/ 2016 / Book / Documentary

If These Walls Could Talk

  • Prize
    Bronze in Book Proposal (Series Only)/Other, Silver in Book Proposal (Series Only)/Documentary
  • Photographer
    BD Richardson

"If These Walls Could Talk" is a study of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic
Asylum. It was built in the 1850s, just before the American Civil War,
in the mountains of West Virginia, not far from many of the iconic
battlefields, including Gettysburg and Antietam. A few years after the
war, it was filled to over capacity. Grieving family members, soldiers
and countless others, unnamed, called it home.
This huge compound is a prime example of the most advanced
medical architecture of the time, which held that inter-connected
pavilions, bathed in natural light and pastel colors, would help in the
treatment of mental illnesses.
Despite amazing medical advances since the mid-1800s, mental
health is still shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding. The mind is
elusive and its treatment controversial. With changes in the laws and
the growing inability to "commit" people against their will, the facility
was closed in 1994.