday afternoon, when the police and a number of citizens gave chase to Walter Jones, an insane patient, who had escaped from the State Hospital in Augusta. The young man is a former resident of Rockland, and will be remembered by many persons as having had a prominent part in athletics, and as having won a marathon race on one occasion.

"That he still knows how to sprint is the opinion of those who look part in the two-mile chase Sunday, and who might not then have overtaken him but for the aid of the police patrol wagon. He was all in when captured, but had nothing on his pursuers in this respect.

"Jones escaped from the asylum last Wednesday and the officials immediately notified Marshal Richardson to be on the watch, as the patient would probably go to his Rockland home. The police searched a number of localities Sunday and about mid-afternoon got word that Jones was in a house on Gay street, where he had relatives. Marshal Richardson and Patrolman Gray called at the house, and while the former was parleying with the occupants of the house Jones leaped from a second story window and darted across lots like a streak.

"Patrolman Gray started in pursuit and Marshal Richardson followed in the highway with the patrol.

"Jones had a good start and might have eluded his pursuers if some pedestrians had not seen him run across Charles T. Smalley’s lawn on Broadway and disappear in the direction of the woods.

"Jones sought refuge between double doors at the residence of Herbert Winslow on Limerock street, and might have given his pursuers the slip had not Alderman Sullivan noticed two feet protruding below the bottom of the door. Patrolman Gray joined Mr. Sullivan and they approached the man behind the door.

"'Did they get the man they were after?' asked Jones coolly, and with the cunning which comes of insanity.

"'Isn’t your name Jones?' was Patrolman Gray's reply.

“'No,' said the man behind the door.

"'It’s Walter Jones,' said Alderman Sullivan.

"The patrol drew up at this moment, and the fugitive was taken to the police station. He talked rationally enough and his first request was for a copy of The Courier-Gazette. 'I haven't seen the home news for three years,' he said.

"Jones was taken back to Augusta yesterday."

The story, while fast-paced and well told, is disturbing in its glibness. What had condemned Jones to the asylum and what were the conditions he lived in there?

The state hospital in Augusta, also called the Maine Insane Hospital at one time, was founded in 1840.

"While early mental health institutions may fall far short of present-day standards for treatment for mental illness, the establishment of such places in the early nineteenth century was based, in part, on reforming care for the mentally ill," states AsylumProjects.org. "Prior to mental health hospitals, the mentally ill were the responsibility of their families, and if their families could not cope, they were either put in poor houses, put out on the streets, or locked away in jail."

In 1850, fire gutted half of the hospital, killing 27 patients and one staff member.

It is believed that 11,647 patients died there in the course of 162 years. "In the early days, hospital staff would simply note in a daily journal that a certain patient had 'passed away in the night.'" Some were sent home to be buried by their families and others may have been buried at the site.

Maine's track record is not entirely bad when it comes to the treatment of the mentally ill. Dorothea Dix (1802-1887), of my hometown of Hampden, documented the harsh treatment of the mentally ill in prisons and took her unflinching findings to the Massachusetts Legislature, leading to the establishment of hospitals to care for them. She would go on to manage hospitals and nursing staff for the Union during the Civil War.

It serves as a reminder that one person can make a difference in the world.

I will add too, that in my look through old Couriers, I have come across disturbing articles discussing mentally ill people at the Maine State Prison, and the apparent humor the warden and journalists found in their condition.

Hopefully some kind editor put Jones on the mailing list for The Courier-Gazette after running the story.

Daniel Dunkle lives in Rockland. He is author of the novel, "The Scrimshaw Worm." Send in your stories, photos and memories via email at: ddunkle@villagesoup.com; or snail mail to: 91 Camden St., Suite 403, Rockland, ME 04841. Vintage Ink columns rely on back issues of The Courier-Gazette for source material. Other sources will be cited specifically.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Mar 14, 2019 12:10

American jails and prisons are now the largest institutions  for "housing" our mentally ill fellow citizens. Nothing to be proud of and little to nothing is being done about this very disturbing trend.



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