Update July 29th, 2011

My apologies to those out there waiting for the continuation of the story, it’s sort of a good news bad news type of thing.

The good news is that I’m working on several commissioned projects and prepping to teach a papier mache workshop this September.

The bad news is that in order to meet these deadlines I have had to put Arsenic Asylum on hold for a bit.

More good news…I’m still very excited about this site, the story, the characters and all the imagery that goes along with it so while I’m working on these paying jobs my mind is constantly spinning the tale.

Once I do have a chance to work on the story the updates should come fast and furious.

Thank you to everyone that expressed their support for the project, just a little patience and I promise it will be worth the wait.



The Chest

The wood chest was nondescript measuring 38 inches wide, 22 inches tall and 19 inches deep. It was nondescript and I suspect that it liked it that way.

Back in 1979 my father purchased the locked chest at an estate sale and promptly put it in the corner of his garage. My father never opened the chest, in fact I don’t think he ever gave it a second look once it was committed to storage.

It’s what the chest wanted.

After my father’s death in 1998 I came into possession of the chest and history would once again repeat itself.

The chest was placed in a back corner of our garage and immediately forgotten.

Looking back I find it incredible that I never pried open the lock or considered the contents.

It’s what the chest wanted.

Last August I had a dream, more of a nightmare really.

I dreamt I was huddled alone in a dark empty room. The stone walls were cold and wet against my bare skin. Orange light flickered from the small window in the door creating mad shadows on the walls.

The smell of smoke filled my nostils and distant screams filled my ears.

Sitting naked in the darkness with my hands pressed against my ears I rocked back and forth paralyzed with fear.

I remember thinking in my dream that if I had the key everything would be alright.

Slowly I stood and started to make my way to the door.

The fire was closer now and the dampness was quickly being replaced by scorching heat.

Sitting in front of the door was the wood chest.

Confusion set in because the chest had not been there, the room had been empty.

It took all my strength to open the chest and it took all my courage to look inside.

The only thing in the chest was a small silver key.
Then I woke up.

It was about 4am and I got out of bed and went to the garage. Using a crowbar I pryed the lock off the chest and opened the top.

There was no small silver key but rather hundreds of documents and photographs. The chest also contained an assortment of items such as blueprints, books and film canisters.

After reviewing all of the items the most telling item was a journal kept by Dr. Arthur Corman.

The journal explained it all.

The journal was the key.


The History

The contents of the chest chronicle the history of a mental asylum known as Reardon Institute.

Reardon Institute opened August 13th, 1899, the brainchild of Dr. Stuart Reardon, a prominent figure in psychiatric care.

Not a lot is known about the asylum. There are no public records, no newspaper articles, no information on the internet and no living persons with first hand knowledge.

If not for the wood chest acquired by my father the history of the asylum would be lost, although some may argue that would not be a bad thing.

According to the documents contained in the chest, the facility was located less than two miles north of the town of Reed City, Michigan

Dr. Stuart Reardon owned 640 acres of land which housed the asylum as well as a 200 acre farm that supplied all the food. 

Reardon Institute was a monster of a building. The asylum was over five stories tall and capable of holding over 2,000 patients plus a working staff of over 500.

Reardon Institute was a self contained society. 

In addition to patient rooms and staff quarters, Reardon Institute had its own power plant, water treatment system, farm and greenhouses. The asylum eliminated the need for all outside contact.

Patients and staff were forbidden to venture off the grounds, instead they were encouraged to enjoy the amenities offered at the Institute.

Reardon boasted gourmet chefs, extensive libraries, theaters, swimming pools, art gallery, bowling alley and pristine gardens.

Elaborate parties were held for the staff and certain patients as well as concerts, plays and even fireworks.

Life at Reardon Institute could be very good, but life at Reardon Institute could also be a living hell, it just depended which side of the fence you were on.

Several years after opening, Reardon Institute became known as Arsenic Asylum among staff due to the high patient death rate. 

Reardon Institute operated for 46 years with no outside intervention. Residents of the small town of Reed City were vaguely aware of the monstrous facility that loomed just two short miles to the north.

Records show that the asylum was destroyed on August 6th, 1945 by a massive fire.

