Posts Tagged ‘asylum’

The End

October 9, 2017

In February 2017, I was able to see the Bowen building on the grounds of the old Peoria State Hospital for the very last time. As of now, I don’t believe I would be able to bring myself to go back; knowing the Bowen building is no longer there. There are photos sprinkled about the Internet of the demolition of a truly magnificent building that should have stood for the rest of time. It’s a numbing feeling knowing all of the hard work and compassion that was infused into the building and the grounds for the sake of everlasting effects now remain within a faint memory. A lot of people have been fighting for a long time to get the Bowen building to disappear. Lack of money is what originally closed the asylum in 1973. Lack of money is what ultimately met the Bowen with its demise 44 years later. It’s saddening to think about what the great Dr. George Zeller would think; to see this melancholy story of a lifetime almost wiped clean for no real good reason at all.

The Bowen Building- March 7, 2007. 35mm color film by Janette Marie

Where a lot of controversy surrounded the saving of the building and the reasoning behind it, my heart truly breaks for the Weiss family. Over the last 10 years, Richard and his daughter, Trish put in endless blood, sweat, and tears, attempting to restore the massive building and bring attention to its saving. It must be said that while they were attempting this overwhelming feat, they were catching considerable criticism for their true intentions. Richard and Trish wanted to save the building for its historical history but quickly discovered that the public was much more interested in the paranormal stories as opposed to the historical stories. Offering both paranormal and historical tours of the Bowen, they also found that the paranormal aspect actually brought in a little bit of the money they so desperately needed. A loan was taken out with the village to remove the asbestos so they could hold indoor tours. The loan, however, was given under certain conditions and a timeframe. Three years to make enough money to not only repay the $300,000 loan but to also continually progress in the renovation process. While they may have brought in more from entities like the TV show, Ghost Hunters, their individual tours at $5-10 a pop would have never brought in enough money to repay the loan. And in my personal opinion, the village knew this and planned on it when they gave the loan. Someone with deep pockets could have surely saved the building but some question if it would have even been worth the trouble with so much bureaucracy surrounding it. Still receiving criticism for using the paranormal aspect to try and save the building, Richard and Trish knew that they had to do what they had to do if they would have a fighting chance with such a time crunch. It wasn’t as if they were boasting around town that they had a haunted building they’d like you to see. They pushed the historical aspect and knew their history so they could give genuine educational tours of an incredible place deserving so.

Richard worked in the mental health field for many years so he could truly appreciate what the Bowen had to offer. This was long before he had learned of its ghost stories and the folklore surrounding the history. He also knew that if he didn’t try to save it, no one would. It had already been sitting empty for centuries and by the looks of it, would continue to decay. In a 2011 interview with me, Richard’s eyes glimmered with hope as he said, “I just couldn’t see it be torn down.” The sparkle in his eyes could imagine all of the plans for what the building could possibly become. There was talk of the ballroom for weddings on the top floor, a hotel on one or two of the floors, a restaurant, and a historical museum. And let me tell you, it would have worked. That building was beyond colossal and people would have come from all over the world to experience an aspect of it… be the ghost stories or not.

I’d like to personally thank both Richard and Trish for their bravery in creating the Save the Bowen, Inc. foundation and donating so much of their lives to something that they saw needed to be saved. They kept hope alive that maybe the Bowen would breathe creative, positive light in the dawn of a new future. I will forever miss it and my heart will never stop breaking over how things transpired.


July 3, 2016

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The Narrators

November 13, 2013

When I began the project, I knew I didn’t want to have just one single narrator.  Of course, the voice of Dr. George Zeller would be constant, but all of the stories had to be told by different individuals.  After all, the asylum is still filled with stories, many untold.  Hans and I recorded dozens of sessions with some really talented people in his studio in Los Angeles.  Here are a few of them!





—Hans Parent & Merrique Marie-Sainte





 Jim Pollock—





—Carly Erin O’Neil







John Patrick Kelly—






—Ted Wulfers





Essence Brown—






—Jude Evans






Hans Parent & Jaime Moss—






—Our studio view enjoyed along with many cups of coffee!




July 8, 2013

After receiving my Cinema degree, it quickly became apparent that I needed to work to survive.  No time was allowed to work on the projects I wanted to work on.  There was laundry to do, errands to run, jobs to work… absolutely no time to even begin the beginnings of research to make a documentary.

Then tragic fate happened and I was given the gift of time.  Years ago, I underwent emergency knee surgery and never fully recovered as I was diagnosed with a couple of rare degenerative joint disorders.  When I was unable to work at my job because I could not walk, it was difficult not to fall into a deep depression being young, disabled, and without insurance.  I needed to occupy my mind with something positive to make light of my situation while I desperately tried to find a surgeon who could and would perform an experimental, speciality knee surgery.  I was finally able to work on the passion project I so needed to be working on as time was running out for the abandoned buildings on the grounds of the asylum.  My downtime was meant to be even though I wish deteriorating health upon no one just to be given the time to work on your passion project!

Time is all that research needs.  And my time went straight to scouring the internet.  I found archive databases, which provided me access to use important historical photos.  Various websites gave me all kinds of different information on the facts and myths surrounding the asylum.  Repeat names of the living found themselves on my potential interviewee lists.  But the internet only could take me so far.  I needed to go to the Village of Bartonville and research further and I needed to find people who were knowledgeable of what was truth and what was myth.

