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Photos of life at Eloise, the former psychiatric hospital

Pat Ibbotson/"Eloise: Poorhouse, Farm, Asylum and Hospital 1839-1984"

We recently stumbled across some cool, old photographs of life at one of the most well-known psychiatric hospitals in Michigan: Eloise.

Celebrating the holidays was an important part of life for the people who lived and worked at Eloise, which was located a few miles outside Detroit in Wayne County. 

Eloise began as a poorhouse in the 1830s and developed into a huge institution that housed 10,000 patients during its heyday in the Great Depression. The majority of residents at that time were infirmary patients and not psychiatric patients. Eloise opened its first general hospital in 1933 and a second general hospital in 1962. The psychiatric division closed in 1979 and the general hospital closed in 1984.

Eloise was basically its own functioning city, with a farm, cannery, bakery, dairy facilities, and police and fire department.

Patients making sauerkraut from cabbages grown on the Eloise farm

The Wayne County institution embodied the popular idea of the time that patients should be active and participate in daily working activities and recreational therapies. Celebrating the holidays was also important, as you can see in some of these old photos.

Many people in southeast Michigan have a connection to Eloise. Either they  knew someone who worked there, who was a patient there, or who had another kind of connection to the place.

Credit Pat Ibbotson/"Eloise: Poorhouse, Farm, Asylum and Hospital 1839-1984"
A music therapist instructs Eloise choir members who are also hospital patients

Pat Ibbotson runs the group Friends of Eloise, and she also wrote the book Eloise: Poorhouse, Farm, Asylum and Hospital 1839-1984. She says there is something about Eloise that fascinates people. About once a week she hears from someone who wants to find the records of a relative who was a patient. But she says the whereabouts of those paper records isn’t known, and they were likely destroyed.

If you’d like to see more photos from Eloise, visit the Friends of Eloise webpage.

Kyle Norris is from Michigan and spent ten years as a host and reporter with Michigan Radio, the state’s largest NPR-affiliate. He lives in Seattle and works as a substitute host and producer at KNKX.
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