Arsenic & Mercury, Alcohol & Laudanum: Cure or Deadly Curse in the Old West

Ever notice how possible side effect warnings for many prescription or over the counter medications sound worse than the illness? Any number of possible side effects are listed, from mild to more serious side effects, including death. 

Just one possible consequence among a litany of side effects for an insomnia medication advertised on television is the inability to move when sleeping or upon waking. In other words, temporary paralysis. On the up side, the patient gets a good night’s sleep. Egads!

Still, at least we are informed. Even when one picks up a prescription from their local pharmacy, a printout of information about the medication, its use, and possible complications are provided the patient. 

But what about people in the past who knew nothing about possible side effects, placing their trust and their lives in the treatment their physician prescribed. And if they didn’t have a local doctor, they sought traveling medicine shows or believed advertisements from fraudulent companies that mass produced ‘cures’.

As a writer of historical fiction, everything about life in that time period is researched. And that includes medication and/or health treatment used in the past. Consequently, it really is mind-boggling to think about how illnesses were treated, and the often fatal effects that resulted.

In the 19th century, especially in the American West, settlers were isolated. Living far from civilization, they were forced to rely upon themselves in times of injury and illness. Patent medicines (what we consider over-the-counter medicines today) were not readily available. Some people had knowledge about herbs and plants that could be used for medicinal purposes, but not always. 

As more people moved west and towns were established, doctors (as well as traveling medicine shows), arrived and brought with them methods of treatment that were often inaccurate and deadly poisonous. Although most frontier doctors spoke against medicine shows peddling their miracle cures, physicians also prescribed treatments that were both toxic and addictive.

For example, it was not uncommon in the 19th century for lead, mercury, and arsenic – all very poisonous – to be dispensed as medicine. 

This begs the question; did people even know or understand what they were taking?

Did no one question why arsenic, widely known at the time as a poison to kill rats, was also being prescribed to humans? 

Guess not, because doctors prescribed arsenic to their patients to treat rheumatism, syphilis, strengthen one’s lungs, and even told women it would help their complexion.  Laird’s Bloom Of Youth and Dr. MacKenzie’s Arsenic Complexion Wafers were just two brands women consumed as a beauty aid. 

In truth, they seemed to work from an appearance standpoint, which only promoted continued use. Arsenic made the skin pale by destroying red blood cells. Unfortunately, side effects from using these complexion wafers (pills) were blindness and death.

Mercury, also known as calomel (pictured above), was used for any type of inflammatory disease, i.e., cholera and typhoid. At the same time, it was used to treat gastrological problems. Taken too liberally, one experienced mercury poisoning. Side effects for mercury poisoning include neurological problems such as trembling, loss of memory, and the disintegration of one’s bones, teeth, and gums.

The most common remedies used in the American West were Alcohol and Laudanum, both of which were dispensed and consumed in great abundance. They were also highly addictive.

Understandably, it should come as no surprise, given the poor quality (or lack) of drinking water and the abundance of watering holes (aka ‘saloons’), that alcoholism was a big problem in the Old West. Cowboys, miners, gamblers, ranchers, railroad workers, and just about any man that worked hard in those days would visit the local saloon and quench their thirst with whiskey, or some other form of alcohol. 

Ironically, the fact many men drank themselves into a stupor was of little consequence. Whiskey was not only considered the beverage of choice, but also viewed as a cure for just about anything — from heart palpitations, dropsy, epilepsy and kidney disease to chills, stomach ailments, and even rabies

Physicians routinely prescribed whiskey to patients with consumption. Forts dispensed three grains of quinine in an ounce of whiskey on a daily basis to soldiers as a preventative against malaria. The use of whiskey as a painkiller, antiseptic and disinfectant has also been documented, especially on the battlefield. Considering the clearly believed miraculous benefits of whiskey as heralded during the 19th century, it shouldn’t be surprising that whiskey was also mixed with castor oil to make a shampoo. 

Although heavy drinking by men, even to the point of drunkenness, was acceptable at the time, a woman’s reputation would be destroyed if she were to be seen inebriated, let alone drinking in public. This is not to say that women did not drink alcohol. They might take a small shot of whiskey to relieve pain, but more often than not they were prescribed medicines that contained a high content of alcohol. One such drinkable medication was laudanum, basically a mixture of opium and alcohol.


Also called ‘tincture of opium’laudanum was used primarily as a sedative and painkiller, often prescribed for headaches, toothaches, as well as aches and pains. Its extensive use among women can be attributed to the fact it was the medicine of choice for female problems — which also explains why so many women became addicted to it. 

Girls as young as fourteen were prescribed laudanum. Infants were spoon fed laudanum. Physicians cited its benefits as not only helping to calm nerves and quiet the disposition, it was prescribed as an aid for childbirth, menstruation and menopause. If one was not careful, taken in large doses, it caused unconsciousness. Many women, particularly prostitutes, used laudanum to commit suicide. 

Because of its addictive properties, laudanum was extremely dangerous. A person could build up a resistance and, therefore, need a larger dose. The same can be said with regard to alcohol use, particularly in the 19th century. 

Forgetting the medicinal effects that were falsely attributed to alcohol, saloon keepers encouraged their patrons to drink and gamble. The two went hand-in-hand. The more someone drank, the more they gambled. Even if a man drank just a moderate amount, their judgment could be affected and their behavior might become argumentative and excitable. One can well imagine the number of alcohol induced gunfights that occurred. And since alcohol affects the nervous system as a depressant, if one drinks too much they could become incoherent and be rendered unconscious. 

Not surprisingly, because drinking was so prevalent, alcohol-related problems increased, and not just at saloons. Soldiers at forts often developed problems with drinking, particularly on isolated frontier posts. It became so serious an issue, in fact, that an officer found drunk on duty was subject to court-martial or a reduction in rank; enlisted men were fined and/or punished.

It is interesting to note that as much as we might be fascinated about the American West and struggles the pioneers faced to survive, we often overlook the subversive dangers they faced, especially doing something they believed would not harm but help them live longer lives. 

Thank you for stopping by today, and I hope you found this post interesting and informative. Still, the next time you watch a commercial for medication, listen carefully to all those side effect that must be legally disclosed. Although side effects are rare in many cases, many medications once approved by the FDA have been later recalled (often afters years of being prescribed) due to life-threatening and even fatal consequences. Another concern is that many medications (particularly generic) are manufactured in other countries and a patient is unaware of this until there is a serious issue with an ingredient used in their version of medication.

Still, as frightening as medications (and vaccines) can be, at least — for the most part — we are informed ahead of time. We are also better equipped in the 21st century to do our own research as well, which is something I highly recommend. Be safe. Stay well.

~ AKB 


time travel clock

“Time is an illusion.” ~ Albert Einstein

Well, it may or may not be an illusion, but one thing I do know — Time is precious.

Remember when  you were a child, and it seemed as if Time moved so slowly.  You couldn’t wait until you were 10 years old (double digit).  Not to mention, it was impossible to think of yourself ever becoming an adult  Then, almost without warning, you find yourself not only an adult, but with grown children.

