Memories of Michael: Dad and Mike at Willowbrook (1962)

My brother Mike went away to Willowbrook, a large mental institution (6000 residents) on Staten Island in New York State, USA. If you search for ‘Willowbrook’ and ‘atrocities’ on the internet, you will get more than 45,000 hits. The horrors were exposed in 1972 after which, New York State took actions that addressed the conditions. Of all incidents of abuse that happened, the most egregious, in my opinion, was the deliberate infecting of the mentally ill patients in one ward, with hepatitis.

Most parents had no idea what was happening at Willowbrook, except for the occasional phone call of one incident of harm or another. One of those called announced that Mike got his teeth knocked out (by another resident – of course). Just as my parents had just an inkling of the poor conditions, they had little choice. There were very few options to take care of the severely mentally ill in the early 1960s. Mike was not forgotten though. We visited him quite frequently.

New York State shut down Willowbrook, but this took many years. Mike was eventually placed in a group home in the late 1980s.

I think I took this shot of Dad bringing Mike out of his building, on one of our visits.

Memories of Michael: Dad and Mike at Willowbrook (1962)
Dad and Mike at Willowbrook (1962)
Memories of Michael

2 thoughts on “Memories of Michael: Dad and Mike at Willowbrook (1962)

  1. Hello Jack:

    I do not know if you read AUTISM POLICY AND POLITICS [Pitney] or how far you go into it if you do.

    Here are some potential 21st-century Willowbrooks [if not in size then in spirit]:

    And only in 1999 was there the Olmsted Home and Community Based Services Act [it recently celebrated its anniversary this year].

    Closing Willowbrook and other New York State placements [or making them less institutional] was a 25-year effort.

    About the intentional infection of hepatitis to those who were probably least able to take it for the purposes of medical experimentation:

    Egregious, indeed.

    [I remember, too, the Tuskegee experiments – or at least knowing of them].

    All the sterilisations and the hysterectomies and the threats to freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

    An inkling of crimes and the little choice – such a combination.

    • Thank you, Adelaide, for your detailed and important comment. No, I haven’t read the book you refer to, but I have read The Willowbrook Wars, and know that the closing process was very lengthy indeed.

      Other than the outright breech of human ethics in the hepatitis experiments, the other atrocity was the “informed consent” of the poor parents who had no other choice for their children. I am sure that they were not informed that their children would be given hepatitis. The experimenter, one Saul Krugmen, denied he did anything wrong, to his dying day. Monstrous.

      I don’t know about reanimation of large mental institutions. That would be awful. My brother got really good care in the group home where he was placed.

      Always a pleasure to hear your comments.

      Best regards,


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: