DARK HISTORY: SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - Uncle Harrison's Lobotomy

By Bob Weaver 2007

In early 1950s, great uncle Harrison Riggs (1889-1963) sat across a table in Spencer State Hospital from his daughters, and two nieces, smiling politely when he was asked questions about his earlier life.

Hospital workers escorted the short, stooped, white-haired man into a small room for the visit.

"Do you know me?" they asked, he would say yes, smiling widely.

Seldom initiating a conversation, he was docile, void of emotion, and always speaking in a low voice.

Daughters Norine and Alice Frances, both lovely women from Philadelphia, tried to re-connect with their father, a long time patient in the hospital.

During his youth, he left Calhoun for a time to be a "wood hick" around Richwood, the timbering business.

Family members, speaking under their breath, said Harrison got syphilis after he was removed from the Parkersburg Police Department, causing him to become "deranged."

During Prohibition, where the federal government attempted to rid the country of alcohol between 1920-1933, Harrison and some of his fellow officers went in the bootleg business and got caught.

A Parkersburg News story said they used patrol cars to carry booze from West Virginia to Ohio, sometimes inside the tires of the cruisers.

Uncle Harrison had been given the "ice-pick" brain surgery to help his mental status.

My grandmother (his sister), Virginia Riggs McCoy, following a visit to the hospital, decided to get Harrison out of the hospital and bring him to the farm at Hur. Her husband, John Ira McCoy, had died in 1950, and only she and her son Eddie lived in the big farm house.

It was here that I got acquainted with Harrison, or to be more accurate, did not get acquainted with him.

He sat in one of the several rocking chairs on the enclosed front porch, dressed in a gray work shirt and pants, smoking a rolled cigarette or pipe.

He spoke only when spoken to, and offered no opinions about anything unless the topic was set and discussed.

The term "zombie-like," often used with individuals who received lobotomies, was appropriate.

There was no compelling reason, but his sister returned him to the state hospital, where he died in 1963 at the age of 74.

Daughters Norine and Alice Frances returned to Calhoun, to bury him at the Hur Cemetery. As a funeral director, I returned him to his ancestral land.

Family members, during those long silences after Sunday dinner, would sadly recall Harrison's travails, talking about his bad choices and his missing out on life.

Only in whispered tones, would they recall his lobotomy that professionals had "helped him."