Where did the Time go?

You wish you could turn back the clock to when they were little, even if just for a day. You would remind yourself those moments are a gift, perhaps the greatest one in your life. Don’t worry and stress about work, which bill to pay first, the piles of laundry that need to be done, or whether you should pick up action figures, spaceships, and assorted toys strategically placed all over the room. Instead, take a moment to play with the little ones who worked hours to create an imaginary world. Stop focusing on things. Focus on the people you love and the memories you are all making.

Would you go back further to when you were a child. Back when your grandparents were still alive? What about a do-over, to a time when your life clock was beginning, and their clock was winding down?

If you knew now what you didn’t know then, would you not run out to play until called in for supper?  Rather, would you talk with them? Ask about their childhoods? What games did they play? Did they have a favorite color? And what were their parents and grandparents like?

Somehow — and perhaps it is human nature — we do not grasp the finite measure of Time when we are IN the moment. We go to school and play, anxious to grow up. As adults, we know the necessity of working, and worry about things beyond our control.  We forget to embrace the moments that are Golden.  We tell ourselves there will be Time later, but what if there isn’t a later?

Life is full of changes from childhood to adulthood.  The dreams we might have had as children are often lost when we cross the adult threshold to responsibility and survival. We realize how precious some people were to our very existence and wish we’d had more time with them when they are no longer with us.  There is so much we might have learned from them — or done differently — if we had just taken a moment to be still and Embrace the Moment.

As for the reality of Time, it does not escape me that it has been a year since I last posted on this blog.  Let’s just say 2018 has been a challenging year, just as it has been (I am sure) for many of you.  For me, the priority was to put family first. To make each day count, more than ever.

Put simply, everything is changing.  Or, is it?

Why is it when you move forward, you cannot help but look back?

This year, for reasons that will become clear, I walked about my home for the past 25 years and remembered the history we made here as a family.  I felt sadness for times gone by, for people who now live only in my memory.  At the same time and with great purpose, I focused on the present and prepared for changes that come with adult life.

Children are grown, so we don’t need a big house. Too much work to clean. Besides, my legs don’t always work right so stairs have become a problem — especially the three flights up to my writing loft in the attic. We decided to downsize and move to a new house. As exciting as that is — and it is exciting — a bittersweet melancholy accompanies the joy.

Memories rush forward of moments shared and memories made in this house. Time with loved ones, some who live far away and many who are no longer with us.  I remember the happy laughter of our three children at play, the birthdays, holidays, graduations — all the moments that happen in our lives. Not to be excluded are the cherished memories of pet members of the family who also filled this house with happiness and who loved and protected us all.  I find comfort in knowing our now almost 5-year old Loki and Koda will be with us as we transition to a new home.

So, this year, I tried not to cry as I watched our now adult children laughing, hugging, and celebrating Christmas. We are proud of the young men they have become.  Happy they not only love each other as brothers, but are best friends with one another.  The bond is strong. It always will be.  I know that.

I often tell young parents working so hard , trying to do everything they can to survive and provide, to remember to Embrace the Moments with their children and all their loved ones and friends.  Those moments once lost are lost forever.  Some things can fall through the cracks; Love isn’t one of them.

Here is the BIG revelation. Although your children are grown, you do not stop being a parent. Even now, I ask myself did I do enough? Did I feed not just their bodies but also their soul with knowledge and love of God?  Will they hold fast to the teachings of childhood, the values  and steadfast Faith? Did we supply them with enough invisible suits of armor to protect them from the challenges of life? When we are not around to see worry in their eyes or give that reassuring hug, will Faith strengthen them in a world that isn’t always fair? Truth be told, we live in a time where people (and children) are bombarded by negativity, understandably stressed and/or filled with doubt and worry.  We look down, usually at our smart phones instead of up. We have forgotten how to communicate face-to-face; to treat each other with kindness and respect for the qualities that make us all unique individuals.

Life is definitely a journey. We learn day-by-day.  No one is perfect.

Still, did I do enough?

I am comforted by the fact there wasn’t a day when I did not tell my children how much I loved them. When I did not talk with them about their day, their worries, their dreams.  Not one day when they did not know they could come to us with whatever problems they faced. There wasn’t a day when they didn’t know their father and I believed in them, and that we would always be there for them, no matter what. Even now, as they go out into the world, and we just spent our last Christmas in the home they grew up in, I looked at their love for one another — and for us — and the happiness in their eyes. I know that we did enough.  And we are proud of the compassion of their characters, the strength of their values and Faith, and their love and respect for Family.

I tell myself, nothing is changing — only our addresses.  We are opening another chapter in the book of our lives. We may not be living under the same roof anymore, but we will always be there for one another. They know it.  We know it.

Bottom line: There are no guarantees in life.  This past year, my husband lost his only brother, and we have prayed over other dear loved ones courageously fighting illness day-by-day. Then at Thanksgiving, we learned a precious new life will be joining our family, the first grandchild of my deceased brother-in-law.  It is comforting to know that he will live on through that child.

In the midst of this, we have been packing and preparing for the next chapter in all our lives. As someone who has kept every card and letter from family and friends, as well as every finger painting, clay vase, unrecognizable abstract item, and dinosaur with a nest of eggs, not to forget the sneakers painted with lady bugs and flowers gifted to me one Mother’s Day by my children, it has been a slow, SLOW process.

Vintage Letters   So many precious memories. Sweet messages in cards and letters from people now in heaven. These are the treasures I cherish. It isn’t about the material things in life, it is the gifts of the heart that matter most.

So, after celebrating perhaps the most poignant, heartfelt, and blessed Christmas of my life, my New Year’s wish for all of you is to Embrace the Moments. We may not have control over time, but we have control of how we treat each other.

Focus on Kindness. Do not allow the negative thoughts and actions of others (on social media or in person), to bring your spirit down.  Instead, be a Light. Do not give up Hope. Give Hugs.  Smile.  Cheer up those who are sad.  Pray for those who are sick, in need, or lost.

Pray for the President (whether you like him or not) and those elected to serve in Washington, that they set aside animosity and party politics, and truly work together with respect. Show by example the importance of unity, love of Country and concern for its safety and its people. Thank Veterans and those in the Armed Forces for their dedication and service, as well as Firemen, Policemen, and First Responders whenever you see them.

Find strength in Faith.  Be comforted by the knowledge that there is no place where God is not present. Even if at times you feel alone and life has become too much a struggle, hold fast to Hope.  Always look up!

Is Time an illusion?  I don’t have the answer, but what I do know is that Life is comprised of moments — invisible threads which when weaved together form memories that can inspire, challenge, comfort, and heal. There are times when we face heartbreaking loss, and this year many people have had unbelievable devastation they have had to face and endure.  It is hard — perhaps overwhelming — to try and find any silver lining.

Bad things happen. No one is immune. Life is precious. Storms of life can bring us to our knees. How many times can you be knocked down?  Still, lessons are learned by each step forward we take, and every time we fail or fall.  Deep within our hearts and soul, is a steely determination to find the strength to persevere and move on.

