Tag Archives: Charlestown

Asylum for the Insane

Charlestown Asylum, 1800s

Most people are familiar with Belmont’s McLean Hospital. Affiliated with Harvard Medical School, McLean is one of the most revered psychiatric hospitals in the country. Famous patients throughout the years have included James Taylor, Ray Charles, Rick James, Sylvia Plath (author of The Bell Jar), and  Susanna Kaysen, whose memoir was the basis for the 1999 film Girl, Interrupted.

McLean Hospital was founded in 1811 as the Charlestown Asylum for the Insane and its original location was in the present day Cobble Hill section of Somerville, at the time part of Charlestown.  Though not a trace of the hospital remains — it was demolished and relocated to Belmont in 1895 to make way for the railroad — the entrance to the grounds featured a long driveway lined with Elm trees at the approximate intersection of current day Washington and Franklin Streets.

In the 1790s doctors began to explore the idea that beautiful, peaceful surroundings could alleviate the suffering of the mentally ill, and the Charlestown Asylum was founded on these progressive principles of moral treatment. In the past the insane had been chained and beaten in a misguided attempt to scare them out of their madness. The Charlestown Asylum (later referred to as The Somerville Asylum, The McLean Asylum for the Insane, and eventually McLean Hospital) spanned 18 acres on grounds with picturesque terraces, trees, flowers and vegetable gardens designed to inspire tranquility.

A man by the name of George Folsom, an early apothecary at the asylum, remarked in his diary: “Crazy people are much more pleasant than I expected.”


DAILY TRIVIA: The nursery rhyme “Mary Had A Little Lamb” was written about Mary Sawyer, an attendant at the Charlestown Asylum in the 1830s who had adopted a sickly lamb abandoned by its mother and nursed it back to health. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Vinny’s On Broadway: Mangia!

Hidden away in the dark recesses of a seemingly ordinary convenience store-slash- sub shop is one of the true culinary gems of this town: Vinny’s Ristorante, specializing in Sicilian style cuisine.  

Vinny's on Broadway, East Somerville

I walked by this place for years on my way to Sullivan station without realizing what it was, and this was even after hearing that an elusive Italian restaurant with amazing food existed someplace in this neighborhood.  I  could post a pic from the inside, but really… that would ruin all the fun.  Instead, it would behoove you to see it for yourself.

The restaurant itself isn’t large, but the ambiance is comfortable and date-friendly. The prices are very reasonable for the quality of the food you will be enjoying, which could easily rival any of the North End restaurants.  In addition to several homemade pasta varieties, the menu features some interesting and hard-to-find dishes including ostrich, rabbit and tripe…  indeed, there is something to delight (and gross out) just about everyone.

If you’re like me and want nothing to do with unconventional meat dishes, may I recommend the eggplant parmigiana? It is quite possibly the best I’ve ever had. And be sure to order the Arancini  ( Sicilian rice balls) appetizer… it’s by far one of the tastiest things on the menu.

Buon appetito!


DAILY TRIVIA: Somerville was originally part of the old colony of Charlestown, one of the earliest settlements.