Over the last six months I have pieced together the details of Reardon Institute and transcribed Dr. Arthur Corman’s journal which sheds much light on a very dark place.


Wednesday, January 10th, 1912

Journal of Dr. Arthur Corman. January 10th, 1912

Wednesday, January 10th, 1912

I dreamt of donuts. Actually I dreamt of donuts and cupcakes and cookies.

My dreams should not have surprised  me considering I had been sitting on a train for over thirty hours listening to the elderly gentleman next to me describe every kind of pastry known to man.

The man’s name was Jonathon Wright, a baker by trade and possibly one of the most talkative people I have ever met.

Jonathon and I both boarded the Grand Rapids and Indiana railroad in Cincinnati on our way to a small town in northern Michigan

The trip was slow and uneventful until we reached Michigan and encountered one of the worst blizzards in history. The view out my window was nothing but blinding snow as the train continued to track northward. 


Jonathon was moving to Reed City in hopes of starting his own bakery while I was moving north to accept a position with a private mental hospital.

Jonathon was following his dream to become a baker and I was following my dream to escape my former life.

Both good dreams, just different.

Jonathon travelled with a large box filled with a variety of his homemade pastries.

He liked to share.

During the thirty hour trip I must have sampled over a dozen of his sugary masterpieces; apple fritters, fried cinnamon rolls, glazed donuts, fruit Danish, raisin breads and chewy cookies.

Maybe it was the sugar or the apprehension of a new adventure but my dreams on the train were strange. The rhythmic click clack of the train easily lulled me into a very deep sleep.

My dreams had me wandering endless corridors in search of something although I can’t remember exactly what I was looking for.

The corridors were dark and built from heavy stone, locked doors were on both sides and the floor littered with scraps of paper.

I picked up a piece of paper and tried to look at it but my eyes refused to focus.

As hard as I tried I could not make out the details so I would pick up another and another and another. Hour after hour of wandering and attempting to see what was on the paper.

Thankfully the dream came to an abrupt end as I was awakened by Jonathon informing me that we had arrived at the Reed City depot. 

A quick glance at my watch showed that we had arrived almost eight hours behind schedule.

I hoped there was still someone here to meet me.

Stepping off the train I was greeted with the howl of freezing winds and even though it was only four o’clock in the afternoon the storm made it feel like midnight.

Jonathon stepped off the train behind me and we exchanged our good byes, I thanked him for his company.

I watched as he disappeared into the swirling darkness.

A tall man approached me and introduced himself as Adam Berg, assistant to Dr. Stuart Reardon. I shook his hand we proceeded to load my luggage into the awaiting truck.

The trip to the hospital was treacherous as we made our way over ice covered roads and massive snow drifts.

Adam was quiet as he concentrated on driving and I was exhausted from the trip wanting only to take a hot bath and curl up in a warm bed.

The road we were on led us straight to Reardon Institute.

As I looked through the frost covered windshield I saw the asylum for the first time.

When I first saw the building my first impression was that of darkness.

The building seemed to absorb the light much the way a sponge absorbs water.

As we drew nearer a feeling of dread filled my stomach, this was my future.

The next five years I would call this place home.


Thursday, January 11th, 1912

Thursday, January 11th, 1912

I awoke at six o’clock to the sound of someone knocking on the door.  It took me several seconds to orient myself to my new surroundings.

Journal of Dr. Arthur Corman. January 11th, 1912

I crawled from bed and answered the door.

Adam had taken the liberty of having breakfast sent to my room.

I opened the door and a young woman pushed a cart inside containing a silver platter, carafe of orange juice and pot of coffee.

She made her way to my dining table, and set a single place setting.

She placed the food on the table, wished me a good day and left.

Last night after arriving at the asylum Adam had escorted me through the main lobby which was dark and abandoned. We took an elevator to the third floor and he showed me to my living quarters.

Looking at my luggage sitting in the empty room I remember thinking how sad it was that my entire life can fit into two trunks.

The apartment was quite grand.

The main sitting room featured a large stone fireplace, two sofas and four chairs. The ceilings were very high and a large chandelier provided light.

The adjoining bedroom had a large bed with clean sheets and  soft down pillows.

I was very tired and not much in the mood for breakfast but decided that it would be wise to eat something before I started my first day.

The food was wonderful and the coffee strong.