One thing is certain. We cannot give up on ourselves, or on each other. Not now. Not ever. May you find Light even when darkness surrounds you, Charity toward others, and Hope even when you stand on the precipice of giving up.  Don’t.

I wish all of you a Happy New Year, and that you will Embrace the Moments.  After all, they are all we really have.

As for my writing, I have several books and projects waiting in the wings for release once we get settled. Please be patient a while longer. As always, I appreciate your friendship and support.

God bless,








A New Year – A New Door


“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” ~ Carl Sagan

You may have guessed from the above quote that I am a great believer in the unlimited power and boundless breadth of imagination. I most assuredly agree with the late Carl Sagan; imagination can take you anywhere.

For many, like myself, we were first introduced to the power of imagination from reading books or perhaps having books read to us as toddlers.

sparkly book    From fairy tales to Nancy Drew mysteries, suspenseful thrillers, romantic fiction, or epic fantasy adventures, books were my escape as a child. They remain so for me as an adult.  Even better, books ignited my imagination at an early age and developed within me a desire to create stories to share with others.

Through writing, I have traveled through time to other places, creating characters and plots that not only engage readers but bring them into the pages of my books, where together we share the struggles and hopes of characters we come to know and love, and to experience their world of mystery, suspense, fantasy, or adventure.

As I begin 2018, I am opening a new door through which I hope to share all the realms of my writer’s imagination, from travels to different time periods of history to travel beyond the stars. Although I will continue to write historical romances that have strong mystery, suspense, paranormal, or fantasy elements,  I have long felt myself drawn to literary fiction, in particular the realm of epic adventure and fantasy.

In addition, my independent production company, Ashkath Productions Ltd., will  develop (for stage and film) some of my already published works — as well as new projects.

Please know how much I appreciate the support and mail I have received from my dear readers all over the world.  Do not think I have forgotten or forsaken you. Let me just say that although I am often lost in the world of imagination, (plotting, writing, and/or researching projects), the reality of life and concerns of health and family do interfere from time to time.


Just know, your patience and loyalty will soon be rewarded.  Like the beautiful blue door above, my world of books will open and (hopefully) beckon you forward. I hope you will accompany me on one (or all) of the adventures within.

Until then, I wish you great health, happiness, and joy in 2018.   ~  AKB




Each year since September 11, 2001, there is an undeniable quiet air of reverence combined with somber loss that prompts the people of the United States to pause and remember the events of that day.


September 11th is a day when the Nation remembers not only the evil that attacked America, but where we were and the realization that life as we once knew it would never be the same.

It is a day to remember the lives stolen from us, as well as the men, women and amazing rescue dogs who searched for victims and survivors. A day when we realized the gut-wrenching bravery of those on a plane who desperately tried to thwart that evil. A day when the last phone calls and messages from those trapped in towers or on doomed planes still haunt us. It is also a day when we remember how ALL of America stood together, supported one another, forgot political parties, political agendas, color, religion, or gender, and vowed to NEVER allow such evil to happen again. Yet as we all realize now, fighting an evil of this magnitude that is spreading its cancer throughout the world, is not easy.

It creeps into our daily lives in ways we may not even realize. And each year on 9-11, we are all pulled back to the day of tragedy. We UNITE to hear the memorial bells toll and the names of the dead, and we tell ourselves to NEVER FORGET.

But why must we wait for the yearly anniversary of 9-11 to UNITE?

Better we remember that working together, being United, being respectful of one another and finding a common ground to protect and preserve our Nation, its Constitution, and its values should NOT touch our hearts just one day each year. Neither should our kindness and compassion for one another only resurface when natural disasters strike.

Being ONE NATION under God should be a constant flame in our hearts. I, therefore, propose the best way to Remember 9-11 and to honor those who died, is to BE the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA EVERYDAY.

To NOT allow anyone to incite hate, violence, or division, whether they be in our Nation’s capital, the workplace, the Entertainment industry, or our Schools. Stop judging. Stop inciting division. Find a way to talk to one another with respect. To listen to one another. To learn from one another. Resolve to work together and remember that no matter our differences as individuals, we are the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. If we don’t, if we disrespect, disconnect, ridicule, and tear apart the inherent fabric of what unites us, what have we learned from 9-11?

Remember who you are. Remember who we are.  Unite.

9-11 night



Happy New Year!  

Whether you were happy or sad to see 2016 end, with the dawning of each New Year there is always the promise of starting fresh, beginning anew.  Of individual growth, learning from past mistakes, making resolutions for a healthier lifestyle,  or persevering toward goals that often make you feel like a never-gonna-make-it long distance runner.

Well, on the theme of persevering toward one’s goals, I am pleased to announce that I will be participating in an Author Event and Book Signing on 14 January 2017 at the North Richland Hills Public Library in North Richland Hills, Texas.  Although I’ve participated in many book signings over the years, having an opportunity to personally speak with readers about writing and my books is (to be honest) somewhat daunting to consider.

What do I talk about? The process of writing a book? How historical research is not only time-consuming but — more often than not — makes this writer feel like she has fallen into a never-ending rabbit hole like Alice in Wonderland?

entering-a-world-of-imagination   Do I confess that many times I considered giving up writing altogether, especially when confronted with the daily realities of  2016?  Frustrated beyond belief, I felt like a helpless witness to a train wreck of violence, division, and political party maneuverings that endorsed contempt for anyone who had an opposing viewpoint, aided and abetted by a ratings motivated, biased media as they juggled with one another to occupy the center ring in what had become the circus of our lives.

Should I say the reason I write historical rather than contemporary fiction is because it’s a means of escape? After all, what better way to forget about the present than to journey into the past? And there is a wonderful sense of control when creating compelling characters and intriguing plots where challenges in life are faced, scars heal, mysteries are solved, light overcomes darkness, and love always wins.

To be honest, there is truth to all of these statements. But the bottom line is I am a storyteller at heart.  And I love history.

Here is another truth.  We all need a means of escape at times. Whether it is in the pages of a book, watching movies about superheroes, going to concerts, or turning off electronic devices to make precious memories with your family, one thing is certain. There is only so much ‘reality’ we can take these days.

And yet, what almost always happens when you think you are escaping, is that you learn more about life, about yourself, and that despite our differences, we are all connected — whether we admit it or not.  Perhaps we think there is little we can do to change the world, but there is much we can do to change how we deal with it.

And so, I write.

So, if you are in the Dallas-Ft. Worth neighborhood, and you love books and libraries, I hope you will stop by the North Richland Hills Library on Saturday, 14 January 2017.  What better way to celebrate a New Year than in a library? Sounds great to me. 🙂




Between the Shadows Title

Dear Readers,

I am delighted to announce BETWEEN THE SHADOWS (THE LEGION OF MITHRAS)  is now available in print and e-book (Kindle) format. Availability in Nook e-book formats is also available.

BETWEEN THE SHADOWS is a stand-alone novel, and the first book in THE LEGION OF MITHRAS series. Readers of my romance novels should be aware this is not a sensuous or formula romance with a final HEA.  This is a continuing series, intended to keep the reader spellbound and engaged as to what happens next and how the characters move forward toward a final resolution.  There is, however, a romance element introduced in BETWEEN THE SHADOWS that will become more prominent as the series progresses. Having said that, this book is not Historical Romance, but Historical Fiction with gothic mystery/suspense/thriller,  paranormal/supernatural, and romance elements.

