In the late 1800’s, four eccentric doctors capitalized on the desperation of local citizens to control an increasing population of the dangerously insane, and opened the Healing Minds Institute for the Criminally Insane.

reginald_astorReginald Astor — The youngest of the four founders, Dr. Astor provided much of the financing for construction and initial funding of HMI.  His life before HMI is a complete mystery, including the nature or source of his education.  To date, there are no records of Reginald Astor graduating or even attending medical school in the United States or abroad during that time period.

This information is troubling indeed, as Astor was well-known to participate in experimental surgical procedures.  In Jonathan Rosenbaum’s personal journal (one of the few documents recovered from the fire) he spoke highly of Astor, crediting him as being a “gifted surgeon” with a “keen mind” and an “unmatched understanding of the human psyche for a man of his age.”

Also shrouded in mystery is the nature and source of Astor’s apparently vast wealth.  His family lineage is unknown, there are no documents to record an inheritance, and there are no records of Astor owning a business or having any manner of job prior to his involvement with HMI.

“He is a likable, youthful fellow,” wrote fellow HMI founder Dr. Dorian Schroeder of Astor to one of his former colleagues in Munich, “a man of fanciful ideas, and fantastic visions of the future.  Always a hand on your shoulder, ever a look of focus in his eyes.  But, he is eager to quarrel about the intricacies of metaphysical ideologies, and quick to anger should his ideologies be discounted.”

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Mathias Barlow — Stern, cold, and methodical.  Dr. Mathias Barlow owned a successful practice in Boston until he found himself irrationally drawn out west with so many others during the great gold rush.  Barlow was a well-known misanthrope prior to his westward migration, and many say that his failure as a gold miner and the loss of a staked claim in a messy legal dispute worsened his personality disorders.  Dr. Schroeder wrote of Barlow that “here is a man so crushed by the whore of chance, and so self-defeated by the failures of his own impossible expectations, that although five years my junior, he appears ten years my senior!”

Yet, despite his personal demons, Barlow was considered an unmatched physical diagnostician.  In his journal, Dr. Rosenbaum said of Barlow, “…never a smile on his face.  Never a spring in his step.  He is straight to the point, explaining his position and supporting it with information nearly always kept in what I am quickly discovering to be one of the most useful filing systems known to man–his brain!  I have never known another physician to have such a vast, well-utilized knowledge of the human body and it’s many maladies.  I should very much like to study his brain after he dies.”

The most unusual recollection of Barlow (by those who knew him during his days at HMI) was the scrawled scarring on his chest.  Few had seen him shirtless, but in close quarters it would happen on occasion.  Rumor has it that in reverse letters, from his right pectoral to his left, severe and apparently self-inflicted wounds had healed into scars that read (when faced in a mirror) “NEVER GOOD ENOUGH.”

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Jonathan Rosenbaum — Feared by patients and dominating to peers, Dr. Rosenbaum was no man to be trifled with.  He is most well-known from the writings in his journal…writings that would paint a wholly different picture of himself were it not for other recorded documents.  Dr. Rosenbaum’s journal, one of the most important pieces of history to survive the fire, is currently only displayed during the annual exhibition of the Healing Minds Institute for the Criminally Insane.

“He has the quick temper, of Dr. Astor,” wrote Dr. Schroeder of Rosenbaum, “the cold, unfeeling demeanor of Barlow, and the obsessive, unyielding nature of myself.  He is the very definition of vanity, constantly worried about his appearance (even in front of the mindless dogs that we treat).  But, he does possess an uncanny skill at taking apart a person and putting them back together. Though, were I to be completely honest, I believe that he would be quite content to leave that person in pieces.  Rosenbaum does not see men or women (or even children, I suspect), as works of God.  Rather, they are all machines to him, and he is God in his own, self-absorbed mind.  He is utterly devoid of love, and thinks himself better for it.  He may be right.”

Rosenbaum’s hand in the scandal is infamous.  The failed experiments found in his underground laboratory are still the subject of much debate and ethical controversy among small groups of surgeons today who regard Dr. Rosenbaum as a mind centuries ahead of his time.  However, to the vast majority of medical historians, Rosenbaum has come to be known as “The Butcher of Healing Minds.”

dorian_schroederDorian Schroeder — With more insight to the inner workings of the human mind than anyone else of his time, Dr. Schroeder’s gift was to read people, to know their secrets, and to control their inner demons.  Sadly, he could not control his own.  Dr. Rosenbaum wrote of him that “I’ve never witnesses a more profound waste of an intellect than that of Dorian Schroeder.  He could, were it his prerogative, turn the entirety of the staff and patients here to serve our greater purpose.  Instead, the old fool takes more interest in the nurses and comelier patients.  Several of them have complained.  If the word should get out of his ‘nighttime proclivities’ then it could ruin everything that we have worked for.”

Schroeder was also a notorious alcoholic, and wrote of his affliction extensively, believing that the liquor he sought was the source of his gift.  “Should I go a night without drink,” he wrote in a letter to a colleague, “my head is so heavy with confusion and my hands so stricken with tremors that I could faint write this letter to you now, for I would be unable to find the words or control my pen.  Conversely, I have woken up on mornings after intense drink, experiencing no headache, and finding records of my most brilliant research–of which I have no memory writing!”

Dr. Dorian Schroeder was the only person whose remains were never recovered after the tragedy at The Healing Minds Institute for the Criminally Insane.  His fate remains a mystery.