PAN.THY.MONIUM instantly came to my mind and just played on and on at my recent visit to the Upland Home. A soon as I started down the driveway, “Dawn Of Dreams” was playing in my head – which was so fitting, it was a total ground breaking album, nothing up to that point in 1992 touched the chaos, the heaviness, the originality, and yes, the insanity. Of course, having Dan Swano (yea one of my idols) in it explained a lot later on as he continued to release and produce many masterpieces. At the moment, I will stop the Dan Swano praise, and won’t be speaking of his other projects and bands (oh, but I will later many times in other upcoming pieces).
To understand the surprise I got when I received “Dawn of Dreams” from Osmose Productions then was confusion. For everything I was trading with Osmose from my label, I was getting back Black metal mostly – nothing strange, just pure, high quality evilness. Just to name a few bands: Samael, Immortal, Masters Hammer, Rotting Christ, Blasphemy and Impaled Nazarene. Osmose always had it going on, hands down one of my favorite labels for years, most of the bands went on to much bigger labels and had huge success (many still putting out quality albums today). Anyway, when the package arrived with Pan.Thy.Monium, the cover art wasn’t in tune with what I was getting from Osmose, there were no song titles, the packaging was plain (although perfectly fitting after a listen).
For those of you that missed out and have yet to pick up this album, there’s not a better time than right now! It really describes in sonic terms what the people that lived in the old Almshouse felt as they lived, sometimes locked in rooms for years. The album fittingly starts with the ticking sounds of a stop watch /clock which for some reason plucks my mind into uneasy territory. Then the track quickly goes into a somewhat almost happy settling piece of music before it kicks into one of the best guitar tones I had heard up to that point. Just simply brutal as it works it way onward. Vocally some of the deepest, most emotionally sounding ever – I can hear pain in the growling, and then crossed up with high pitch black metal style vocals, painful emotionally. There wasn’t many bands at all that mixed up the vocals like that then. Actually, no one has even come close to mixing them up this good. Then the extra music sounds, Keyboards, Violin, a Baritone saxophone, a real organ; damn, so far ahead of their time. The song structures were hard to follow at first, because it wasn’t your standard verse, chorus, verse, chorus, repeat, repeat, repeat end. Every song is a journey, a strange journey, a beautiful journey testing your limits of sanity. Throughout the album, you’ll find all kinds of sounds (or samples if you wish). All so fitting of an insane mind. And throughout, the vocals go from the most brutal and all phases on the way to clean chants of absolute creepiness. The bass playing didn’t match the guitar riffs riff for riff like most heavy albums, it is quite clean and really stands out without effecting the brutality at all. Look, I could spend a week describing how this is one of the most diverse and yet one of the heaviest releases of all time, yes all time – but so many will never know, hopefully I am reaching a few of you to discover Pan.Thy.Monium. For the ones that have, cheers! You understand the vibe of insanity and feel maybe a touch of what these poor people at the Almshouse had to live through.
Like I always say, we spend so much time ignoring our history, the ugly truth of our history. You will find mostly positive reasons we had Almshouses (aka Poorhouses) and how good they were for the community if you look around. Fact is, these were basically filled with people from Society that had fallen through the cracks, had mental problems, were physically handicapped, had no family support, couldn’t support themselves, or had various health issues (epilepsy, fistula, deafness, blindness, old age, stomach problems, the list goes on and on). But all of the Inmates (yes they were referred to as inmates) were poor. Yes, what everyone had in common is that they were poor. A large percentage of the population here were mentally ill, severely so. These were the poor and crazy people of society, being housed in not so great conditions and usually in overpopulated facilities generating that buck. Old people would become inmates when they couldn’t work anymore and provide for themselves because they had no family (or were unwanted by family). When the weather got cold the population grew even more for obvious reasons. Even the poor didn’t want to be here. It is said that children were dropped off there by parents who couldn’t afford to care for them.
Maryland had three Almshouses, with the last one being the one I re-visited. It currently houses a few businesses as well as the Historical Society of Baltimore County which I visited with my youngest daughter recently to talk to the people there and get a fresh look around. There are many accounts of hauntings here and when I asked them in the office about that, they quickly said, “We don’t talk about that or promote that to our visitors”. Of course not, hauntings are usually caused by some brutal events that happened in the past to people, horrific events, something we don’t like to acknowledge here in America because our History is held to the utmost high standards where nothing bad really happened. When I was leaving the House, my daughter said, “Dad look up at that window,” and I looked and there was some ghostly figure someone put in the window (see photo I took). Well, it’s interesting to have that when they don’t want to talk about it or acknowledge it. My visit was to try and get some fresh stories of the hauntings from different people that actually have been working in the house for a long time but that was a dead end today. They really want to focus on the positives (false positives).