I am super excited about this book, and cannot wait to hear what you think about it.  A great deal of research went into the book, and I even included a glossary at the back of the book which addresses characters, places, events, and some Scots-Gaelic terms.

But, let’s delve deeper into what BETWEEN THE SHADOWS is about? And what is THE LEGION OF MITHRAS?

secret passageway - The Sense of Honor - AKB  BETWEEN THE SHADOWS is a haunting historical paranormal mystery/suspense/thriller set in 1813 England and Scotland.  What can I say except I love plots that keep you guessing and in suspense.  Original plots that offer both dark and light moments, and an unforgettable journey for the reader.  As a writer, I personally feel that incorporating all these exciting sub-genres into this series will offer something unique, exciting, and unforgettable for readers age 15 to adult.

The Regency period, especially in 1813, was a tumultuous period in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. King George III was mentally ill and unable to fulfill his obligations as monarch. His Royal Highness Prince George Augustus Frederick, was named Prince Regent in 1811. In addition to the ongoing Napoleonic Wars, Britain was also engaged in the War of 1812 with the United States of America. So, what better time to add another threat into the mix? And introduce a remarkable heroine who begins a journey of self-discovery, empowerment, and often terrifying challenges that can change her world.

Thus, when an ancient evil rises to threaten the world of the living and the realm of the dead, 19-year old Patience Sinclair is recruited by a covert group of young, extraordinary English lords, known as The Legion of Mithras, to help save mankind.

Patience Sinclair has lost everything—her family, her freedom, and the young man she loves. Yet three years of exile in the highlands of Scotland has made her more determined than ever to prove she deserves to be free. The time has come to embrace what she is, and the gift she has kept hidden from the world.

Hampton Court at night

However, returning to London is not without danger. Each step Patience takes puts her in the terrifying path of a serial killer, and an evil unlike anything she has ever known.

When fate reunites her with Viscount Leighton, Patience discovers there are others with supernatural abilities they have closely guarded. Can she and the Viscount move beyond the pain of their past, learn to trust love, and work together with the mysterious, secret Legion to conquer evil? Or, will darkness win?

You won’t want to miss learning about PATIENCE SINCLAIR and the powerful members of THE LEGION OF MITHRAS. What is the secret they have also hidden for years?  What is the evil that grows and threatens humanity? This book marks the beginning of an extraordinary journey for Patience Sinclair and the Legion members that will not only redefine their existence, but their importance in the future of their country.

THE LEGION OF MITHRAS members are introduced in BETWEEN THE SHADOWS, yet their unique abilities will see them rise to become a unique, secret organization within the British government as the series progresses. Their supernatural abilities and importance can be compared to fictitious covert groups (i.e. X-Men, X-Files) that are called upon to investigate and deal with extraordinary, paranormal or mysterious situations that cannot be resolved through ordinary channels like the military.  And since BETWEEN THE SHADOWS takes place in 1813, when the British government was involved in two wars, clearly, they were not equipped to handle the life-threatening threat revealed in BETWEEN THE SHADOWS.

Another way to reference the secret existence and importance of THE LEGION OF MITHRAS in this series, would be to think of them as a fictitious ancestor to MI-6 (Military Intelligence, Section 6) of the British Government’s Secret Intelligence Services), but with supernatural abilities.

Just remember, BETWEEN THE SHADOWS and THE LEGION OF MITHRAS are ‘fictional’.

Now, doesn’t that sound exciting?

Between the Shadows #31 Final Front Cover  The Kindle version of this book is $3.99.  However, if you purchase the beautiful Print  version of this title for $12.50 at Amazon, you can buy the Kindle version for just .99 cents.

The EPUB version of BETWEEN THE SHADOWS is also available for $3.99 on Nook.

The print version of BETWEEN THE SHADOWS is available for purchase ($12.50) from Amazon Worldwide, and most online and independent booksellers.  If they do not have it in stock, they can get it for you from the distributor. Or, better yet, ask them to carry your local bookstore to carry the series in-house.

Thanks so much for your continued support.  Enjoy the adventure!  ~ AKB

Between the Shadows - full cover



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All Hallow’s Eve begins each year at midnight on October 31st. According to legend, it is the one day when the spirits of the dead return to walk among the living. So, what better time to address the continuing mystery that has confounded and intrigued people for centuries? Namely…

What happens after we die? Do ghosts exist? Do all souls go to heaven? If not, do restless spirits haunt people and places? No matter where you live on this beautiful blue marble of a planet, the possibility of ghosts (or spirits) continues to haunt us.

Between the Shadows #31 Final Front Cover  Pictured is the cover of my Historical Paranormal Thriller, BETWEEN THE SHADOWS. Set in 1813 England and Scotland, BETWEEN THE SHADOWS is a stand-alone novel, but the first in THE LEGION OF MITHRAS series.  Release date for both E-book and Print is 13 November 2015.

BETWEEN THE SHADOWS introduces Patience Sinclair, a 19-year old Scotswoman who realizes communicating with ghosts is just the beginning of her powers when she is asked to join a secret group of young, powerful English lords to conquer evil in Regency England.

THE LEGION OF MITHRAS series also introduces readers to the other members of the Legion, and the extraordinary powers they possess. Follow the Legion’s remarkable heroine, Patience Sinclair, (the first female member of the group), on a challenging and often terrifying journey to not only embrace that which has set her apart from others, but realize the importance of facing one’s greatest fears to help others. Of course, I hope some (if not all of you) will read it.

For now, however, let’s talk about how ghosts have influenced literature, films, and even history.

You may have visited a Ghost Town in the American West, where dusty streets and a neglected cemetery are all that remains of the people who once lived there? Perhaps you toured a castle in Scotland reputed to be haunted?  I have and, trust me, there are several. You may even have experienced an adrenaline rush hearing ghostly footsteps behind your back. Or, a rush of cold air that came from out of nowhere. Was it just your overactive imagination or did that gathering mist take the shape of a person? Then again, perhaps you just love a good ghost story.

Costume Sketch for Hamlet Act I featuring father of Hamlet and Spirit Warriors  Numerous great works of classic literature feature ghosts or spectral apparitions including:  ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens (1843), ‘The Woman in White’ by Wilkie Collins (1859), ‘The Canterville Ghost’ by Oscar Wilde (1887), ‘The Turn of the Screw’ by Henry James (1898), ‘The Shining’ by Stephen King (1997), as well as ‘Macbeth’ (1606) and ‘Hamlet’ (1602) by William Shakespeare. [Pictured: Costume sketch for Hamlet, Act I, featuring the father of Hamlet and the spirit warriors. Public Domain]

Harry Potter - Seven Original Hardcover Books Popular fiction for children that also featured ghosts and/or addressed spiritualism have become classics which continue to enthrall young audiences, from ‘The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow’ by Washington Irving (1862) to the worldwide phenomenon of the amazing Harry Potter 7-book series (1997-2007) by J.K. Rowling.

