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Preston Interview page 4

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John- Did you know Marie Balter?
Preston- Oh yeah. Her story is an amazing one. We worked together towards the end. Marie's family had a bakery in Gloucester and they used to donate cakes to the hospital and I sent drivers over there all the time to go pick them up. She became an administrator so we worked very closely together when they were closing the hospital and transferring the patients to Tewksbury.
J-Did you know her as a patient?
P-Yes.
J- What was the staff's reaction when they heard she was now coming back to DSH as an employee?
P-I don't want to sound derogatory because she was a good person, but some of the staff had resentment and thought she didn't belong in that position. Marie had a big heart and was very knowledgeable and certainly knew a lot of the patients. But it has to play into your psych that fact that she was a patient and the way you respond to things and some people had a problem with that. Marie could be very very pushy as far as what she wanted and it was a positive thing because her main priority was the care of the patients. But some people thought she went too far because of the fact she was a former patient. She didn't necessarily look at it from the perspective of an administrator; she looked it from the perspective of a patient. If Marie was here she'd be the first one to tell you that and some people didn't like it. But she was always looking out for the good of the patient and had a big big heart. Of course you know of the film Nobody's Child that was based on Marie's life. Marie and Marlo Thomas became very close friends. Marlo came to the hospital many times to visit her before and after the film was made. They were good friends.

J-Speaking of movies, you mentioned to me in a prior conversation that your friend and fellow co-worker was the person shoveling snow in the beginning of the 1958 film titled Home Before Dark?
P- Oh yeah. That's Eddie Osborne. He was an old farmer from Vermont. That movie was made before my time but the first 10 mintues or so was all filmed at DSH even the interior. When I started there, Eddie had been there for 30 years already. He's an old old timer.
J- Were there many old timers there?
P- Yeah, back then employees had years and years of service. Dick S. had 42 years there, Eddie P. who was the plumber had 47 years served, Paul D. worked there for 35 years and these people had talent and were very knowledgeable and knew every inch of that hospital.
J- Any idea who had the most seniority?
P- Yes this woman who worked in the old laundry building. Not the newer laundry down on the lower grounds but the old laundry which was located right next to the water tower. She started out as a seamstress in the sewing department when she was 14 or 15 years old. She sewed patient clothes by hand because back then that's how you did it. The State House gave her an award back in 1990 because she was there for 50+ years.

 

Mural in the Bonner Medical Building.©John Gray

 

J- Some of the wall murals painted on the wards are very interesting. Was that all done by patients?
P-Most of them were. There was some beautiful artwork in that hospital. Down in the front and center lobby (main admin) we had paintings and drawings hung all over the place. We had people come in off the street offering to buy some of them. This one guy that was transferred up to DSH from Bridgewater was very talented and painted gorgeous stuff.

J- Did you know him at all?
P- Oh yeah. I was working on his unit and the staff told me to stay away from him because he murdered someone and was very dangerous. He befriended me and we talked on occasion. In fact, This guy was writing a book and he gave me his manuscript to take home and read.

J- What was his book about? His life story?
P-Yes and he admitted in the book that he stabbed someone and tried to stab another person over at Bridgewwater and so on. I had his book in my house for months and read the entire thing. He was a very interesting guy and quite friendly to me for some reason.

J- Why was he transferred to DSH when Bridgewater handles the criminally ill?
P- I really can't answer that but believe me DSH didn't want him there. This was when they started coming out with the duel diagnosis so maybe that had something to do with it.

 

J- Did any meetings take place at other Massachusetts State Hospitals or just DSH?
P-Most meetings took place at DSH but we had several meetings over at Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, Worcester, Northampton, Bridgewater all over. I've been to every Massachusetts State Hospital for one reason or another. When I became the director of transportation that was a big part of my job was traveling to other hospitals to drop patients off , pick them up or attend meetings.

J-How many were employed at the hospital when you started?
P-At least 1500 and the longer you stayed the more people you'd meet and become friends with. I can't even count the people I know and met through that hospital. Being in maintenance you got to know everyone on every shift. We'd stop over at laundry, stop at the morgue, swing by the repair shops went over and hung out in the kitchen. At Christmas time every ward and building had their own little party so we'd make our rounds and visit everyone and you really became close friends with a lot of people. We had 88 people just in the maintenance department. It was town within a town.

J- Was Doctor Bonner there when you first started?
P- No. He was before my time. Eddie Osborne knew him and knew him well. He had a good reputation and from what I hear was a nice guy.

J- What are your feelings when you hear the hospital being referred to as this snake pit and this haunted castle?
P- In all honesty, I believe that the patient care was better at DSH than some of these half-way houses that are around today. They had recreation for the patients, entertainment for the patients, movie theatre, dancing, arts and crafts. They also had what was called industrial chores and patients could work in the woodshops, work with leather, make furniture and the patients loved it. I'm not saying it was perfect because there was bad staff and bad things did happen but that goes on at every hospital and at every business you work in. It certainly wasn't a snake pit. The public wants to believe it was because it has that mystique and the architecture gives you that impression. I mean there were dirty wards. That's no secret. We'd refer to C Ward as Shit Ward because patients wouldn't keep their clothes on and they soil themselves. They'd hose them down but it's not like what you read in books with staff blasting them with a fire hose with ice cold water and whipping them while being hand-cuffed together. That's just absurd. They'd hose them down to get the feces and urine off of them but it wasn't abusive. For the most part, the staff loved their patients. They'd bring them special treats, take them out for rides and take home for dinner. I had this patient by the name of Byron over in this very house many times for dinner. Byron worked with me for years and you get to know these people and care for their well being. We had patients sobbing in tears when they were closing the hospital. It was their home and didn't want to leave. Overall, the hospital was a good place and the staff did an excellent job with what they had.

 


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This interview was recorded then written for this web site. The statements Preston made were not altered or changed to dramatize his story.