Main Building Amusement Hall, Maryland Hospital for the Insane at Spring Grove, in 1899

Amusement Hall. This photograph of the Main Building's "Amusement Hall" (which was sometimes referred to as "the Chapel") can be specifically dated to 18991.  The hall was used primarily to provide ambulatory patients with regular entertainment -- such as live performances and dances.  The following passage from the 1909 Annual Report of the Board of Managers gives examples of the types of entertainment that were provided in that year:

"The fancy dress balls held several times during the year are always well attended.  In addition, there have been several moving-picture entertainments under the direction of Messrs. Pearce & Scheck, of Baltimore; illustrated songs
2 by Professor Loose; vaudeville performances by Mr. Howard Ramsay; chalk talk3
by Mr. Congdon and Mr. Hamilton; song and dramatic evening by Mr. Edward Brigham, and a graphophone4 entertainment by the courtesy of Mr. Albert H. Hock."  

The Amusement Hall was located on the second floor of the Main Building, in the rear of the center section, above the kitchen.  Initially, the Main Building lacked a large auditorium in which to hold live performances, dances, other forms of entertainment, and religious services. However, this deficiency was corrected a few years after the building opened when, in 1877, the Amusement Hall was created in a large and, evidently, previously unused existing space. As described in the Annual Report of the Board of Managers in 1877, the then new hall was "fitted up as a place of amusement, where the tedium of many idle hours is beguiled in dances, concerts, musicals, &c."  The report also notes that additional forms of entertainment that year included "Negro minstrel shows" and an outdoor band concert.  Later reports reference the use of the room for "cakewalks"5 and annual costume balls. Dr. Charles W. Chancellor, the President of the Board of Managers in the year that the Amusement Hall was added, memorialized his opinion that various forms of entertainment that were offered in the Amusement Hall provided "good service in diverting the mind from its morbid fancies and by directing it into healthier channels."  As noted above, the Amusement Hall was also sometimes referred to as the Chapel. This was because it was used for many years to hold worship services on Sundays. (Note: Protestant and Catholic services were held separately.) It continued to be used as an auditorium until the middle 1930s, when the space was converted into a patient ward and a "congregate dining room." The free-standing Thomas-Rice Auditorium6 was opened across from the Main Building in 1936. 


1. This photograph appeared in the Maryland Hospital's Annual Report of 1899.  The report describes the folding chairs that are seen in the picture, and notes that these chairs were purchased for the Amusement Hall in that year.

2. The "illustrated song" was a popular form of vaudeville entertainment at the turn of the 20th Century -- and might even be considered a forerunner of the MTV video.  An Illustrated Song  involved the projection of  still  pictures that illustrated the theme or story of a song as the performer was actually singing it.  The pictures, which were generally colorized  were projected via a gas or electric  lantern onto a screen that was placed behind or next to a performer.  Perhaps the best-known illustrated song performer of the day was Ada Jones.  "Miss Jones," as she was referred to at the time -- even though she was married and the mother of a daughter --  was widely known for her rendition of the song, "Everyone is in Slumberland But You and Me," and it may be interesting to note that the title of that song appears in the needlework seen on the link to the Main Building's female Industrial Therapy Department. Although it can never be known for certain, it might be reasonable to suppose that perhaps the patient seamstress had  heard a cylinder recording or a live performance of the song in the Main Amusement Hall.   To hear Ada Jones sing "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" and to get a feel for the type of entertainment that would have been offered in the Amusement Hall at around the turn of the 20th Century, visit:

3. A "chalk talk" was a lecture or talk, often informal, illustrated with diagrams or other drawings chalked on a blackboard.

4. The "Graphophone" (an inversion of the word "Phonograph") was an early device for recording and playing sound.  Similar to Edison's phonograph, the graphophone included several technological advances  - such as the cutting of a zigzag spiral groove in the wax surface of a record, a technique that represented a technological advance, in that the use of a soft material, such as wax,  improved the quality of sound reproduction.  Edison's early phonograph recordings were made on foil cylinders or other relatively hard surfaces. 

5. The "Cakewalk" refers to a  form of public entertainment, popular during the 19th and early 20th-century, that involved a strutting dance -- often, but not necessarily, performed in minstrel shows.  In some cases, the walkers performing the most accomplished or amusing steps won cakes as prizes. 

6. Thomas-Rice Auditorium. People familiar with Spring Grove today may not realize that the building now commonly known as the "Rice Auditorium" is officially named the "Thomas-Rice Auditorium" -- or they might mistakenly assume (understandably) that the Thomas-Rice Auditorium was named after a man named "Thomas Rice."  In fact, the building was named for two men: Robert W. Thomas and G. Herbert Rice.  Both men were members of the Spring Grove State Hospital Board of Managers at the time the auditorium was built, and, not unlike Arthur D. Foster, after whom the Foster-Wade Building is named, Mr. Rice served as the Board's Secretary-Treasurer.  The lower floor of the building, the space now occupied by Pastoral Services, was originally used as an occupational therapy department. When the Thomas-Rice Auditorium opened in 1936, the hospital had plans to use as the home of "an orchestra  of the musically inclined patients."  The Rice Auditorium's two original movie projectors are still located in its projection room.

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