Regardless how many centuries have eclipsed into history, fascination about ghosts, haunted locations, misty apparitions, and even psychic communications with the spirit realm remain strong.

Films, stage plays, and television continuously adapt many works of Gothic or paranormal fiction to their medium, and quite profitably.

Let’s face it; death is the final door through which we all must pass. And the number of people in the 21st century who still seek to obtain an answer to this ancient mystery has, if anything, grown stronger.

Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters are two popular television shows that focus on paranormal investigators as they endeavor to understand and investigate reported hauntings or paranormal activity. Armed with equipment and devices such as thermal and night vision cameras, EMF (electromagnetic field) monitors, digital video cameras and audio recording devices, they seek to prove (or disprove) the existence of ghosts or paranormal occurrences.

Kim Russo  Another hit television series with an ever-growing audience is LMN’s The Haunting Of… with psychic medium Kim Russo. Each episode documents Ms. Russo as she accompanies celebrities to places where they experienced traumatic paranormal experiences, seeking answers. Without question there are many cynics about the existence of ghosts, or any individual professing they can communicate with the dead. However, Ms. Russo continuously demonstrates her extraordinary ability and otherworldly clarity, especially when she acknowledges departed loved ones by name and private, personal information she would have no way of knowing without her gift. I have also had the opportunity to meet Kim Russo in person, and even had my skeptical husband with me. He was astonished and now watches her show regularly with me.  [For more information on Kim Russo, visit:  The Haunting Of…with Kim Russo

The concept of spiritualism, aka the ability to communicate with the dead, now brings me to The White House. Picture this. The country is at war. Death seems to surround everyone and, most likely, a sense of hopelessness as well. As America’s then Commander-In-Chief wearily tries to focus his attention on the dire circumstances of his Presidency, he is also cognizant that his fragile wife is overcome with grief–unable to come to terms with the death of two of her young sons. And so it was that on 23 April 1863, President Abraham Lincoln attended a séance.  Was it any wonder that Mary Todd Lincoln, lost in the enveloping waters of her sadness, grasped onto the possibility of communicating with her boys.

Seance - Public Domain Photo   According to ‘Abraham and Mary’ by Kenneth J. Winkle, Mary Todd Lincoln participated in eight séances at The White House, and one at the Soldier’s Home. As a pragmatic man, Lincoln perhaps attended the first séance out of concern for his wife’s welfare and skepticism whether the medium was honest or a charlatan. The fact that he allowed his wife to continue the séances at The White House might be attributed to Lincoln’s belief in whatever happened at that April 1863 séance, or that his wife seemed comforted by the experience…perhaps both.[Pictured: Seance. Public Domain]

I tend to think that since Lincoln sanctioned the séances at The White House, he must have experienced some type of validation. One must also remember that Abraham Lincoln clearly had psychic ability of his own. Ten days before his Assassination, he experienced a prophetic dream that he would be killed. Three days before his death, he told his friend and biographer, Ward Hill Lamon, about the vivid, disturbing, recurring dream. Each night of the three nights leading up to the day of his Assassination, Lincoln had the same dream. Ultimately, on the fateful day, Lincoln told William H. Crook (a bodyguard) about the dreams. Although Crook advised Lincoln to not attend the play that evening, the President replied he’d promised his wife. Then, as he departed The White House, Lincoln said ‘goodbye’ to Crook, the first and only time he’d said that to the man. Before that instance, Lincoln always bid Crook ‘goodnight’.

After the assassination of her husband, Mary Todd Lincoln’s interest in spiritualism increased. She continued to attend and participate in séances. Whether or not the mediums whose services she sought were truly gifted we will never know. One can only hope they did not prey upon such a fragile lady who had lost so much and suffered such heartbreaking losses.

Abraham_Lincoln_2 - public domain  Ironically, it is President Lincoln himself who has been documented by many guests and staff members to haunt The White House. Among those who have professed to see the ghost of Abraham Lincoln are British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands, and even Maureen Reagan (daughter of President Ronald Reagan). [Pictured: Abraham Lincoln. Public Domain]

According to Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of Lincoln’s neighbors in Illinois asked if he believed in a future realm after death. Lincoln allegedly replied, “I’m afraid there isn’t. It isn’t a pleasant thing to think that when we die, that is the last of us.”

Abbie Rowe photo 1950 during President Harry S. Truman reconstruction of the White House, 1949-1952  Pictured left is a very intriguing photo taken in 1950, that appears to show the full body ghostly apparition of a man. Is it Abraham Lincoln? From 1949-1952, President Harry S. Truman authorized necessary structural renovations of The White House.

The photograph was taken by U.S. National Park Service photographer, Abbie Rowe. The intended subject matter is the work being done beneath The White House. In the foreground, we see a man smiling at the camera and seated on the bulldozer. Also visible are three men talking in the background on the left. However, look at the background on the right. There is what appears to be the full body apparition of a man wearing a 3/4-length great coat from the 1860s, with arms folded across his chest. I should also mention this translucent figure happens to be standing beneath the Lincoln Bedroom.

Abbie Rowe photo 1950 during WH reconstruction - closeup of ghost figure believed to be Lincoln  Judging by the stance of this figure, he appears to have been watching the man working the earth-moving machine, (no doubt something that would have fascinated Lincoln). However, despite his forward stance, the figure’s face is turned toward the high windows as if something else caught his attention. His face appears (at least to me) to be in profile. You can see his hair, forehead, and he has a beard like Lincoln. If nothing else, it is fascinating to speculate.

Paranormal Investigator and Author, Joshua P. Warren, discusses his extensive research on the Abbie Rowe photograph in a short video on his website. If you would like to see the video, or learn more about this photograph and the research conducted by Joshua P. Warren, visit: Joshua P. Warren – The White House Ghost Photo .

One can only wonder if Lincoln indeed haunts the White House. If so, why? Does he perhaps feel his job was not quite finished? Does he remain in spirit to guard The White House, or its inhabitants? What wisdom does he wish to impart, if indeed his spirit lingers? Can a physical death destroy an intangible soul? Or, does that soul move on and–on occasion–visit the living? Just like the legend of All Hallows’ Eve.

And so, the mystery continues. We still search for answers. Until then, what do you believe?  ~ AKB

black-cat_01  PS: And if you’re looking for a thrilling ghost story, please check out my new book, BETWEEN THE SHADOWS, scheduled for release on November 13th.

Music to Write By – Dario Marianelli


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Decided to take a break from doing final edits on Between the Shadows (my soon-to-be-released Historical Gothic Thriller), to officially thank someone who helped me during the lonely, often grueling writing (and editing) process.  Not that we’ve ever met, or he’ll read this, but thank you to the brilliant composer Dario Marianelli.  And since tomorrow, June 21st, is his birthday…Happy Birthday, too!


If you take a moment to think about it, how often one life can touch and impact another life without realizing it. A kind word, a smile when you feel as if your life sucks, an outstretched hand when you have fallen…again. But even beyond a physical presence, the work of an artist can touch your heart, or inspire you as well.

