Show notes: Isaac Knight Capture and Escape along with Northville Psychiatric Hospital

This show, “Michigan and other Mayhem”, is a sort of factual, slightly comical, always earnest podcast about interesting stuff in Michigan and around the world. It is done by two sisters-in-law (Ali and Jenn) that like to talk about random interesting stories.  Expect cults, mysteries, murder, fast-talking, and a couple of mental palate cleansers… and cuss words.  Those happen on this show, a lot.

Episode 14: Isaac Knight Capture and Escape along with Northville Psychiatric Hospital

Click Here to Listen to Episode 14


  • Pretend podcast music (because we couldn’t find any we liked enough for a theme song).
  • Ali has a weird laugh. It is often loud.
  • Guest host, cousin J!


We have a guest!  When Ali did the podcast about Eloise Mental Hospital, she mentioned her cousin J, used to go down into the tunnels underneath.  She was wrong.  He used to go to the tunnels underneath Northville Psychiatric Hospital.  Today she’ll go over the Northville hospital and J will talk about the things he found while exploring.

Jenn has a friend whose husband went into the tunnels also but didn’t make it very far before coming back out, due to fear. J also new people who didn’t make it very far in the tunnels before fear had them turning around.  One time he had gone with a friend who peed their pants in fear and refused to actually enter the tunnels.  He said he would guard the entrance, but was really too scared to go in.  Cousin J thought that it would be scarier to stay outside by the entrance, by himself, than to continue with the others going in.

Ali said she would have been too chicken to do anything besides lay on the car floor and wait for the others to come back.

The Capture and Escape of Isaac Knight

Knight is a cool name.  Jenn and Ali both like their last name, King, but Knight is cool too.  Now they just need to find someone with the last names Bishop, Queen, Rook, and Pawn, and they’ll have a full chess set.

In the Summer of 1793, Isaac left home with his four friends, Peter, George, John, and Jacob.  (Ali thinks they sound like a biblical rock band.)  They left to harvest cane for their cattle. (This is when kids worked. This is a time in which everyone worked if they wanted to live.  Ali feels like her kids would have to be vegetarian because she can’t kill another being.  J said he’d learn.)

The five boys ran into some men from the Potawatomi and Kickapoo tribes while they were screwing around.  They were attacked.  Peter, who was 17, was shot and killed.  John, who was 7, was slain with a tomahawk.

Isaac, who was 13, George, and Jacob were taken, hostage. Isaac was taken northwest to Chicago by the Potawatomi tribe. George and Jacob were taken to an unknown place by the Kickapoos. Isaac was sick with what was possibly smallpox. (A doctor in the 1800’s, back noticed that milkmaids who had cowpox did not get the deadlier strain of smallpox.  He purposely gave people cox pox, a milder form of the disease, believing it would save their lives from smallpox.  It worked but you did have the pox either way.)

Isaac survived his illness but other people in the tribe were now ill and dying.  Their numbers dwindled.  One day they take Isaac with them on a trip to the trading post and Isaac escapes. He finds the captain of a barge and convinces the captain to hide him on the ship.  He escapes successfully.  The barge captain drops him off in Detroit.

Isaac met up with a group of soldiers in Detroit and they travel together, south to Isaac’s home in Kentucky. The whole process, from capture to his return to Kentucky, took Isaac about 2-3 years. (Isaac had revenge on his kidnappers by killing them with the pox.) When he got home, Isaac found out that George and Jacob had also escaped and had returned home a year earlier.

Isaac grew up and moved to Indiana where he established a township.  He wrote a book about his experience.  A tribute to him, a stone plaque,  was placed in Evansville, Indiana.

It’s lucky that the three kidnapped kids all made it back home. They must have been crafty.

Jenn was proud that she last had minimal murder, more adventure.  Ali also has more information and a little murder by neglect and malpractice.

Northville Psychiatric Hospital, Michigan

Northville Psychiatric Hospital is located in Northville, MI, on the 7-mile road. It opened on January 1, 1952, as a response to Michigan’s issue with ageing and overcrowded mental hospitals. Remember that Eloise had declined by 1939 and had problems with overcrowding and rumors of abuse.

