Thursday, March 20, 2008

What's In an Old Name?

Last year a group bought the old state mental hospital in Weston, an historic old building. The plan, apparently, is to rehabilitate and restore it into some sort of historical tourist attraction. As part of that plan, the new owners have reverted to the building's original name, the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. Some folks are not happy about this:

Several mental health organization leaders have fired off letters this week to the contractor who now owns the former Weston Hospital.

They say the new name - which was the name of the hospital in the 19th century - is discriminatory and promotes misunderstandings about mental illness.

'It's very derogatory,' said Scott Miller, director of the Mountain State Direct Action Center, a disability rights group. 'We don't call people lunatics. Asylum is just not the term anymore.'

The West Virginia Mental Health Consumers Association also is protesting the hospital's new name.
The new owners, for their part, are appealing to history and the need to confront it head on, not paper over it:
the facility's historical consultant, Edward Gleason, said the original name was selected 'to provide a realistic and honest depiction of the era,' and it's 'essential to include the terminology of the times, however offensive.'

Educational exhibits showcasing the 'renaissance in psychiatry' are in the works, Gleason said.

'In America, we strive to present our history as it really was, blemishes and all,' Gleason wrote. 'We are not the Soviet Union, which invented the past by altering names, places and events, to support what had been judged politically correct by contemporary powers.'
OK, so the Soviet Union reference is a little over the top, but it's a good point, right? Well, yeah, except that that concern for history doesn't cover everything:
Jordan paid $1.5 million for the 455,000-square-foot sandstone hospital building and a surrounding tract of 300 acres that includes a forest, farmland and coal mines once operated by the mental hospital.

Earlier this month, Jordan's company announced plans to hold mud-bog racing and other motor sports events on a hillside beside the hospital in downtown Weston.

Last Saturday, the Jordan family opened the facility for tours and performed a sound check for a proposed mud-bog truck race.
See, mud bog truck races don't sound all that historically relevant to a 19th-century mental hospital to me.

If, on the one hand, you justify the old name as a resort to historical accuracy, it seems to me that keeping the grounds historically accurate should be part of the deal. But if you want to run mud bog races there, use one of the newer less hurtful names. Make sense?


The Film Geek said...

It makes perfect sense.

jedijawa said...

I read that article and it seems that the owners are muddying (so to speak) the issue by calling it "political correctness". Psychology is about trying to help people without creating hurtful labels that the public picks up on and starts to bandy about. So they change the terms every so often to meet that goal.