High upon a hill off Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast, a museum has opened to show off the history of St. Elizabeths Hospital, first known as the Hospital for the Insane of the Army, Navy, and the District of Columbia. The hospital director's apartment, where the exhibit is housed, is itself full of history.
It is in Center Building, the first of the hospital's red brick structures, built in 1853. The floors are laid from sturdy oak and mahogany trees that grew on the 320-acre hospital grounds. They are covered with intricate Persian carpets and play host to elegant furniture in remarkable condition. Many pieces have been restored by hospital patients and carpenters.
There are expensive sets of china and even a Ming vase -- gifts from important hospital visitors. Display cabinets hold tin buttons from the patients' clothing bearing the hospital's emblem; greeting cards and letters from dignitaries, patients' art work, old and odd medical and dairy tools, and photographs of the hospital a century ago and today. The desk and portraits of the hospital's founder, Dorthea Lynde Dix, are also on display.
The antiques have been collected for years, many by members of the housekeeping department who found treasures in forgotton drawers and dark, dusty corners.
Creating the museum has been a pet project of many hospital employes, especially Wilhelmina C. Carey, head of the service division and former head of housekeeping. Carey came to the hospital as a practical nursing student 22 years ago and cares for the museum pieces as if they were her own.
The St. Elizabeths Hospital museum is open by appointment only. Arrangements can be made by calling 574-7700.