Northern Michigan in Focus: Former Traverse City State Hospital Doctor

There’s a lot of history within the walls of the old Traverse City State Hospital.

Now, thanks to the re-release of a book from the ‘50s, you can read about why a certain doctor gained nationwide attention.

Corey Adkins explains in this week’s Northern Michigan in Focus.

“There’s a lot of interest here in Traverse City about this hospital,” said Doug Weaver, Mission Point Press.

If the old Traverse City State Hospital could talk, the stories would be endless.

One of those stories would be about Dr. Jack Ferguson and his experiments, something that would change the way mental illness was treated around the country.

“He was actually brought here to handle lobotomies for the hospital, but in the process managed to start experimenting with pharmaceuticals, and in the process turned Traverse City into one of the central spots for experimentation with pharmaceuticals to treat mental illness,” explained Doug.

He never did one lobotomy. Dr. Ferguson was thinking about different ways to treat people with mental illness, because he was one of them. 

“He actually was an addict. He had mental health issues of his own and went through treatment, which was very traumatic, and came out of that with a firm conviction that he wanted a better way,” said Doug.

He had a saying, “We don’t treat diseases, we try to treat sick people.”

“Dr. Jack always said this firm conviction that treatment had to be a mix of medication and also kindness,” explained Doug.

There wasn’t a lot of science behind his experiments, but with various chemicals and a lot of love they seemed to work. Word spread.

“A lot of people here in town don’t know that, don’t realize that, but we were really pivotal in introducing drugs to treat mental illness here at the hospital,” said Doug.

In 1957 author Paul De Kruif wrote the book “A Man Against Insanity” to tell the story of this amazing doctor.

The book has been out of print for a long time, until now. Mission Point Press is doing something special this Sunday at Building 50.

“We’re going to be releasing the book at Kirkbride Hall at 2 o’clock on Sunday, February 10.  We’ll have a presentation by a panel of former hospital workers who actually knew Jack, Dr. Jack,” explained Doug.

Maybe these walls can talk?

“The important part of the book really gives you more insight. We get a lot of tourists come in here and a lot of people in Traverse City who do the tour out here not realizing in detail what happened in these halls.”

Categories: Northern Michigan In Focus