History of Lunacy


Don't ask me why or how, but I tripped across the document above while perusing the Oregon Archive website and its "Echoes of Oregon" curriculum. Here's a transcript:

This is to certify that on the 17th day of April 1845, I offered at public vendue, the Boarding, clothing, and keeping of a Lunatic, named Eli Smith, for the term of one year, to the lowest bidder, who was Andrew Hembrie, at three hundred and sixty five dollars- who thereupon entered into bond and gave security to the people of Oregon in the sum of six hundred dollars to comply with and fulfil the requisitions, which recognizance is now in the hands of the present Justice of the Peace for the County of Clackamas- Wm P Dougherty,
Attest
Fred Priggs
Justice of the Peace
Back in old-timey-time, you see, they didn't have the kind of social services we take for granted in our enlightened modern age. Nonetheless, the provisional government in 1845 did recognize that society has some responsibility for providing a safety net; accordingly it budgeted for the care of the insane, though that did not stop it from looking for a bargain. In 1845, after declaring a person insane, a justice of the peace could conduct an auction seeking the best deal on caring for that person. The lowest bidder would then be paid to provide room, board, and clothing for the lunatic. In this particular case, a kindly farmer in Yamhill received $1.00 a day to care for crazy Eli Smith for a year, but only after putting up a bond to guarantee that he'd not keep Eli chained up in a closet and feed him cat food.

My first thought was, "Sounds like the makings of a great sit-com." Much to my surprise, I discovered the following theater review while researching this story:

Oregon Spectator (20 May, 1848)
--Barnaby McScrivener, Theatre Critic


The Play's the Thing in Yamhill County

Much mirth and merriment abounded at Howe’s Tavern on Thursday, the 18th of May, 1848, upon the premiere exhibition of “That’s My Nutcase!” the comedic play which the Yamhill Players Theatrical Company has described as a “situational comedy to be presented in serial fashion.”

“That’s My Nutcase” is a charming stage spectacle that relates the woeful tale of Olaf Sandersen, a bachelor farmer who takes in a boarder, the hapless Eli Murff--a fellow beset with the misfortune of being a declared Lunatic. Madcap misadventures ensue as the mismatched duo is thrust into Preposterous peril and Contretemps. Not wanting to spoil the delightful surprises that transpire over four acts, this author will only report that all is resolved by the closing of the curtain and the commencement of copious Applause and Hooting.

Before partaking of the evening’s drama, I had the pleasure of conversing with Artistic Impresario of the Yamhill Players, Augustus Glauer, accompanied by his business Partner, Antoine LeFlute. (A young man with artistic flair, jovial vivacity and a preternatural physique, LeFlute is credited with designing the Production’s fetching costumes).

In addition to being business partners, Glauer and LeFlute have shared an abode above Fletcher’s Feedstore since arriving in the Oregon Territory last year. When this writer remarked about the open, airy accommodations, Glower said, “We have taken to calling our home ‘the loft’ in honor of the rustic simplicity of the hay barns of our youth.” Simplicity indeed, me thought, noting the contrast between the rough-hewn oaken beams and the fine silk embroidery of the Japonaisse kimona draping LeFlute’s torso as he prepared a pot of tea concocted from dried huckleberries and what appeared to be twigs.

As Glauer informed this writer, “We will be unveiling our staged story in an episodic fashion, with new plot developments unfolding in ways that will surprise and amaze the audience with each new week’s revelations.” LeFlute added, “If we are so fortunate to be blessed with success, Thursday evenings will become a ‘must see’ night for attending the theatre in Yamhill County.”

Despite the pair’s effort to bring high culture to the wilds of the Oregon Territory, this writer would be remiss if he did not report that some Patrons were witnessed departing the inaugural performance in a state of intemperance and degradation more fitting of the depraved boulevards of Oregon City than the bucolic idyll of Yamhill. The fairer sex may wish to use caution.

2 comments:

Bob said...

Who says history's dull? Thank you for unearthing these vital documents! And now that the End of the Trail Interpretive Center is back in business in Oregon City, perhaps one of our fine local performance troupes -- Sojourn, or Hand2Mouth, or maybe Tears of Joy -- could quilt together a vivid historical reenactment for the edification of our young, who are of course the future of our nation and shall need something to idle away their time once the school year has been successfully whittled away to a single week between Thanksgiving and Christmas (herewith to be known as "winter-through-fall break"). The project could be funded by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, that AAA grade, solid-as-the-sands-of-the-Sahara economic fortress.

MightyToyCannon said...

I've got some more Oregon history on its way in future post!