Construction crews in Indiana were shocked to discover a time capsule from 1958 at a former mental hospital. The most exciting part? It contains a film with a message to the future–a message about electroshock therapy and psychiatric drugs.
Frustratingly, much of the audio from the film has been lost. What were they saying in the damaged parts of the film? Was it a warning? Did they know something that we don’t?!?!
“When the psychiatrists of the future open this time capsule, only they will be able to tell how well we’ve solved our treatment problems,” one unnamed man says to the camera near the end of the 6-minute movie. So maybe not.
The film begins with silent footage of the time capsule ceremony and the crowd that showed up to watch. Then we see two men addressing the camera with their message for the future. Based on the audio that’s survived, they’re talking about some pretty heavy things: electroshock therapy, and the “problems of the future.”
But there are large segments where we can’t hear what they’re saying, which is incredibly frustrating. The man on the left begins talking about the new part of the hospital:
Today marks the cornerstone laying ceremony of the Bahr Treatment Center. This is a building that we have been working on for two years. It’s a building which we have spent much time in attempting to foresee the future — the things that are going to be coming up in the way of treatment programs. How well do you think we’ve solved the problems of the future?
At this point the man on the right starts to speak but we can’t hear what he’s saying. He speaks for a good 30 seconds before the guy on the left starts talking again. But now we can’t hear him either!
Both men address the camera, taking turns for a good minute and a half before the audio returns. And it’s a bit disconcerting, given what we might have missed:
...electric shock treatment, as it is today. And it also will serve as a rest area in the day clinic period. Now, because of the space, the way it’s laid out, this will be able to function under any circumstances that you might develop for treatment or program.
For instance, we may some day — and only the people who open this time capsule will be able to say... we may go back to insulin shock, or the development of some other drug techniques and so forth.
Here’s where we need to take a break and mention that insulin shock therapy was where psychiatric patients were pumped with large doses of insulin on a daily basis to induce a coma that could last for weeks.
Whereas electric shock treatment has unjustly gotten a bad name, insulin shock therapy was not a procedure that showed much in the way of help for those suffering from mental illness.
The man on the right continues:
Let me repeat, that because of the development of this program with Dr. Williams, that we have developed a building which is completely flexible in all aspects to keep up with the changing face of the mental health program.
The camera then goes back to the guy on the left:
It’s our hope to use this building for the admission of all patients, where the patients will be admitted, receive all of their examinations, and the treatment program outlined for each patient. We hope that we’ll be able to treat and improve many patients, so they’ll be able to go home from this building. Now those who do not improve sufficiently to go home from this building, may have to have continued treatment in other parts of the institution.
We are designing this building an outpatient clinic, which is the first outpatient clinic designed for this hospital. We trust that this will add much to our treatment program — that possibly we may be able to treat patients on the outside without requiring hospitalization.
The man on the left then addresses the psychiatrists of the future, but we again lose large parts of the audio.
When the psychiatrists of the future open this time capsule, only they will be able to tell how well we’ve solved our treatment problems, not only today but in the future. We are sincerely appreciative...
...they’ll have cameras at that time that they can run this film.
The entire 6-minute film discovered in the time capsule is on YouTube:
The Bahr hospital was closed in 1992, and the site is currently being converted into business and residential properties, according to WFYI in Indianapolis.
The time capsule that the construction crews uncovered also included other things you’d expect, like newspapers and photos. But this film for the future (as damaged as the audio may be) is one of those rare finds that we time capsule nerds love to hear about.
The missing chunks of audio are lost to history, but hopefully they weren’t a warning about something potentially life-saving, like a new cancer vaccine or a cure for Trumpism. God help us if this damaged film was our only chance.
Update: Apparently there were a couple more badly damaged film reels found in the time capsule. Both are silent. One shows the placement of the cornerstone:
And the other shows a large crowd and more cornerstone shenanigans: