Dunning Memorial (Poor Farm Experiment)

In 1976, I was in the process of completing my Eagle Scout project before August 16, when I would turn 18 years of age and become ineligible to complete the requirements for Boy Scouts’ highest rank. My culminating project for Eagle Scout was in organizing a group of pre-adolescent boys who were committed to the local insane asylum on Chicago’s North side. The facility was referred to us kids as Dunning. A place that was synonymous with terror, seeded in the chilling stories we spread of confinement, torture, and human experimentation. The local fortress had a moat and I imagined it operated mostly in the dark of night, lurking shadowy caretakers seen silhouetted in windows and the winds whispering warning sounds abounded. I was drawn to the site. I broke in, always slipping through the same opening, and continued wandering around at night years after my good scouting deeds. The facility was haunted by the sounds of screams in the weak, mint-scented breeze slightly covering the thousands and thousands of corpses of the sick, poor and needy buried on the former Cook County Poor Farm.

I included a dispenser of 5×7 postcards with the above text and on the other side, a reproduction of President Ford’s letter to me. There are five framed letters from politicians I invited who all responded. The flowerbox memorial has a stencil of BSA (Boy Scouts of America) we stenciled on everything and its planted with wild mint.



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