Film to depict history of hospital Historic Towson Inc. gets grant for documentary on Sheppard Pratt facility

October 21, 1998|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Worried that the use of historic Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson could change as mental health treatment shifts to more outpatient care, a preservation group plans to capture the renowned facility's history on film.

Historic Towson Inc. received a $1,000 grant last week from Baltimore County Historical Trust Inc. for the project, which has drawn the interest of Emmy-winning cinematographer Richard Chisolm, who has agreed to work on the documentary.

As the film's format is being developed, Historic Towson is seeking photos, home movies and anecdotes from neighbors, former staff and patients who stayed at the hospital, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s.

The documentary will seek to tell the story of how the architecture and bucolic grounds at Sheppard Pratt provided a humane, residential setting for the care of the mentally ill, even as people elsewhere were often warehoused in dungeon-like underground cells.

"The wonderful thing is that the buildings weren't built abstractly," said Carol Allen, HTI's president, of Sheppard Pratt's structures.

"The purpose was to provide a philosophy of moral treatment, or humaneness, to the mentally ill."

Uncertain future

The hospital, which opened in 1891, was the vision of Moses Sheppard, a Baltimore merchant who bequeathed almost $600,000 to the institution, first called Sheppard Asylum.

The name was changed in 1898 after philanthropist Enoch Pratt left $1.6 million to the hospital with the condition that his name be included.

Today, Sheppard Pratt Health System, which oversees the nonprofit hospital, serves many of its patients at 13 outpatient counseling centers throughout the state. A land-use committee is examining current uses and proposals for the property, a spokeswoman said.

"The future of Sheppard Pratt is uncertain," said Judith Kremen, executive director of the historical trust, which awarded HTI its top grant. "In the history of mental health, it is a very important institution."

Other grants

Other recipients of the annual historical trust grants last week were:

Essex-Middle River Civic Council, $400, for reprinting "A History of Wartime Middle River."

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History Inc., $400, for a historic marker and cornerstone restoration for a one-room school for African-American children in Catonsville, now used as a church.

Granite Historical Society, $500, for a report on a former Nike missile site in western Baltimore County.

In addition, Black Rock Particular Primitive Baptist Church in Butler, Rosedale Fellowship Primitive Baptist Church and Jessop's Methodist Church in Sparks received money for structural repairs.

Pub Date: 10/21/98

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