Music plays an important part of our lives and our memories. Think about the impact it has on your favorite films. Steven Spielberg is a genius when it comes to directing, producing, editing, and understanding the impact of music on film. There is a reason why he chose the amazing John Williams to score his films. From the stirring march that connected us to Indiana Jones, to the powerful yet emotional theme to Schindler’s List, the music and film became one and helped tell an unforgettable story. And let’s not forget the terror that accompanied the shark in Jaws.

For certain, music has been center stage in my life, largely due to the influence of my mother, a professional musician and singer. And so it is that I can honestly say that music has enhanced every aspect of my life. There is a soundtrack to my life. I am sure there is one to your life as well.  My soundtrack consists of songs my mother sang to me, school concerts, Broadway musicals I attended, movies I watched, rock groups and symphonies that I love. Don’t believe me? There are 3,108 songs on my phone right now.

Music brings comfort, happiness, a connection to your spirituality and faith, and also helped me endure some soul-searching moments of darkness and despair. Music (at least for me), also triggers the imagination and can take you on an adventure just like a book. All you have to do is close your eyes and listen.

As a kid, I would listen to music doing homework. So, not surprisingly, I find that I not only write better listening to music — but it helps the editing process, too. I make a playlist of music for the time period of a particular book, or listen to a motion picture soundtrack (nothing with lyrics) that fit the mood, scene, etc. And that leads me to composer Dario Marianelli.

Jane Eyre Soundtrack

Right now, I am listening to the motion picture soundtrack from Jane Eyre composed by Dario Marianelli. Hauntingly beautiful, this score inspired me whilst writing this particular book. It also helped me to navigate the journey of its heroine, Patience Sinclair, and capture her emotions and essence.

I’m halfway through with line edits. When a writer gets to this final lap in the creation of their book, you scrutinize every word, every line. Does the scene convey what I want the reader to feel and visualize? Does the narrative enrich or weigh down the book? Is it too wordy? Not enough description? Does the dialogue sound natural as well as accurate for the time period? Will the character connect with the reader emotionally? Will her situation resonate with the reader, whether they are female, male, young, old, etc. Or, will they just not care and toss the book aside?

I have even been reading scenes aloud to hear the pacing and flow of narrative and dialogue, with music from this score playing in the background. As I listen to this soundtrack for the umpteeth time, whilst reading my finished book, I am filled with such emotion. It has indeed been a journey, and there were times I found a new direction because of something music inspired.

Image - Bjorn Ewers

A novelist begins their journey of crafting a book with this glimmer of a story inside them. Very much like making a tapestry, each thread is important as one weaves the tale. You must have balance. There must be both light with dark, good and evil. Above all, for me, there must be a plot that keeps the reader emotionally invested and interested. [Image by Bjorn Ewers]

This particular book, the first in a series, has been a struggle. The waters were choppy at times. I’ll be honest, more than once I thought maybe I should just forget it.  As a historical novel set in the Regency period, research is involved that must be accurate yet not distance a reader. The plot of this book is very dark, frightening. The emotional, as well as physical, journey of the heroine is such that nothing can be rushed. Without giving too much away, she is somewhat of a tortured soul who must learn to embrace who she is, what she is, and find strength on her own. She must learn to not care what others think about her, but be true to herself.

Without question, having others to encourage and support you are important, but what if you don’t have someone? What if all you have is yourself?  Do you just run away from life? Give up, give in, and hide? Never prove to yourself (and anyone else who doubts you) that you deserve to live and be happy? 

Much as we all want to be loved and find love, you cannot be happy until you are happy with yourself. Whatever time period you live in, there are challenges that must be faced and conquered if one is to survive. Patience Sinclair in Between the Shadows is a young woman, just 19 years old. Her story evolves as she evolves. Although there is a romantic element, her journey is more a historical thriller than a ‘happily ever after’ formula romance. You don’t know if Patience will find love or even survive.

It is that unpredictable, unexpected suspense that I hope will keep readers involved, and that will also attract young adult and new adult readers as well. Readers who expect sensuous love scenes in this book might be disappointed, but readers who want an exciting plot with a developing love interest will (I hope) embrace the book.  

Ultimately, a writer must listen to the character — very much as  you might listen to your child. You have to stop worrying about whether or not anyone will read the book. Scary thought, but true nonetheless.  Still, I have never been one to write ‘formula’. Even writing romance, I like plots, and sub-plots. For example, I once pitched a book to an editor from a big NY publishing house. She sat there, gripping the sides of her chair and said, “It sounds really scary”. She wanted a typical romance, a formula romance. No twists. No turns. Oh, they might have to face some difficulty, but the reader always knows everything will be okay. Only the setting or names of the characters are changed, etc.

Ironically, other publishers didn’t know how to market the book either. Is it a romance novel, or a mystery-suspense? It had too much plot for them. Another editor asked, “Can you get rid of the smuggling?” Um, no — especially since it played an important part of the plot.

The_Sense_of_Honor_1_copy (1)

One editor said, “I had to think while reading this book.”  I restrained myself from saying, “And that’s a bad thing????”  By the way, that book [pictured] went on to win critical acclaim, numerous awards including the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Romantic Mystery and Suspense, and is an international best-seller, self-published by yours truly.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to read a book where I know what will happen. I don’t want to watch a movie where I know what will happen either.  It’s the twists and turns in life that are exciting. The stumbling blocks we all face, (often by whatever cards fate dealt us as children) that can make us weak or strong. A victim or a survivor. Anything can be a learning experience. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will? But if you can be true to yourself; if you can face those challenges and press on, you invariably will realize there was a reason for those challenges. There IS a reason for you!

You will grow from that setback, that illness, or whatever life tossed at you. You will NOT let others define you. And you will be stronger for having had the journey. This is what Patience Sinclair has to share with those who will read her story.

Now, as I work on final tweaks and edits, and I listen to the score from the Jane Eyre motion picture, composed by Dario Marianelli, I realize how much this music–his music–helped guide me to write Between the Shadows.

Dario Marionelli - Academy Award for 'Best Original Score' - Atonement (2007)

For those not familiar with his work, Dario Marianelli also composed the music for “Pride & Prejudice” (2005) and Anna Karenina (2012) both of which earned him Academy Award nominations. He WON the Oscar for “Best Original Score” for Atonement (2007).

The next time you watch a film, take a moment to truly listen to the score and how it strengthens a scene and enriches the overall experience of the film. If you are a writer, I strongly recommend making a playlist of music to write by, too. If it is a historical work of fiction, find music of the period.  Unless you like to tap your feet and sing along when you write, stick to instrumental music.

Anyway, just wanted to share my experience writing Between the Shadows with you, and my gratitude for the music of Dario Marianelli.  

Have a wonderful day, and stay in touch for the release date of Between the Shadows.

Now, back to edits. :)))  ~ AKB

Westerns on the Air – The Golden Age of Radio Revisited


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As some of you may know, I also write historical fiction set in the American West, and am a contributing author at Sweethearts of the West. On the 30th of each month, you will find my monthly post.

