Next up for Dinner with Walt – another Whitman literary vacation! I’m heading up into Ontario in a few weeks to retrace some of Whitman’s travels. (See Walt Whitman’s Diary in Canada).
First stop will be in Sarina, Ontario. On June 18, 1880, Whitman wrote of Sarina in his diary:
Next stops will be London and Hamilton, Ontario to visit what’s left of two former insane asylums where Dr. Maurice Bucke worked. I have not yet written much about him, but Dr. Bucke was a very important and colorful character in Whitman’s life. Dr. Bucke was the longest serving Superintendent of the London Insane Asylum (1877-1902). Dr. Bucke’s work in the psychiatric field is renowned and was revolutionary for this period of time in the area of mental health services. Prior to Bucke, many of the practices in the asylums were quite horrific, involving restraints (various shackles and wooden cages where people were confined in order to control and attempt to calm them. Funny, but I can’t imagine being hunched down on all fours and locked in a wooden crate to have much of a calming effect). But Dr. Bucke’s progressive philosophies and practices did away with the mechanical restraints. He believed that the insane would fare much better to be in the open air, to play organized sports and to work with their hands in flower and vegetable gardens.
Someday in future posts, I’ll share more on Dr. Bucke, he was a very interesting man with many interesting stories of his own! No wonder he was a close personal friend to Whitman. After Whitman’s death, Bucke was one of the three literary executor’s to Whitman’s estate.
As I mentioned, there are remaining remnants of Dr. Bucke’s asylum in both London and Hamilton Ontario (now abandoned and rumored haunted). Follow the link below for an interesting read on the history and current conservation plans of the London asylum:
This might be a good place to share my copy of Dr. Bucke’s 1901 master work, Cosmic Consciousness. The books is a first edition, signed by Dr. Bucke. Included with the book is an original handwritten letter by Dr. Bucke to a Mr. Thomas Lacey, Esq. Notice Dr. Bucke’s return address label is the London Asylum.
Assuming I’m able to leave the asylums (my partner threatens to leave me at one of the asylums and sometimes even I agree that might be an appropriate place for me!). But the next stop will be Bon Echo Provincial Park where Horace Traubel spent his last days alive.
You may recall my mention of Bon Echo from a previous post about Horace Traubel, but here’s the interesting part below:
“Traubel attended one last centenary event—the August dedication of a huge granite cliff at the Bon Echo estate in Canada, to be named “Old Walt” and inscribed with Whitman’s words in giant letters. On 28 August Traubel, while sitting in a tower room where he could look out on Old Walt, shouted that Whitman had just appeared above the granite cliff “in a golden glory.” “He reassured me, beckoned to me, and spoke to me. I heard his voice but did not understand all he said, only ‘Come on'” (qtd. in Denison 196). Traubel died at Bon Echo on 3 September and was buried in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, close to Whitman’s tomb.
Thanks to Wikipedia, here’s a photo from the dedication at Bon Echo. Horace Traubel is not in the photo, presumably due to his ill health. But what is most remarkable is that Traubel lived to see this event, as he had wished, but sadly his life ended shortly after this dedication. Here’s the photo taken at the August 1919 dedication:
Check back soon, I’m certain I’ll have interesting stories and at least one big surprise to share after this trip!