Clock Tower

Out of the Clock Tower

Hello and welcome to the Greene County Archives' blog, "Out of the Clock Tower".  Please join us as we share information on archival issues, news, special events, and highlights from our collection.

Before the archives program began in Greene County in 1996, permanent records were stored in every conceivable space, in basements, garages, and closets. Usually they were in boxes of various shapes and sizes, although seldom adequately labeled, but occasionally they were just in loose piles of books and papers. Most notable were the old records stuffed into the clock tower of the County Courthouse, where they shared their home with pigeon droppings.

Now, there is a clean, environmentally controlled, well appointed location for the county archives, where our historical records are housed in standard sized boxes on steel shelves. We have taken note of their journey in the name for our blog.

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Feb 07

Epilepsy and Lunacy: Medical Diagnoses of the 1800s

Posted on February 7, 2020 at 11:22 AM by Melissa Dalton

In April 2019, with much hard work from archivists and records managers around Ohio (including our very own Robin Heise), House Bill 139 was passed, which eliminated the exemption for any permanently retained record 75 years after its creation. There were some exceptions, but one of the most important records that became open is lunacy records.

Lunacy records are intriguing, yet disheartening. People would be declared “lunatics” for issues or reasons that, in many cases, would not be cause for such a determination today. Menopause, menstrual derangement, grief, fright, domestic trouble, religious excitement, poverty, nostalgia, jealousy, typhoid fever, dementia, old age… we even ran across a list of reasons to be declared a lunatic at the Toledo State Hospital, with one determination for “reads too much” (Fig 1). However, one that we run across frequently is lunacy due to epilepsy.

Fig 1. 1874 Annual Report from Longview State Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio (JPG)
Fig 1. 1874 Annual Report from Longview State Hospital in Cincinnati, OH (Ohio History Connection)

Historically, epilepsy has been wrought with stigma and misconceptions. In some societies, the disease was synonymous with evil, with the popular belief that someone suffering from seizures was possessed by demons. Another false belief was that only “feebleminded” or “weak-minded” people had seizures. Due to these beliefs, those suffering from epilepsy were treated poorly in society, and often times, sent to asylums or forced into poorhouses. However, the work and research of Dr. Hughlings Jackson helped redefine the disease and how it was treated. After his research, the medical boards and legislatures began evaluating the best treatment of epileptic patients.

In 1893, Governor William McKinley (whose wife, Ida, suffered from seizures) declared the opening of a facility for the specific care and treatment of epileptics, naming it the Ohio Hospital for Epileptics, located in Gallipolis, Ohio (Fig 2). This was the first state institution of its kind in the United States. In 1890, the Ohio government established the Ohio Hospital for Epileptics in Gallipolis, Ohio. When the facility opened, it could accommodate 250 patients (Fig 3). The patients were provided medical care, food and clothing, and an education.

Fig 2. Ohio State Hospital for Epileptics, 183 (JPG)
Fig 2. Ohio State Hospital for Epileptics, 1893 (Ohio History Connection)

Fig 3. Article from the Cincinnati Enquirer, dated February 14, 1894, regarding first man from Hamil
Fig 3. Article from The Cincinnati Enquirer, dated February 14, 1894, regarding first man from Hamilton County to be admitted to institution (

We have several records for Greene County residents diagnosed with epilepsy that were institutionalized or sent to live in the County Infimary. However, this case is different as the man, Mahlon Ogle, was sent to the Ohio Hospital for Epileptics (Fig 4). The Medical Certificate for Mr. Ogle, who was 37 years old, indicates that his “attacks” started just a year prior, and he would act incoherently; however the cause was unknown. Mr. Ogle was admitted to the hospital in June 1930. Upon his arrival, medical tests were conducted, and Ogle tested positive for syphilis. Due to the timing of the onset of epilepsy, it is likely that the syphilis had progressed significantly, causing the seizures and dementia. On August 11, 1930, just two months after his admission to the hospital, Mr. Ogle died. His death certificate lists syphilis, epilepsy, and tuberculosis as the causes of death (Fig 5).

Fig 4. Medical Certificate, Inquest for Epilepsy for Mahlon Ogle, dated June 11, 1930 (JPG)Fig 4. Medical Certificate, Inquest for Epilepsy for Mahlon Ogle, dated June 11, 1930 (JPG)
Fig 4. Medical Certificate, Inquest of Epilepsy for Mahlon Ogle, June 11, 1930 (Greene County Archives)

Fig 5. Death Certificate of Mahlon Ogle (JPG)
Fig 5. Death Certificate of Mahlon Ogle (

The Ohio Hospital for Epileptics expanded greatly over the years, adding cottages for women, and increasing capacity to roughly 1000 patients. The goal or intention of the facility was altruistic in nature, although that could not be said of other institutions for the same purpose that opened throughout the country. The Hospital operated for 83 years, closing its doors in 1976. All that remains are two water towers, which are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Until Next Time…

Greene County Archives, Probate Records
Kissiov, D., Dewall, T., & Hermann, B. (2013). The Ohio Hospital for Epileptics: The first “epilepsy colony” in America. Epilepsia, 54(9), 1524-1534. doi: 10.1111/epi.12335.
Ohio History Connection:


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