Donations from believers made the production possible.  My mother flew me from Los Angeles to Chicago so I could go down to Bartonville, Illinois to do extensive research on the Peoria State Hospital.  I spent hours going through files and annoying the library personnel.  But my time was very limited and the stacks of boxes and binders weren’t shrinking.  I combed through the files and photos like a mad woman, looking for anything that went along with the internet research I had already been conducting.  Those files were then marked with post-its and put back in its proper file.  Once I realized I only had about an hour left, I needed to get over to the copy machine.  There was no time for coins; I needed the key.  In a mad dash, I threw papers around in an organized fashion, making plenty of noise, as the machine was anything but subtle.  I hadn’t gotten through all the files and after getting back to Los Angeles, I felt an itch to get back to Bartonville to see what I had completely missed out on.  It took months to go through all the scans and they left me with even more questions and more to research to do.

I had to figure out how production was going to go down.  That’s when budgeting began and necessities mapped out.  I needed a camera and a crew.  If I shot most of the interviews outside, I could eliminate the need for production lights, thus, cutting costs drastically.  Knowledgeable interviewees and friends and family who would be willing to work for free needed to be sought out.  Craft services needed to be home prepared and all the production chairs definitely weren’t going to match.  It was determined then that the camera and sound equipment would be the biggest cost for the production.  I knew if I could get the camera donated for one week, I could make the film happen financially.  That’s when I believe my good karma came into play.  I was able to write to many people and found someone who believed in the project and donated equipment on the grounds that the film would come to a completion.

When I returned to Bartonville for the week of production, I had to set aside some time to get my hands on those files I had missed the year before.  To my surprise, someone had donated their time to reorganizing all of the Peoria State Hospital archives on file at the Alpha Park Library.  Everything was labeled and any additional information known was attached to the document or photo.  Unfortunately, I found many files that I had scanned the previous year were now missing, specifically older documents; documents so delicate, they were literally falling to pieces.  One of my favorites was an old receipt with Dr. George Zeller’s original signature.  To think that the legendary Dr. George Zeller held that piece of paper was surreal as it was so casually filed away between two pieces of white computer paper.

The donation of time from my crew helped tremendously.  They helped me set up, tear down, ask questions, comb through files, pick up, hold, push, pull things… they were incredible!  But I was running the show, and it wasn’t always the picnic it sounds like it can be.  All the decisions had to be made by me and at times, it was very overwhelming.  It was in these moments, I realized why some filmmakers chose to work in pairs.  However, lone decision-making would give me my own film and I was determined to make it work and power through to the end.


This entire blog describes how I have gone about making this documentary that has grown so dear to my heart.  You too can make a documentary if you just put the time and passion into it!  In turn, it could perhaps change the world.


January 3, 2013

Have you ever noticed that?  When one claims they are not crazy, society automatically assumes that person must be a raging lunatic.  Sometimes it seems as if one has to defend their sanity instead of prove their point.  In the courts, it’s as if one tries to defend their “insanity” to justify their poor judgment.

The portrayal of mental illness in the media can really be appalling.  To educate the public about mental illness and its treatment, along with that comes the education of the stigma.  Used for fear or comedic relief, the people are uneducated to the truths of mental illnesses.


Due to the length of my documentary (2 hours), I unfortunately had no room for this incredible story…

In my research, I came across this book a few times; and learned how it’s one of those books that’s extremely difficult to get your hands on.  The author died and supposedly, his widow wasn’t interested in keeping the book on the market.

In the 80s, an Illinois journalist wrote a manuscript of an account he had when he was assigned to write a simple obituary for an old woman who had died in a nursing home.  What should have only taken a day or two to write, this death wasn’t exactly average.  The deceased was unclaimed, unnamed, and obviously had no family.  The journalist gruelingly traced her back to Ohio where she once worked as a schoolteacher and ended up at the Peoria State Hospital until it’s closure in 1973.

This mysterious and captivating story follows this woman who was renamed, “Mary Doefour” after failing to provide her real name.  Around the early 1920s, she had suffered sexual and emotional trauma and a botched abortion by a quack doctor.  Mysteriously, she was last seen taking a train out of town for the weekend.  Even more mysteriously, a police officer claimed to have seen a woman who looked like her, walking along the Lincoln Highway delirious and confused.  She ended up at a Chicago police station where she was reported to be an obviously intelligent, well-dressed woman who was experiencing some type of memory loss.  They believed surely, someone would be looking for this poor girl.  Unfortunately, neither the police thought to look as west as Ohio or her family to think to look as far east as Chicago.  As the jail was no place for such a lady, she was transferred “temporarily” to the state insane asylum.  There she stayed.

“I’m not crazy.  I just can’t remember who I am.  I’ve got to get out of here.  If I don’t get out of here soon, I will be crazy.”  The nurses and staff would console her while saying, “There, there, dear.”  It is said that Mary Doefour, formally known as Anna Mary Sizer, became a “back-warder” to prevent her from escaping.

The strangest thing of all the things that are strange in the story is how it reminds me of Edgar Allan Poe’s last hours.  He was found wandering the streets at night; delirious and confused.  Only hours later, he died in a hospital.


Was a sudden traumatic life experience to blame for their delirium?  Or a mounting collection of trauma from years of pain to blame?  The mind can handle a certain amount of trauma… but when it too much?  What drives people over the edge?  What drives people to madness?  Institutionalization?  Deinstitutionalization?  The world?  Ourselves?