Interview: Getting a ghastly peek at Staunton
A disturbing chapter from Staunton’s past turns a darker shade of grey in a new historical fiction/thriller about the eugenic’s movement.
Fear the Reaper is local author David Simms’ second novel. The protagonist of Simms book works at “Western Valley Hospital” in 1933 under the supervision of Dr. Joseph Dejarnette.
The story of suspense and moral struggle recounts Dejarnette’s “purification” practices — psychiatric malpractice that stained America’s history, as well as influenced heinous acts by the Nazis. The supervisor of Western State Hospital from 1905 to 1943 was an outspoken supporter of the compulsory sterilization of people with mental illnesses.
While conducting research interviews for the book with former patients, medical professionals, and community leaders in Staunton, Simms found that there are two local schools of thought about the past at the shuttered sanatarium off Richmond Road.
“(Most people I spoke with) said that they want the history out there,” Simms notes. “Many said that they would like to see a public memorial to commemorate the victims. “Psychologists and psychiatrists said, ‘We own this. Let me tell you the horror stories (about that place).’”