In reality, the Almshouses were profit centers (similar to the prison industrial complex today). This was part of the uprising of capitalism and the industrialization of America and The Upland Home grew and grew in size (mostly property mass for barns and farming). The inmates were required to work there. Mostly farming both agriculture and livestock. This one in Cockeysville, MD (prior Texas, MD) was very successful and highly profitable. The goods generated were sold outside of the Almshouse for big profit with a small percentage staying here for the inmates.. The people running the place were highly praised for the revenue they generated. They claim only the strong were required to work the farm and the others had duties like cooks, tailors, etc. The superintendent (there were many different ones) lived on site on the bottom floor, as well as some Doctors and other outside employees. The inmates were separated into groups for housing (by gender and then by Race) were on their own floors. There was even housing (pestilence housing ward) to quarantine those with smallpox for an example during outbreaks. When it wasn’t used for that, it housed African American males. “Pauper’s Field” outside the almshouse is where most of the dead was buried, many in unmarked graves because they were poor and no family would claim them for proper burial. There is graves / bodies scattered all over the place on the grounds.
If you visit the grounds when it’s quiet (which is hard to do because of the proximity to York Rd and Interstate 83), you can feel the sorrow in the air from what I believe are the lost souls of the many who were tortured and forced to work until they couldn’t move anymore or died. Truly there were no advocates there for the inmate’s well-being and to make sure they were treated properly once the money started coming in. People claim to hear children playing outside and of seeing children’s faces in the windows to this day. If you make it inside the house and are focused you can hear voices, mostly woman, mostly because they were often inside while the men were out working on the farm. There are facts admitted by Maryland were there was one woman isolated in small room for years and years with just a cot and four walls and was said to be non-violent but was mentally ill. How do you get better locked up like this? If you didn’t have a mental issue you surely would have after this treatment. Life was hopeless for most anyone that would be confined as an inmate here or any almshouses. This was the end of the road and many of the souls never left the premises and died there – they serve as a reminder of the early American dreams that went terribly wrong, and as a reminder of what capitalism has done to the most vulnerable people. These people that had to live here were slaves to the wealthy and powerful. It’s amazing that even in death the children can still be heard playing with joy, yet you can still see their faces of horror in the windows as they watched others being abused, hard at work while they were given breaks from doing work around the house. Many atrocities here are not known and will not be known. Though you can look at the real ledgers of those times, most documentation hid the ugly facts, they were not written. Remember the early American settlers killed and tortured those that got in the way of them getting to the riches of the land. If they weren’t killed they were used as labor.
Eventually, America came up with a Health system for the mentally ill, and the Almshouses were shut down and most of the property sold off. The upland home that opened in the late 1800s was shut down in 1958, as the profits were about gone and activists’ and advocates’ causes became stronger. In my mind, this was a great victory for the poor and mentally ill. Go visit this Almshouse and look around the land knowing what I have told you, and tell me you don’t feel sad and dirty from what was there. Tell me you don’t feel weight of the poor and mentally ill that were trapped here in this system that was set up to make money for others on the way to their deaths. There were many “Accidents” causing deaths of the inmates, and you can find that information readily available on site in the books of the library that is still here. For a fee, you can look at everything and set up a proper tour with a guide, learning what they want you to know. The Baltimore Sun has archives available dating back to those times with some stories and facts about aliments and deaths that are quite intriguing. Some are bizarre – as an example, on April 2, 1891, one bedridden inmate had “The Head of a man, but the body of a boy,” and was probably locked up in a room because he couldn’t work the land.
Listening to Dawn of Dreams, I really do get the feeling of chaos, hopelessness, and the emotional toll of insanity. It’s a masterpiece of work and the perfect backdrop, soundtrack, and vibe to have when thinking about, or visiting any, Almshouse. Specifically, the Upland Home in Baltimore County, MD. I plan on doing more research and learning about the inmates that were housed here and will be forking out the fees to do the research – sadly, if you want to know some of our history (I say some, because not everything is documented) you’ve got to pay. Fortunately, you don’t have to pay to enjoy Pan.Thy.Monium on youtube, but you should seek out an original hard copy. There is nothing like having it in your hand as it plays on your CD player, cassette deck, or on vinyl. All formats are appropriate for the experience.
Comments or experiences directly related to this? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.