APPLETON — It’s designed to pull back the curtain on a relic of the past and examine the history of behavioral and mental health treatment. Appleton’s history museum exhibit uses the history of Outagamie County’s Asylum for the Insane — built in the 1880s and torn down in 2001.
The History Museum at the Castle is trying to shine a light on the asylum and its evolution over the years.
“This exhibit’s a really fascinating tell-all experience about the Outagamie County Asylum for the Insane. We’re telling this long history, what occurred in its walls, out in its fields, all the way from 1890 to the present,” Nick Hoffman, chief curator said.
Called Asylum: Out of the Shadows, visitors can get involved in a hands-on experience.
“Open up a door to see what living conditions were like for sleeping. The facility was described as overcrowded very often,” Hoffman said.
A phone app acts as a first-hand, interactive guide through the space.
“If it’s not behind a case, you get to touch everything,” Hoffman said.
The Asylum for the Insane became the modern day Brewster Village in the late 1990s and museum curators said about 50% of the artifacts in the exhibit are from the original asylum.
“I think there’s a lot of curiosity about the asylum itself and what occurred there,” Hoffman said.
Jeff Marks worked at the facility before it became the Brewster Village.
“It was known as the Insane Asylum. People who were in need of long-term care never wanted to come there. It was the last place you wanted to end up,” Marks said.
Marks said while the facility struggled decades ago, the new and improved Brewster Village has come a long way.
“Pretty much on a daily basis, we needed to restrain or seclude people. Since moving into this facility with pretty much the same population, we have never used a separation room,” Marks said.
Museum curators said they hope the exhibit helps remove some of the stigma of modern-day mental health.
The exhibit will be open through September 2018 at the museum on College Avenue in Appleton.