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Book sheds light on asylum's history

Many incoming students to Ohio University have heard the haunted tales about The Ridges. A local author, however, recently published a book telling a less gory side to the old asylum.

Katherine Ziff, who graduated from OU in 2004, has been working for 11 years on her book Asylum on the Hill, which tells stories and the history of The Ridges. The book originally began as Ziff’s dissertation for the consoler education program at OU and then evolved into a book, Ziff said.

“The book focuses on the 19th century history of the asylum: patients and families, caregivers, politics, landscape, and architecture,” said Ziff. “There is also a 20th century epilogue. The book includes a visual look at the history of the asylum as well.”

Horror stories about the tortured and maimed patients of The Ridges are what often come to mind for many Athens residents, yet Ziff said these tales have no foundation.

“The asylum was built and run in the 19th century according (to) psychiatry's moral treatment (codes),” Ziff said. “Moral treatment was a big departure from previous methods involving punishment and restraint of patients. The actual history and events of the asylum are in some ways more surprising than the gothic horror rumors one hears about the asylum.”

Though much of the actual asylum is closed to the public, a few currently occupied parts of The Ridges are open to visitors as part of a “Ridges Open House” Friday from 3 to 5 p.m., according to a press release from The Ridges.

The main purpose of the tours is to make use of new historical guides and maps that will be provided prior to the tours, said Jeffery Kallet, publicist for the Ohio University Press, which printed the book.

Following the tours will be an event at the Kennedy Museum of Art from 5 to 7 p.m. The event will include a book signing and speech by Ziff, enclosed artifacts from the mental hospital and refreshments. Kallet said this event is similar to ones many had seen at The Ridges before it was shut down.

“I’ve encountered many people who grew up here who have memories of activities on the grounds of the former mental hospital — picnics, public events, etc,” said Kallet.  “These are all fond memories and they are quite the opposite of the darker, ‘haunted’ tales that have also put The Ridges on the map. But whichever way you look at it, people are always interested in this place, and the fact that we are now publishing a book-length history about its early years is something we’re proud to have done.”


What: Ridges Open House

When: 3 p.m. Friday

Where: The Ridges

Admission: free


What: Author Reception

When: 5 p.m. Friday

Where: Kennedy Museum of Art, The Ridges

Admission: free

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