Phillips says her uncle was prone to pranks, such as spitting into the milk when it was his turn to set the table and hiding his least-favorite sister Dorothy's best dress when she was about to go to a party.

"I don't think he acted more 'off' than some kids," says Phillips. But young Edward's behavior did not sit well with the head of the household. "His father regularly beat the crap out of him," Phillips says. The boy's siblings nicknamed him "Slick," for his ability to slip away when Ed Deeds was angry.

When the family moved into a larger house up on the hill, Deeds' mother, Clara, let him live by himself in the old house at the edge of the property, and a fragile peace was maintained. But one day in 1933, when Deeds was about 25, his little brother Clay, ten years his junior, came over to the old house and began pestering Deeds. No one knows now what was said, but Deeds was alleged to have chased after his brother with a hatchet.

Harris Diamant purchased the Deeds collection in 2007 and, with his wife, Neville Bean, published a book of the drawings.
Sara Kerens
Harris Diamant purchased the Deeds collection in 2007 and, with his wife, Neville Bean, published a book of the drawings.
The farmhouse in Ozark where the Deeds family lived. In order to maintain a fragile peace with his father, who regularly beat him, Deeds lived alone in an older house on the edge of the property.
Aimee Levitt
The farmhouse in Ozark where the Deeds family lived. In order to maintain a fragile peace with his father, who regularly beat him, Deeds lived alone in an older house on the edge of the property.

"Dad would shake his head and say, 'Boy, he was really mad at me that day,'" recalls Tudie Williams. "My grandmother was afraid Edward would kill Clay. She knew something had to be done. She was afraid enough for my father and the girls."

Williams and Phillips are both quick to note that Deeds had not usually harbored malevolent feelings toward his younger brother; once he'd even saved Clay from drowning in the river.

In November 1933, Ed Deeds committed his son to the Missouri School for the Feeble Minded in Marshall, 90 miles east of Kansas City. The senior Deeds described his son to admission officers as "obstinate" and "destructive," with a poor memory and short attention span. He wandered away from home and laughed and cried at odd times, apparently without provocation. Ed Deeds also appears to have told the school that his son was colorblind.

Distraught over the prospect of being sent away, Deeds attempted suicide by drinking antifreeze from the family's Model A, which probably didn't help his cause. A year and a half later, records indicate, the superintendent at Marshall recommended that Deeds be transferred to State Hospital No. 3 on grounds that he was insane: "psychotic, disturbed, boisterous and delusional."

"On the ward, he is hilarious, sings and runs around on the hall," doctors reported upon his arrival. "Worked for the state of Arkansas for a man he did not know. States he only committed one crime and that was murder, and did not think that amounted to very much. Said they told him at home he was crazy, but he does not think so, but his mind is not quite right since he got hit on the head with a stick. He is in no way depressed, is much pleased at being here, says he is worth twenty or thirty million dollars. He states that he is most popular with the girls, that they are all running after him. When asked how [illegible] he states that he was just born that way."

The official diagnoses were "dementia praecox — paranoid type" (i.e., schizophrenia) and moderate mental retardation. (His nieces disagree: Williams, who has been a registered nurse for 42 years, believes he was autistic. Phillips, whose son has ADHD, thinks he was hyperactive.)

The Nevada hospital was built on a model established in the mid-19th century by Dr. Thomas Kirkbride, who aimed to promote "humane" care for the mentally ill. The main hospital was enormous — at one time it was the largest public building in Missouri — topped by a grand mansard roof and entered through an elegant lobby that sported an eight-foot-tall walnut clock. The grounds, which encompassed more than 500 acres, were a working farm. Instead of spending their days on the ward, restrained by straitjackets, patients were expected to cure themselves through labor: building roads, milking cows, butchering meat, baking bread and tending to the asylum's 4,000 chickens. The eagle sculpture that sat atop the hospital gates was said to have been created by a patient.

"Insanity is dependent upon physical conditions," wrote superintendent Dr. G. Wilse Robinson, who instituted the work program in 1908. By the time Deeds arrived, more than three-quarters of the patients worked on the farm or at housekeeping chores, and the hospital was almost entirely self-sufficient.

At its peak, in 1950, Nevada was home to more than 2,000 patients. But even the largest building in Missouri was not big enough to hold them all. And despite the farm work, the trips to the state fair, the movie nights and the dances (open to the public, with the stipulation that visitors had to dance with any patient who asked them), no one was getting well enough to leave.

In 1941 electroconvulsive therapy, also known as ECT, was introduced at State Hospital No. 1 in Fulton. It's likely the new form of treatment came to Nevada at about the same time; by 1952, according to a report by chief of psychological services Dr. Gerald (Bud) Prideaux, it was "the most widely used form of treatment for mentally ill patients."

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5 comments
albrechtschnabel
albrechtschnabel

Thank you for the wonderful article! To me, it shows how *hard* life was as a very sensitive young man with a brutal, non-understanding father about 80 years ago. Sad life, in some ways, and still, now he has found some very-late recognition, and his soul, likely, will be happy about the late recognition, maybe. - Albrecht Schnabel Munich.

asfleming1
asfleming1

Great article! Sounds like Deeds' work would fit right in at the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.

AliceWonderRed
AliceWonderRed

@aimeelevitt Loved your article #longread @anniezaleski

aimeelevitt
aimeelevitt

@AliceWonderRed @anniezaleski Thank you so much!

 
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