For the month of May, I am addressing the popularity of westerns during the Golden Age of Radio, and some of the wonderful programs from that era that are available today.

From a writing standpoint, it is interesting to see how these fast-paced programs were written, performed, and produced. From an entertainment perspective, the radio dramas are filled with suspense, action, great performances, and sound effects that really engage the imagination and make each episode both visual and powerful. if you like audio books, you will love hearing some of these.

So, if you like westerns, or would like to learn more about the original Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke and other classic radio shows from this era, as well as where you can listen to (or purchase) these programs, please visit:

Thanks! ~ AKB

Bedlam: A Historical Perspective of England’s First Institution for the Mentally Ill.


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Asylum, by Francisco de Goya,

As a historical novelist, a great deal of time is spent on research to ensure accuracy of a time period as well as to enhance or embellish descriptive narrative and even character dialogue for the reader.  One of the things that fans of Jane Austen love so much about her writing (apart from the story and unique, vivid characters) is that, as a reader, you feel transported back to Regency England. Miss Austen provides keen insight into various details of her time period, including the landscape of England, travel, restrictions of society, class, culture, fashion, politics, and even the military. [Pictured: The Madhouse by Francisco de Goya, 1812-1819, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid.]

I am a firm believer in providing as accurate and visual a picture of the time period for my books as possible. And I love doing research. But sometimes a writer playing detective by delving into the past can come upon historical research that proves more upsetting than they’d anticipated. For example, while researching an important backstory element for my upcoming novel, Between the Shadows, I found myself venturing into dark, frightening territory.

plague-hospital-1800 de goya

I soon realized the book I was creating was not a ‘happily ever after’, formula romance but evolving into a Gothic thriller about a courageous young woman who must not only embrace who she is, but realize her destiny. For faithful readers of my work, there is a romantic element that develops over the course of the series, but it is not the focal point of the book. [Pictured: Plague Hospital by Francisco de Goya, 1800, Private Collection]

Enduring love, although something humans all desire, cannot be forced or contrived. Emotion and trust must develop as an individual develops and comes to accept themselves. Truth is, no matter the time period, life can be difficult. For someone impoverished or without protection, especially a woman in the early 19th century, it could be bleak and brutal. Someone once told me that the key to writing a book that kept the reader enthralled was to put your character up in a tree (so to speak) then throw rocks at it. Obstacles. Challenges. Danger. Whether real or imagined, what happens to the character should be compelling, riveting.

Just like life in the 21st century, how we deal with illness, struggle, dangers, the oppressive challenges and risks, or seemingly hopeless heartache, can either conquer our spirit or make us stronger. I must admit, I relate more to characters that are not only searching to find themselves but challenged on their journey. As a reader, you want them to succeed, to have hope, and find love, acceptance, and happiness. The harder you must fight for something, physically and/or psychologically, the greater the victory.

More than anything the protagonist in Between the Shadows wants to find acceptance, love, and be free of her personal demons. But in order to achieve that she must face one life-threatening challenge after another, not knowing who to trust, and all the while haunted by her greatest fear–the ticking clock of Bedlam.

So, today I would like to share with you some of the research I have learned about this facility and its tragic history.

Since its beginning in 13th century London, Bethlem Royal Hospital has been known by many names.  In 1247, it was used as a priory for the sisters and brethren of the Order of the Star of Bethlehem. Located in Bishopsgate, it was called Bethlem.  In 1330, Bethlem changed from a priory to a Royal hospital controlled by the City of London. It should be noted that mentally ill patients were not allowed at this time.


In 1337, Bethlem first admitted mentally ill patients. In time, the only patients admitted to Bethlem were mentally ill. Nicknamed Bedlam, a word which means disorder, mayhem and chaos, the facility soon became synonymous with cruel and barbaric treatment of the poor souls confined within its walls. [Pictured: 19th century restraining device.]

In the early 1500s, there were 31 residents called inmates housed at Bethlem. It wasn’t until 1700 when these mentally ill individuals were finally referred to as “patients”. Let’s just pause a moments to think about this absurd milestone. It took the administration of this so-called hospital exactly 363 years to reconsider and change what they called the people under their care. In fact, it can readily be said that the progression of proper psychiatric care for the mentally ill at the hospital moved at a snail’s pace.

Plan of the first Bethlem - Public Domain

Pictured is a map from the 16th century showing the layout of Bethlem Royal Hospital in Bishopsgate. The facility had a church, courtyard, some stone buildings, and even a garden. However, the 31 inmates at Bethlem at that time saw little (if anything) of its courtyard or garden. Most spent their days and nights in some form of restraint, imprisoned in a dank, bitter cold environment that offered little hope for compassion or any type of comfort.

A few non-violent patients were allowed to leave the premises and even given a license to beg. However, patients considered dangerous or violent were left manacled, often unclothed, and chained to the stone floor or wall…day and night. The so-called logic for why they were left unclothed was that it “made no sense to clothe them because they would often tear their clothing in fits of temper”. (I daresay anyone manacled and chained to a wall 24-hours a day would likely tear at their clothing for no other reason than desperate frustration.)  

Restraining Bed - Crib - Bedlam

As to the requirements for a person being admitted to Bedlam, all it took was someone’s word against you. It didn’t matter whether you were being labeled by a physician, family member, acquaintance, or stranger. There was no innocence until proven guilty, no examination or medical diagnosis. And this criteria for admission to the hospital was something that continued  Imagine the corruption of someone wanting you out of the way, and committing you to this asylum. In fact, when commenting about the five years he spent committed to Bedlam, playwright Nathaniel Lee said, “They called me mad, and I called them mad, and damn them, they outvoted me.” [Pictured: Restraining Bed or Crib preventing patient from any movement.]

After 1557, the management of Bethem Royal Hospital was transferred to the Governors of Bridewell. A Keeper was given the sole responsibility of managing the facility on a day-to-day basis. This Keeper received payment from parishes or the relatives of inmates. Consequently, the extent of care, comfort, or consideration that might be given to an individual was dispensed based on how much payment, if any, the Keeper had been given. For those poor souls without friend or family, one can only imagine the cruelty imposed.

To get a better perspective on how foul the facility was at this time, apart from the horrific treatment given to its patients, an inspection in 1598 revealed terrible neglect of the hospital’s cesspit, known as the “Great Vault”.  Mind you, this was just one of the areas cited as being in deplorable condition at that time. In the midst of this rotting, stinking facility, there were 20 patients housed there. One poor soul had been there for over 25 years.

Microcosmographia,_Crooke,_1615_-_0003_Cropped Public Domain

In 1619, the Governors’ appointed Keeper, Thomas Jenner, was replaced by Helkiah Crooke, who not only had the ‘favor’ of King James I, but was the author of a book on anatomy entitled, “Microcosmographia: a Description of the Body of Man [pictured]. Yet despite Crooke’s monarchy approved title as Keeper-Physician, he did not provide medical care. Rather, he continued the hospital’s mismanagement and was rarely present at the facility. In addition, he embezzled funds whilst the inmates were starving.

