Cribs, Cages, and Baskets

Cages are first cousins to cells, but more often used with animals than people. All over the U.S. and Europe in the 19th and earlier centuries, the business of people keeping arose. The people being kept were used to confine people whose behavior offended relatives and neighbors. Cells and cages were required to keep them from running home again. For really difficult cases, special "cribs" were constructed to hold them supine and vulnerable.

Here's the Utica Crib, pioneered in an upstate New York asylum. The image is reprinted from Madness Network News.

abandoned crib

Patricia Deegan, Ph.D., pokes around in old, abandoned asylums. She found this "crib" in the attic of one of them.

coffin like crib

This photograph is from a display at Wisconsin's Winnebago Mental Hospital. We can see that the sides and top are made of metal mesh, but the headboard and footboard are solid wood — and thus more difficult to kick out. The bottom of the coffin-like enclosure is, as always with "cribs," slotted so that wastes can drip through and be cleaned up without removing the occupant.

metal crib with mannequin

This crib, complete with mannequin, is on display at the Glore Psychiatric Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri. Note that it is a security improvement over the wooden cribs — it is metal.

wicker basket casket

This natural wicker basket with leather trim shown here is on display at the Winnebago State Hospital museum. It is not a device to constrain people. It is a basket for carrying dead patients to the morgue, a precursor to the body bag.

These homemade cages are the property of Michael and Sharen Gravelle, an Ohio couple that had adopted eleven children with what they called "special needs." One of those needs, according to the parents, was to be confined in cages for discipline. The couple met at a 1986 child sex abuse support group. They received $4,265 a month in government adoption subsidies and disability checks for the children in 2005.

The children were removed from the Gravelle home that year when a social worker discovered the enclosures. The parents lost custody in 2006 and have pleaded not guilty to charges of child endangerment. "We were keeping them safe," Mrs. Gravelle told the court.