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Later evening of Williamsburg, day one…

December 4, 2008

since we had remained at the cooper’s house so long. We decided to go over to the DeWitt Wallace Museum which stayed open until 7:00 p.m. You enter at street level through the Hospital for the Mentally Insane. This was the original hospital in the colonies.

Although it’s one of the smaller exhibits, the graphic nature of the crude and uninformed methods for treating the mentally ill was vividly displayed. I was concerned about my 7 year old’s potential questions. He later described it as “the hospital that looked like a jail.” The boys were also impressed at how the “prisoners” had been allowed to write on the walls of their rooms. Overall, none of the boys seemed disturbed by the various restraining contraptions, like the tranquilizing chair or the “quiet crib”. We answered their questions directly telling them that at this time doctors didn’t really understand mental illness and did the best they knew to do to keep the people safe and from hurting others.

They have a timeline in one part of the exhibit that shows both the improvements and changes in thought regarding the care of the mentally ill. A fire destroyed the hospital at one point, but excavations at Williamsburg during the restoration uncovered the original foundation as well as various remnants of shackles, pots, pans and medical supplies.

After leaving the hospital display, you go down into the basement of the Museum to the Abby Aldrich Folk Art Museum which contains a pure plethora of all things historical. We saw an enormous gun collection of period weapons from muskets to bayonets to pistols to blunderbusses to swords to rifles. Husband and sons could not have been happier. The boys spent their time in trying to decide which gun was bigger, which sword was sharper and which one was definitely theirs.

On that same level was a coin and currency display which showed the historical tracing of money for that time, from Spanish reales to Continental “dollars”. My youngest is a budding coin collector so this display had him all smiles. But what made me and the mother-in-law happy was the gorgeous collection of sterling silver dishes, candlesticks, serving pieces, and silver ware. Thinking of the household help it would take to serve a meal on these amazing works of art chafing dishes did not make me run home to polish my 4 1/2 pieces of sterling. It did make me gasp to think of the time and art such a meal would be. Beside the silver exhibit, they also showed a small display on pottery types, glazes, and history.

By that point, it was dark outside and drizzling and stomachs were growling so we caught the bus back to the VC and went back to the hotel. I had made Chicken Dumpling Stew a few days before for our trip. It was just the warm meal needed to restore our energy for the coming day. Tuesday was all day Williamsburg.

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