After breakfast I bathed, shaved and got dressed.

The combination of breakfast and bath did me wonders, I felt electric.

I back tracked my steps from last night and arrived on the main floor.  A woman named Kimberly Baker was waiting for me and we entered her office to fill out a mountain of paperwork.

After several hours we finished and was again greeted by Adam Berg who would escort me on a tour of Reardon Institute.

We started our tour in the south wing.  The south wing was dedicated to private patients, these patients were admitted by their families who apparently paid great sums of money in hope of curing their loved ones.

The plan for these patients was moral treatment meaning they were treated with dignity, kindness and respect.

The rooms were brightly lit and cheery music filled the air. 

Fresh flowers were placed in every room; the smell of lilacs was intoxicating.

I remember wondering where they got fresh lilacs this time of year.

The patients in the south wing were all dressed in fine clothing and nicely groomed.

Adam explained that family members were allowed to visit on the last Sunday of each month; he also stated that Reardon Institute promised a cure within one year of being admitted. If the patient was not cured and returned home the hospital would refund all money and continue treatment.

High stakes for Reardon, a nightmare for the doctors.

The layout of the asylum was like a “U” with the front facing west and the north and south wings extending east. In the center of the "U"was a courtyard with fountains, topiary and beautifully ornate gardens.

The first floor of the asylum was used for patients and offices, the second floor was living quarters for staff and the third floor was reserved for doctor housing.

The center section of the hospital rose above the north and south wings, the fourth floor housed the board of directors known as the Council Seven and the fifth floor was occupied by Dr. Stuart Reardon.

Adam explained that Dr. Reardon was very private and seldom made public appearances.

My tour continued well into the afternoon as he guided me through the giant structure. 

There were two libraries. The first was a general library available to the patients and the second was the medical library containing thousands of books and papers dealing with psychiatric care.

Another aspect of Reardon Institute that I found very interesting were the amount of specialized laboratories such as the Eusociality/Entomology lab which studied the social order of insects as a means to better understand mental illness in humans.

The final leg of the tour was the north wing. The north wing was not public knowledge, sort of a dirty little secret.

The entrance to the north wing was staffed by two security guards bearing weapons. They unlocked the door and we entered a dark hallway.

It seemed that Reardon had struck a deal with state run prisons around the country to accept overflow criminals or those deemed to dangerous or ill for treatment.

The north wing was a dark prison.

Most of the inmates were male, they were confined to barren cells that reeked with the stench of urine and feces. Most of the men were barely clothed or naked.

I was relieved once my tour of the north wing ended.

My day wrapped with dinner in the dining hall, a meal of broiled lamb, steamed rice and fresh asparagus accompanied by several glasses of red wine. Adam made sure to point out that the wine was Reardon’s own private label.

Yes life could be good at Reardon Institute but as I had witnessed today it really did matter what side of the fence you were on.


Friday, January 12th, 1912

Journal of Dr. Arthur Corman. January 12th, 1912

Today was my first day as a practicing doctor at Reardon Institute. After a large breakfast and many cups of coffee I met my supervisor in the South Wing. Dr. Spencer Ash had been with the asylum since the beginning and was also the chief coroner and ran the crematorium.

I found the idea of someone named Ash running the crematorium to be extremely funny.

Dr. Ash showed me to my new office which was still cluttered with the belongings of the former occupant and proceeded to explain my job responsibilities. In the beginning I would be in charge of two dozen patients. As I grew accustomed to the routine more patients would be added to my roster.

The rest of the day was spent being introduced to each of my patients and getting acquainted with the other doctors and nurses that worked in the south wing.

Around seven o’clock that night I had dinner and headed back to my office to review my patient’s background.. Each file was thick and detailed.

I felt overwhelmed but those feelings soon gave way to exhaustion as I turned off the lights and locked my office and headed up to my quarters.

According to my watch it was two in the morning.

Sleep came fast and deep.

I did not dream.


Saturday, January 13th, 1912

Journal of Dr. Arthur Corman. January 13th, 1912

After only a couple hours of sleep I woke and had breakfast in the dining hall then went to my office to start rounds.

My goal was to spend time with each  patient today, get to know them and try to develop some level of trust.

The first patient I visited that morning was Abigail Proctor.

