Decoding Dorothea Dix Hospital

Sarah Almond leans over a large, tattered hospital admissions ledger and squints. While she tries to decipher the 100-year-old-script, Robert Allen scribbles down the name of a patient from Austria. Almond points out a string of housewives all admitted to the hospital at the same time, and on the next page they read how a police officer was checked in for “cocaine use.”

For the past year, UNC Community Histories Workshop researchers have frequented the North Carolina State Archives to delve into records from Dorothea Dix Hospital – North Carolina’s first and largest mental hospital, which closed in 2012. In 2015, the City of Raleigh purchased the 308-acre property to transform it into an enormous public park. When completed, Dorothea Dix Park will be the largest in the city of Raleigh. With help from researchers like Allen and Almond, the city hopes to incorporate the site’s history into the park’s master plan.

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Allen and Almond discuss specific patient admission entries. Allen first saw the admission ledger in 2017, while identifying useful historical materials for their research. The ledgers date back to the admittance of the first patient in 1856, and includes over 5,000 individuals. Each entry states typical patient information – name, age, occupation, marital status, residential county, date of admittance, discharge, and in some cases, death.
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Allen is especially interested in the supposed causes and diagnoses of patients, and how that relates to the understanding of mental health at that time. Love, epilepsy, war, religious fanaticism and exposure to sun: just a few reasons why patients were admitted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With the help of genealogy websites, patient case histories, and public records, Allen and his team have been investigating the lives of specific people. Their goal is to trace patients’ history to find out what life events led them to the hospital.
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The main hospital building is one of 85 structures currently on the property. Others include a patient cemetery, in use from 1859 until 1970, and a house from when the site was a plantation.
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The view of downtown Raleigh from “Dix Hill.” Kate Pearce, the project manager for the park, anticipates the park plan will be brought to the Raleigh City Council in the spring of 2019.

High School Rodeo aka Back at It

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A good while before being laid off at the paper (Whoop whoop, I guess I’m officially a journalist!) I was burned out. Those last few months, the majority of assignments I went in thinking, “Okay, lets just get this done,” rather than trying to do my best – something that only added to the cycle of completely being over it.

I was sick of hearing “Get as many photos as you can, we want a deep gallery,” so the number of clicks on our site would go up, or, “Try to photograph as many people as you can,” so more people would share our posts on social media. I was sick of the paper running photos by reporters that weren’t even in focus or  exposed correctly, let alone having any sort of composition, moment or intention. I was sick of us bypassing important issues in the community.

I finally reached a point this winter when I was done, and told my boss I was leaving in a few months. Turns out Warren Buffett beat me to the punch. I was part of a nation-wide round of layoffs to staff members in various papers owned by Buffett (yaaaay for killing local journalism).

Thankfully I had already been applying for jobs, and had a few interviews lined up with universities. One of those was being a photographer, videographer and writer for the Office of Research Communications at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and was offered the position about two weeks after leaving the paper.

This job has been a complete 180-flip from my last position. Where “The more, the better,” ruled at the paper, “Quality beats quantity,” is the motto here. We plan out stories months in advance, hold weekly meetings going over every aspect of that week’s content, we’re afforded the time to make pieces the best we can possibly make them and I work with a team of people that genuinely love their jobs.

Although there are definitely some things I will forever miss about working at a paper I think this was a good decision.

This weekend I photographed for fun for the first time in two and a half months. For a long while I thought the only path was being a newspaper photojournalist and anything else is subpar. I’m glad I allowed myself to be proven wrong.

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Tournament of Bands

October means it’s time for one of my favorite assignments of the year: the Dr. Ray Sowell Tournament of Bands in Hartsville. Sixteen high school marching bands competed this year, with six of those from our coverage area. This means me running around all day like a crazy person trying to get tons of features of bands arriving, unloading equipment, practicing, hanging out and goofing around and, oh yea, actually performing.

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Lake Jocassee

I have officially found my favorite place in South Carolina. In early October, Mark and I took a much-needed trip to Lake Jocassee, located in the northwestern corner of the state at the start of the mountains. With the NASCAR race in Darlington, the solar eclipse, start of the football season and the potential threat of Hurricane Irma, I had built up some extra days off due to working on my weekends. We opted for boat-in camping, meaning the only way to get to our campsite was by taking Mark’s little whaler to a peninsula across the lake. Once on the peninsula we found our spot: a concrete pad with a bonfire ring nearby and a port-o-potty up the hill. It was perfect. Because we went Sunday through Wednesday, we had the whole peninsula, and practically the whole lake, to ourselves.

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Wilson Homecoming Parade

Staying true to form, Wilson High School’s homecoming was just as crazy as ever and offered a huge parade, lots of music, thousands of people at the Tigerfest afterparty and of course tons of free food being offered to a starving photojournalist. This year I had help from one of our stringer photographers, which is good because after a whirlwind of a day hauling up and down a parade route, producing two huge photo galleries from events with thousands of people and writing a story telling all that went on, after Wilson homecoming when I finally stop for the day I’m always thinking, “What the hell just happened?”

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