“Going to Milledgeville” was, in this part of the South, a euphemism for being committed to Georgia’s Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. I looked it up on Google, and found that the place is only about 15 minutes south of where we were at Memory Hill. Google said the facility was open for tours, so off Phyllis and I went. We found it closed and shuttered, but suitably spooky. The property is immense, with lots of empty buildings with bars on the windows. Who knows how many souls were dumped here, and for how long.
We stopped to look at the sign in front of one of the buildings, which was used for white male inmates until 1974. I found myself wondering if all the dead from this place interred in Memory Hill were white, and if black people deemed crazy, feebleminded or seizure-prone wound up elsewhere.
Apparently the buildings on the site are up for redevelopment proposals. Just in case you can’t read the sign, here’s what it says:
“Dangers: Ceiling on Third Floor has fallen through. Home to small mammals, snakes and insects. Walls contain mold, peeling paint, algae and hazardous material. Foliage has grown over large portions of the building.” Doesn’t sound like luxury condos are coming any time soon.
One thing that fascinates me about this facility: Flannery never, to my knowledge, wrote about it. She was born in 1925, and moved to Milledgeville when she was 13, which would have been 1938. She went to college there, at Georgia State College for Women. She would have entered college as a freshman in 1943, and graduated in 1947. All of that time, the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane was going full tilt. She wrote about all kinds of freaks: upper class Southern whites, poor white trash, illiterate black field workers, immigrant displaced persons. But she never wrote about anyone consigned to what must have been called “the loony bin”. I’ve read all of her short stories, her two novels, a book of her correspondence, and several biographies. For all intents and purposes, this facility didn’t exist. Except that it did, and it was a massive presence just a few miles from where she lived and studied. Curious, no? Any thoughts?