The nurses called her Abby.

Abby was 62 and has not spoken a single word since arriving at Reardon Institute eleven months ago.

The fingers on her left hand were gnarled from arthritis and there were fresh bandages on the back of her neck.

According to her chart she had fallen in her room two weeks ago and sustained a deep laceration.

Abby wore thick glasses and was almost blind, she spent the majority of her time drawing with crayons even though she could barely see.

The walls of her room were lined with simple crayon artwork.

The sketches were not remarkable but the subject matter was intriguing.

The file indicated that Abby was admitted to the hospital by her younger sister. 

In her youth Abigail was a renowned pianist but after arthritis set in and her eyesight failed she became a recluse and eventually withdrew into her own silent world.

I spent several minutes speaking to Abby, telling her that I was here to help her. I also told her that I liked her drawings.

Before leaving to see my next patient I ordered a hearing test for Abigail because there was nothing in her charts indicated that her previous doctor had tested her hearing and it was possible that hearing loss could be responsible for her lack of speech.

Possible but unlikely.

I held her right hand and told her I would visit her tomorrow when she shocked me by uttering four simple words.

“I have a key”

The words were soft and I began to question myself as to whether or not she had actually spoken.

Dumbfounded I asked her to repeat the words but she just stared into the distance.

The rest of my day was spent visiting my other patients.

I was relieved that my other visits were uneventful.

After dinner I returned to my office to type up the daily reports for each patient. 

It was mandatory that daily progress reports be given to Dr. Ash.

The reporting process was tedious and took me until the late hours of the night.

My routine was becoming very apparent, long hours and little sleep. 


Sunday, January 14th, 1912

Journal of Dr. Arthur Corman. January 14th, 1912

Sunday, January 14th, 1912

Sunday morning after breakfast I contemplated attending a church service in the chapel located on the third floor of the south wing but it had been years since I had gone to church and realized I didn’t really miss the routine.

The south wing was very busy this morning, there was a lot of commotion down the hallway from my office; several attendants rushed pass pushing a gurney.

Curiosity got the best of me and I asked one of the nurses what had happened and was told that Abby had killed herself early this morning.

Abigail Proctor, my very first patient was now dead.

I entered her room to find Dr. Ash and another man standing on either side of her bed.

Abby’s body was lying on the bed, her head resting on a blood soaked pillow.

Abigail’s eyes were missing.

The official report would state that Abigail Proctor committed suicide at approximately 3:30 am the morning of January 14th, 1912.

Cause of death was loss of blood from two self inflicted wounds to the eyes.

She gouged her eyes out. 

Abby’s body was covered and taken to the morgue. The linens and mattress were also removed and taken to the incinerator.

The other man in the room left without saying a word and Dr. Ash asked if I could gather Abigail’s personal items and deliver them to his office.

Standing alone in Abby’s room I once again thought about the words she spoke yesterday and wondered why I was compelled to leave that bit of information off the report I wrote last night.


Monday, January 15th, 1912

Journal of Dr. Arthur Corman. January 15th, 1912

After my daily rounds I went back to Abigail’s room and started to pack her personal items. Abby had gotten to a point in her life where all of her possessions fit neatly into two small drawers.

My life fit into two trunks so who am I to judge?

The drawers contained photos of her sister, a few pieces of jewelry, a comb and some old sheet music. I boxed up these items then started removing the drawings that decorated the walls of her room.  

One hundred and thirteen sketches were placed in the box, her room felt desolate.

I took the box back to my office and would deliver it to Dr. Ash’s office on my way to dinner.

Before I left I picked up one of the  drawings and stared at the black and white smudges.

If I squinted the image seemed to come into focus, I could see details that weren’t apparent with a casual glance.

In the bottom right hand corner of the sketch there were numbers and a letter scratched into the wax. 


Quickly I grabbed another sketch and squinted. 

The same numbers and letter were scratched into this drawing.

 Each drawing contained the identical thing, some sort of code.

 All one hundred thirteen drawings contained 1907.11.05.P.1125.

Much like Abby’s words to me yesterday I felt compelled to keep this information to myself.

I rolled up three of the sketches and placed them in my desk drawer then headed toward Dr. Ash’s office with Abby’s things.