Despite all the allegations against Crooke, it wasn’t until King James I had died and Charles I became king that an official investigation into the Keeper-Physician was made. Ordered by King Charles I, the investigation exposed the outrageous behavior of Crooke, and also revealed that the hospital steward had been stealing goods (such as clothing) donated to the hospital and food intended for the inmates. What the steward didn’t keep for himself, he had the audacity to sell to the inmates. Once again, those who didn’t have money or anything to ‘trade’, went hungry. Needless to say, Crooke and the steward were dismissed.

In 1634, the day-to-day management of the hospital changed. Instead of the Keeper-Physician, the facility had three highly educated, medically trained individuals to oversee daily operations. An apothecary, non-resident physician, and a visiting surgeon were hired by the Governors. Although it seemed the Governors were concerned about the operation of the hospital, the physical neglect, abuse, and often bizarre treatment within its walls continued.

Outside its walls, the hospital became the object of public scrutiny, too. Among the constant complaints from citizens living nearby was noise “hideous and great” echoing from gaping windows that held no glass, the foul stench of human excrement that permeated the air from the ‘Great Vault’, and the unsightliness of decaying buildings. Yet despite the ongoing neighborhood protests, it took almost 100 years for something to be done.

Bethlem Hospital designed by Robert Hooke

In 1675, the inmates of Bedlam were relocated to Moorfields, situated outside the city proper. Robert Hooke (a noted scholar, inventor, polymath, and architect befriended and influenced by none other than the great Christopher Wren) designed the hospital’s impressive new buildings.

The Court of Governors continued to elect the trained medical staff, but appointments were based less on qualifications and more on social connections. Nepotism would also play a major factor. In 1728, James Monro was given the salaried appointment as Bethlem’s physician, and had total control of the facility and its daily treatment of patients. His appointment began a 125-year dynasty of his family holding this position.

Patients were divided into two groups, the curables and incurables. However, wards to separate these two groups of patients from one another was not implemented until 1725-34. And since the incurables were often dangerous, consider the poor, frail, and frightened individual being placed alongside them without any intervention or protection.

Inmate at Bedlam

One might think that by the 18th century, compassion and genuine concern for the ill-treatment of these patients at Bedlam might have become more prevalent. After all, some of these people must have had families. For those that did not, surely the church felt it their Christian duty to see to the poor and ill. However, such compassion was not the case.  Instead people found a twisted form of entertainment by going to see the “Show of Bethlehem”.  For a penny, they gained admittance into Bedlam so they could stare and laugh at the poor souls held captive there. For the more cost-conscious citizen, entry was free on the first Tuesday of each month. 

Because madness was often considered a sign of ‘moral weakness’, there were other citizens who visited the hospital to impress upon reckless family members what terrible fate awaited them if they continued their immoral living. 

People came to stare at the ‘curables’ and ‘incurables’ of Bedlam by the thousands.  In 1814 alone, 96,000 people came to “visit” Bedlam. Ironically, at this time, King George III was also being treated, albeit privately, for madness. Still, the depraved conditions and horrendous treatment of the mentally ill continued. Not only did they suffer frightening treatment for their illness, they were subjected to mocking and cruelty by the public. 

Bethlem Hospital - St. George's Fields

In 1815, after 140 years in Moorfields, Bedlam was relocated to St. George’s Field in Southwark. The architecture designed by James Lewis included an annexed library and a ballroom. In addition, steps had been taken to address how patients should be treated. They were now called “unfortunates”; one must assume it seemed a more compassionate term of the time. Men and women were housed in separate wings, but they could gather together in the evenings to listen to music and even dance in the ballroom. One must assume that those patients allowed to do this were more controlled in their behavior. At chapel, however, patients were separated again.

Unfortunately, contrary to the ballroom dancing privilege (which might have been done more for public relations purposes than the welfare of the individual), neglect and inhumane treatment of the “unfortunates” continued. The same year the hospital moved into its grand new building in Southwark, a report of Bethlem Royal Hospital proved it was still Bedlam inside.  According to one Dr. Connoly (in his report to the House of Commons), he saw:  “patients each chained by one arm or leg to the wall, each wearing a sort of dressing gown with nothing to fasten it. Many women were locked up naked with only one blanket”.  “Sleeping cells were either exposed to the full blast of cold air or were completely darkened”. Patients diagnosed as incontinent were kept in the damp, dark basement with nothing but straw on the floor.  A year later, in 1816, glass was installed in the window, although not glazed. A new wing for the criminally insane was also built in 1816, where 45 men and 15 women were secured.


At the Parliamentary Committee on Madhouses, a proponent for “lunacy reform” named Edward Wakefield provided crucial testimony. Having toured Bethlem several times to review how patients were being treated, he cited the “thuggish nature of asylum keepers”. Methods of threatening, intimidating, and punishing patients was considered viable treatment for their illness. Shock treatments such as ‘cold bathing’ were also implemented whereby the patient would suddenly drop (without warning) through a trap door into ice cold water. The practice of confinement to various degrees also continued. Devices for confinement included feet and wrist manacles, an early form of a strait jacket, and a restraining bed (or crib) that more resembled a casket with bars where the patient could not move or even sit up.

A primary focus of Wakefield’s testimony was the care of a 55-year old American marine named James Norris. In 1800, the American had been detained at Bethlem on allegations of ‘lunacy’. Yet it wasn’t until 1814, when Norris was discovered in isolation as an ‘incurable’ in Bethlem Royal Hospital. Restrained to a wall by a mechanical device that made movement impossible, he was in frail health. Even worse, he’d been kept manacled on this iron device, alone, for ten years. The reason given for him being so severely restrained was that he’d been violent in the past. (Personally, being an American, far from home, and imprisoned in an asylum against your will might make anyone violent. Perhaps he wanted someone to listen to him, to believe him.) Ironically, when awareness of this patient was made known, six members of Parliament visited Norris. Each man stated Norris was rational, quiet, and capable of coherent and topical conversation. Based on Wakefield’s testimony and the illustration of Norris made public, he was finally released from his manacled restraint and isolation. However, the damage to his body and spirit had been done. He died, still a patient of Bedlam, a few weeks later.

As more and more evidence was given in 1816, and the severe degree of continued inhumane treatment of patients was brought to the forefront of public awareness, as well as Parliament, Thomas Munro, principal physician (and grandson of James Munro), resigned in June of that year.

Bethlem Royal Hospital continued onward, and still exists today. Situated on 270 acres in the London borough of Bromley, it strives to provide the most advanced and comprehensive level of quality care to patients.  Needless to say, with the passing of 768 years since it first opened as Bethlem Royal Hospital, education, technology, medicine, and measures to diagnose and understand mental illness has grown to great heights. And the compassionate, humane treatment for those suffering from this condition have also improved tremendously. Still, when one hears the word Bedlam, an undeniable turbulent undercurrent of its scarred and haunting history remains.

Thank you for stopping by. I appreciate the opportunity to share with you some of the information I have learned through research on this subject.  ~ AKB

For more information about the History of Bedlam, here is an informative and chilling video that addresses the men placed in charge of the hospital, and some of the patients held at Bedlam.