Eight Corpse Identification Tags from Harlem Valley State Hospital, USA c.1920-30


Origin: American
Period: Early Victorian
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1920-30
Diameter: 1.5” each

The batch of circular steel morgue tags once attached to the toes of deceased patients within the correctional facility turned mental asylum of Harlem Valley State Hospital and surviving from the early twentieth century and being sold individually.

Each tag is complete and unique.

The inventory numbers are as follows;









Operational from 1924 to 1994, the asylum once housed 5,000 people. The most fascinating and also perhaps most disturbing part of the history of Harlem Valley is that it was essentially the birthplace of the transorbital lobotomy.  This is the location where neuropsychiatrist Walter Freeman began practicing what was sadly seen as a revolutionary procedure at the time, first invented by Portuguese neurologist António Egas Moniz who (under much controversy) won the Nobel Prize in 1949.

The hospital was chartered “for the care and treatment of the insane” and included buildings and infrastructure that were previously used as the Wingdale Prison. The hospital gained fame in the 1930s as a pioneer in implementing the new treatment of electroshock therapy, and in the 1940s Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center became the preeminent institution for frontal lobotomy in the state of New York. 

Over the course of 70 years of operation, the facility treated thousands of patients who had been deemed mentally ill. Sprawling across almost 900 acres and encompassing more than 80 buildings, the hospital had its own golf course, bowling alley, baseball field, bakery, and a massive dairy farm that supported an in-house ice cream parlour. At its peak, the facility housed 5,000 patients and 5,000 employees.

Over the years, the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center adopted numerous experimental methods of treatment of the mentally ill. In the 1930s, the facility joined several other institutions on the vanguard of a new insulin shock therapy for the treatment of patients with schizophrenia and other compulsive disorders. Later, when the method of electro-shock therapy was created, the hospital was again a pioneer in implementing the method as a treatment for its patients in 1941. When neuropsychiatrist Walter Freeman developed a new method for treating a wide range of psychological conditions that became known as a lobotomy, the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center was the preeminent institution for frontal lobotomy in the state of New York. 

As with most mental health institutions in New York and across the country, the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center saw a gradual decline in enrollment upon the introduction of psychotropic drugs such as thorazine. When the hospital closed its doors in 1994, it had been on a trajectory of decline for a number of years. For the better part of 20 years, the once-busy campus slowly deteriorated. Visited only by night-watchmen and would-be vandals, the buildings sat unused and the grounds slowly grew unkempt. Ghost stories and whispers grew alongside the weeds of the property.

A wonderful gift for the like-minded morose.