The crematorium was in the basement level at the rear of the south wing.

The basement was not very well lit and the rumbling of the steam turbines was constant.

The hallways were lined by steam and water pipes as well as heavy bundles of electrical cords.

It was obvious that housekeeping never found their way down here because cobwebs filled every nook and cranny.

Ash’s office was located between the morgue and the crematorium, his door was open so I entered the office and sat the box on his desk.

The office was empty.

To the right was another door slightly ajar. I opened the door hoping to find Ash and entered a large storage room.

The walls were lined with metal canisters labeled "human remains". 

Hundreds of urns were stored here.

I closed the door and left.

My appetite was gone after the events of the day and I went back to my office to type reports in hope of getting to bed early.

There was something vaguely familiar about those numbers; almost instinctively I glanced at the books sitting on my shelves.

On the spine of each book was a similar code.

The books had been checked out from the medical library.

I scribbled Abby’s code on a small piece of paper and shoved it into my pocket.

I grabbed the books off the shelf and headed back to my quarters for some much anticipated sleep.


Tuesday, January 16th, 1912

Journal of Dr. Arthur Corman. January 16th, 1912

Tuesday, January 16th, 1912

One week ago today I boarded the train that delivered me to this place. 

A lot had happened during the course of a week and my gut told me there was much more to come.

The medical staff works six days a week and gets one day off.  Today was my free day.

I spent a good part of the morning unpacking my things trying to make my quarters feel more like home.

After lunch I decided to visit the medical library.

I grabbed the books that had been left in my office and double checked my pocket to make sure I had the scrap piece of paper containing the code.

The library was empty except for a short woman sitting behind the main desk. She greeted me as I entered and asked if I needed any help.

I explained that these books were left in my office and I wanted to return them.

She took the books then told me how sorry she was to hear about Dr. Kane, how he disappeared last month.

I simply nodded.

Apparently it had been Dr. Kane that had checked the books from the library.

I didn’t know anything about a Dr. Kane or his disappearance, the only thing I could think about was finding the book.

I asked her to explain the cataloging system used in this library and she obliged.

The first number represented the year the book was published, the second number represented the author’s last name, the third the first name, the letter was the first letter of the book title and the final number represented the number of pages.

Odd system.

Books were placed on the shelves in order of the second and third numbers then arranged alphabetically according to the letter.

It may have been an odd system but it worked.

The book was easy to find, I took it from the shelf and sat at a small table furthest away from the librarian.

The book was titled “Phyllophaga” and contained information about a certain species of beetle.

Seemed Dr. Edmund Kane was head of the Entomology Laboratory at Reardon.

The book documented numerous experiments but focused on efforts to get the beetle larva to graft or attach onto living tissue.

As I thumbed through the pages I noticed several pages were stuck together, closer inspection revealed they had actually been glued together.

Making sure the librarian was not looking I peeled the pages apart to discover photographs hidden between the pages.

There were many pages glue together.

Quickly I closed the book and made my way to the front desk. After checking out I thanked the librarian for her help and sped back to my room.

The book contained many hidden photographs, each one more disturbing than the last.

It looked like the poor souls in the pictures found themselves on the wrong side of the fence.


Arsenic Asylum Collection

This story will continue….

Here is a gallery of characters inspired by Arsenic Asylum, each character is made from recycled materials and papier mache. 

The Arsenic Asylum collection is available in my esty store.

Inmate # 015 a.k.a. Blood Cankor

Inmate #015 was confined to Arsenic Asylum in 1908. Surgeons removed his eyes and used an experimental “brain clamp” in an attempt to alter his aggressive tendencies.

Inmate # 026 a.k.a. Venom Twister

Inmate #026 was confined to Arsenic Asylum in 1934. Experimental surgery resulted in a single ocular socket; the surgery also damaged a portion of the frontal lobe giving the Venom Twister extrasensory ability.

Inmate # 038 a.k.a. Skull Monger

Inmate #038 was sentenced to Arsenic Asylum in 1922. The Skull Monger was the focus of cranial experiments causing #38’s intelligence to be increased dramatically.

Inmate #052 a.k.a. Rot Jumper

Inmate #052 was confined to Arsenic Asylum in 1912. The Doctors at Arsenic Asylum believed the Rot Jumper to possess advanced telepathic abilities making #052 a prime candidate for brain research experiment.

