Was His Birth a Clue to the Madness That Would Come?

John Hinckley Jr. Was born in a sanitarium
John Hinckley, Jr. and the two mental hospitals that served as bookends of his life.

John Hinckley, Jr. will be forever remembered as the man who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and confined to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC for treatment for narcissistic and schizotypal personality disorder and major depressive disorder.

In an ironic bit of foreshadowing, history records that 25 years earlier John Hinckley, Jr. entered this world in another mental health institution. He was born at Hardy Sanitarium, in Ardmore, Oklahoma. 

Military Genius and Mental Madness

Field Marshal Blucher delusions pregnant with elephant

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher rose to distinction in the Prussian military in his campaigns against Napoleon, earning the rank of Field Marshal.

He was also barking mad.

Blücher was paralyzed by fear for days at a time, perched in his chair, convinced that the French had made the floor too hot for him to stand upon. When he was forced to move from his chair, he danced from spot to spot, trying to stand on only one toe.

He also believed he had been sexually assaulted by a French soldier and as a result, he was pregnant and about to give birth to an elephant. His servants tried to mollify him by assuring him that it could be worse — he could have been raped by a French elephant, but nothing would calm his nerves.

Field Marshal Blücher had many fights with people only he could see, resulting in the destruction of a lot of furniture. When he was convinced that his head had been turned to stone, he pleaded with a servant to smash his head with a hammer.

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Was Tycho a Psycho? Weird Facts About One of History’s Greatest Astronomers

Tycho Brahe fun facts death nose drunk moose elk

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) was one of the greatest astronomers to ever live. He was also probably at least a little bit off his gourd, if history is to judge. The Danish astronomer who brought a new level of exactitude to astronomical observations and applied that specificity to the theories and observations of Copernicus and Ptolemy, guaranteed his place in history as one of the last “naked eye” astronomers, working without telescopes for his observations. Perhaps his genius as a man of science has helped him be remembered for something other than the following quirks: Continue reading

When Insanity Campaigns, Undisguised

Screaming Lord Sutch lost forty elections

You have to admire someone who can go through the rigors of a political campaign, lose, and be able to shake it off and get on with life. What about a man who loses again and again and again?

David Sutch aspired to make a name for himself, so he legally changed his name to Screaming Lord Sutch, Third Earl of Harrow. Under that name he developed a following as a musician. He was known for his entrances where he was carried onstage in a coffin, used skulls for props, and dressed as Jack the Ripper.  Continue reading

Is Life So Dear or Peace So Sweet?

Patrick and Sarah Henry
Patrick and Sarah Henry

On March 23, 1775 Patrick Henry stood in St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia and addressed the members of the Virginia Convention. He spoke the words that would forever be linked to his name: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

What history often overlooks is just how poignant those words must have been for Patrick and who might have been the inspiration for them.

In 1754 Henry married Sarah Shelton. Their marriage was happy until 1771 when their youngest child was born. Immediately after the birth, Sarah’s mental health suddenly declined. Psychologists today suspect she suffered from puerperal psychosis, a severe form of mental illness that sometimes follows childbirth. At the time, however, she was deemed to be demon-possessed.

As the psychosis grew in severity, Patrick looked at options for medical help. Unfortunately, the best that modern medicine offered at the time was to commit the unfortunate patient to what amounted to be a prison, where horrendous living conditions and no expectation of any improvement made life for the patients a living hell. Conditions were often intentionally made even more horrific under the theory that fear of the sanitarium would motivate people to remain sane. Mental health being what it was in the 18th century, Sarah’s symptoms were written off as demon possession, and she also faced the stigma of being ostracized by her church and the community.

Unwilling to put his wife through this indignity and torment, Patrick opted to care for Sarah at home. He hired trained nurses to be present and care for Sarah, providing her immeasurably better care than otherwise would have been available.

As Sarah’s condition continued to deteriorate, it became necessary to confine her to her own area of their home for her own safety. Eventually that became the cellar, which offered the safest environment for her. At times, as her ravings became more extreme, Patrick had no choice but to restrain her with chains to prevent her from hurting herself.

As the winds of revolution stirred throughout the colonies, Sarah succumbed to her final illness, leaving her grieving husband to mourn her and contemplate the lessons he learned through the experience.

What lessons were learned? One cannot help but imagine Patrick’s thoughts turning to his beloved wife as he spoke on that fateful day: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!”

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