Failure defeats losers, failure inspires winners.
~ Robert T. Kiyosaki ~
In the later part of the nineteenth century, Rhoda Derry spent over forty years in the Adams County Poor Farm, curled in a fetal position in a box bed. She had clawed her own eyes out. She had beat her front teeth in. Her legs had atrophied to the point where she could no longer stand on her own, or even sit in a wheelchair. She had been committed there by her own family when they could no longer care for her at home. She spent decades locked away from the world.
Her crime? Falling in love.
Rhoda suffered a mental breakdown after being “cursed” by the mother of the boy she was engaged to marry. Committed to the almshouse for violent insanity, she was eventually rescued by Dr. George A. Zeller. She was transferred to the Peoria State Hospital in Bartonville, Illinois, where she spent the remainder of her days in peace and comfort. Rhoda died in 1906, but her spirit seems to live on …
The story of Rhoda Derry is one of the great tragedies of mental health care in Illinois, and one of the great success stories of the Peoria State Hospital. Sylvia Shults, author of Fractured Spirits: Hauntings at the Peoria State Hospital, returns to the hilltop to tell the story of Rhoda's life, and her afterlife. She examines the social pressures that led to Rhoda's breakdown and her eventual insanity. And she explores the stories that continue to be told about Rhoda, and her presence on the hilltop.
In 1860, when Rhoda’s mother died, Rhoda and her parents were boarding with the Jacobs family.]
We don’t know if Elizabeth Jacobs required Rhoda to help with any chores around the house. But one thing is certain – even if she’d been asked, Rhoda was not capable of even the simplest household work. She didn’t have the patience to bend scrubbing over a washtub on laundry day. She didn’t have the patience to stand outside at the clothesline, snapping the dresses to get the wrinkles out, smoothing the pants, lining up the towels before pegging them to the line. She didn’t have the patience to stand at a kitchen table kneading bread until it was as smooth and plump as a baby’s bottom, then tuck it into a loaf pan ready for the oven.
Rhoda wasn’t capable of doing any of the boring, repetitive tasks that were required of a farm woman on the Illinois frontier. Eggs would go ungathered if left to Rhoda’s care, or get smashed against the henhouse wall if she succumbed to one of her fits of rage. A nervous cow wouldn’t stand still to be milked. And Rhoda certainly wasn’t up to the more perilous chores, like baking with a wood-fired stove, dipping candles into hot wax for hours at a time, or stirring a pot full of boiling lye to make soap.
We don’t know if Rhoda had the ability, or even the desire, to help in her own recovery. That first blow, losing Charles in such a dramatic way, plus being held in Jacksonville for two years, may have simply broken her spirit beyond all hope of repair.
Was Rhoda still mourning the loss of Charles after all that time? Or had her personality warped into something darker, more savage? Did the shock of that early loss shatter her psyche, letting other pathologies – paranoia, anxiety, violence – slither through the cracks?