Inmate #066 a.k.a. Brain Ripper

Inmate #066 was admitted to Arsenic Asylum in 1901. Arsenic Asylum surgeons had a field day subjecting the Brain Ripper to over one hundred surgeries designed to alter the subject’s homicidal behavior.

Inmate #088 a.k.a. Doom Thrasher

Inmate #088 was sentenced to Arsenic Asylum in 1900. The Doom Thrasher was the first documented case of reanimation as Asylum doctors successfully brought #088 back to life after six months of death.

Inmate #091 a.k.a. Mortar Slayer

Inmate #091 was confined to Arsenic Asylum in 1937. The Mortar Slayer was the result of adventurous genetic recombination resulting in a horned beast exhibiting extreme carnivorous behaviors.

Inmate #103 a.k.a. Tomb Chucker

Inmate #103 was taken to Arsenic Asylum in 1933. The Tomb Chucker was subjected to solitary confinement due to strong telekinetic abilities; Asylum doctors soon learned that close proximity to #103 could be lethal.

Inmate #109 Bone Gutter

Inmate #109 was locked in Arsenic Asylum in 1920. The Bone Gutter exhibited extreme intelligence and keen motor skills causing him to become a candidate for dangerous neurological experiments.

Inmate #119 Dark Stinger

Inmate #119 was confined to Arsenic Asylum in 1938. The Dark Stinger spent most of his time under heavy sedation because no other method of treatment could restrain #119’s aggressive behavior. 

Inmate #135 Tomb Snagger

Inmate #135 was confined to Arsenic Asylum in 1918. The Tomb Snagger was another successful documented case of reanimating the dead. Number 135 was brought back to life eight months after being declared legally dead.

nmate #446 a.k.a. Beetle Snot

Inmate #446 was confined to Arsenic Asylum in 1940. Doctors were perplexed by Beetle Snot’s level of pain tolerance which caused them to push the limits and expose #446 to excruciatingly painful forms of torture.

Inmate # 173 a.k.a. Filth Ripper

Inmate #173 was committed to Arsenic Asylum in 1923. Traditional treatments failed so Asylum doctors resorted to experimental radiation therapy resulting in dramatic physical and psychological mutations. 

Inmate #211 Slab Jouster

Inmate #211 was locked in Arsenic Asylum in 1904. Asylum scientists learned much about telekinetic abilities by studying the Slab Jouster over the course of six years, during which time hundreds of electroshock treatments were administered.

Inmate # 300 a.k.a. Spine Trader

Inmate #300 was confined to Arsenic Asylum in 1926. Violent cannibalistic behavior forced Asylum doctors to perform radical surgery on #300 altering bone structure and increasing psychopathic behaviors.

Inmate #269 Horned Retcher

Inmate #269 was held at Arsenic Asylum in 1903. Arsenic Asylum’s first documented case of radiation induced telepathy was the Horned Retcher who began reading the staffs thoughts with 100% accuracy.

Inmate # 229  a.k.a. Black Slayer

Inmate #229 was sentenced to Arsenic Asylum in 1931. Black Slayer was subjected to numerous toxic injections altering his physical structure.

Inmate # 317 a.k.a. Angst Wailer

Inmate #317 put in Arsenic Asylum in 1913. The Angst Wailer was subject to numerous experimental procedures, most involving digesting altered forms of venom which caused #317 to become immune to most toxins.

Inmate # 371 a.k.a. Butcher Fang

Inmate #371 was confined to Arsenic Asylum in 1899. Exuding evil, the Butcher Fang was a candidate for advanced electro-shock therapy which resulted in an increased level of violent behavior.

Inmate # 412 a.k.a. Stench Vexer

Inmate #412 was incarcerated in Arsenic Asylum in 1940. Surgeons altered the skull structure in an effort to reverse acute hysteria, the result left the Stench Vexer is a single eye and mild telepathic powers. 

Inmate #140 Coffin Grappler

Inmate #140 was committed to Arsenic Asylum in 1933. Arsenic Asylum doctors were astonished to learn that the Coffin Grappler possessed astonishing tissue regeneration capabilities after subjecting him to over 56 lobotomies.