August 31, 2018

Photo Essay: Whispers of Madness at a Hilltop Dungeon for the Sick

Today, most tourists find themselves in the remote, rural town of La Rumorosa—part of the Tecate municipality—to visit the nearby cave paintings.

But in the mid-1920s, Governor Abelardo L. Rodríguez traveled to La Rumorosa to escape the blistering heat of Mexicali...

...and he brought the federal headquarters with him.

With its closer proximity to the Pacific Ocean and its high elevation, La Rumorosa was known to be much more temperate than where the Mexican government had been headquartered farther inland.

In fact, La Rumorosa (a.k.a. "The Whisperer," known for its whistling winds) was downright chilly compared to Mexicali—and so, at the highest point of the village, Campo Alaska was established.

Functioning as both a military base and Mexican government administrative offices, barracks and even a school were built and used by federal workers, military staff, and their families—at least, until the mercury dropped enough for them to return to Mexicali.

As much as the cooler temperatures must've been a relief for those who were forced to relocate twice a year... can imagine what a hassle it was to move staff, paperwork, and supplies across the Sierra de Juárez mountain range...

...even if the Camino Nacional toll road supposedly made travel across the Northern Territory of Baja California easier.

Eventually, it made more sense to use the hilltop facility in the tiny village (with no proper border crossing to the U.S., though it's situated at the border across from Jacumba Hot Springs) to house people who wouldn't be going anywhere else—at least, not anytime soon.

So, in 1931, Governor Carlos Trejo Lerdo de Tejada converted Campo Alaska into a facility for patients without much hope: the insane and those infected with TB and other infectious diseases. 

It's unclear whether the whispering wind would have comforted or further maddened the "idiots" and "imbeciles" of the asylum (a.k.a. manicomioLa Casa de los Locos or "House of the Madmen").

The tuberculosis infirmary (Hospital Antituberculoso del Distrito Norte) ran concurrently with the asylum, as both types of patients had been receiving "treatment" in squalor at the nearby Civic Hospital and were subsequently evicted and rehospitalized at Campo Alaska. Nobody wanted to have much of anything to do with the crazy or contagious, so they got lumped in together.

The Rumorosa Hospital, like many facilities at the time, was fraught with corruption and the perceived unfair treatment of its patients—something that's now obvious, given the nickname it was known by and its use of seclusion as treatment of "madness."

In fact, the operation of the hospital didn't differ too much from a military operation, as it was necessary to keep the manicomial patients under constant surveillance.

A local paper published an editorial criticizing the hospital's "terrible conditions," citing famine and theft of blankets and other supplies that made the sanitarium unlivable—particularly during the unseasonable freeze of the winter of 1935-6.

Doctors and nurses weren't held accountable for their actions, and patients were held in corrals that weren't fit for any human being. But then again, at the time, the mentally ill weren't considered deserving of humane treatment because they weren't human.

Of course, all of that negligence only aggravated the patients' suffering—and eventually (though not soon enough), the abuses were denounced.

But there was such a deluge of complaints that pretty much all of them got lost in the shuffle and didn't survive bureaucracy.

So, instead of improving conditions at La Rumorosa, the patients were simply relocated—again—in 1955.

By 1958, the site was completely abandoned.

In 2004, Campo Alaska was designated an important cultural site. The federal building was restored and converted into a museum of local history (though not of local insanity and infection) and the other structures have been preserved in a state of arrested decay.

And despite all of the travelers who head west to Tecate or east to Mexicali over the National Road, most of them don't know that Campo Alaska ever existed—or that the site is open to visitors now.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Little Valley of Ancient Art and Astronomy
Photo Essay: Lanterman Developmental Center, Pomona, Haunted & Closing
Photo Essay: Rancho Los Amigos, Abandoned County Poor Farm, Downey (Exterior—Updated for 2018)

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