The hospital was already used to take care of, and I’ll quote “feeble children”, which is a  large umbrella term that covered a lot of what was considered mental deficiencies.  Everything from depression to epilepsy to down syndrome.

Holding with the theme of more is better for mental hospitals, the hospital consisted of 453 acres of land and 20 buildings.  The land includes large swatches of wooded areas. Different wards held patients with similar psychological problems, which is a step up from the Eloise process of putting everyone in one room.

(Ali thinks this was supposed to be a bourgeoisie mental hospital. Eloise was literally called a Poor House and Northville was just stacked with amenities.)

The ward buildings are arranged around a main 8-floor tower. Northville psychiatric hospital had its own steam plant that powered their own laundry, kitchen, gymnasium, movie theatre, swimming pool, bowling alley, barber shop, beauty shop, photography studio, (Jenn is like, wait, a photography studio?  And J mentions that the swimming pool was an indoor Olympic size pool.  He was inside the pool.) exercise room, massage room, steam room, hydrotherapy room, post office, dentist office, and morgue.

Jenn believes if she went to the hospital, she would have felt better watching movies and getting her hair done.  Ali would have been a repeat visitor of the massage therapy rooms. J mentions that the movie theatre had a balcony and it was a huge room.

There is a link that Ali gives later in the article that shows pictures of the grounds, but time and vandals have not been good for its look. Most of the buildings and tunnels have been torn down.  There is a neighborhood where J used to roam. Jenn refuses to live in old psychiatric grounds.  The three decide to do an educational tour.

The power plant supplied the electricity and heat through the underground tunnels that were built to connect the different buildings.  They were for the steam pipes and to move around between buildings during inclement weather. J mentions the pipes wrapped in asbestos he used to walk next to the tunnel, and how he’s lucky to still be alive.

The hospital worked with music therapy, playing instruments and putting on plays. Residents of the hospital could study mechanics or home economics and also worked in hospital facilities and grounds.

In the early days, everything was going well…  but… by the 1970s…

A decrease in funding from the recession of the ’70s and now overcrowding was also happening at this hospital. It was treating about 1,000 patients in buildings designed to hold 650 people. They had patients sleeping in a gymnasium, as a waiting room. In the ’70s and ’80s, patients were no longer given activities to do anymore, besides watching television.  All the amenities are gone.

Further funding decreases by the 1980’s due to federal policies, and the investigative reports started rolling in. Patients were also forced to sleep in hallways, not waiting room style, but this is your room now style. They were often doped up on large doses of psychiatric drugs. Patients were tied to beds and left for days. Nurses and staff stayed at their station unless they had to leave for meals, bedtime, or to break up fights.

There was very little being done for the patients as far as therapeutic treatment goes.  It was described as a human warehouse and not a hospital. Behaviors that were common on the wards were assault, theft, racism, neglect and rape. Patients died after being assaulted by other patients.  Patients died after scuffling with staff.

One report said many doctors were foreign-born and it created some cultural misunderstandings, but with all the assaulting, raping, and dying, is considered common in the hospital, that must have been a grain of sand against a mountain of other problems.

One report said patients were “chain-smoking and watching TV” like that’s a bad thing.  There were times Ali did that voluntarily in the 1990s. Patients were often overmedicated. Probably, because of the pleasant atmosphere the patients were forced to live in (sarcasm), they were known for often escaping the hospital. It wasn’t uncommon in seeing a patient wandering Northville. That’s one way to enrage people with money.

Ali read court documents from 1983 in which a man sued the hospital for the death of his father citing deliberate indifference to medical needs and a violation of patient rights. Ali read the appeal because the original judgment was in the hospital’s favor.

The documents address, person by person, each caretaker’s responsibility and lack of care. At the end of the documents it does find certain members guilty and other staff members innocent. The part that really got to Ali is where the doctors acknowledge the patient is dying but they didn’t have the medicine or equipment that they needed to care for him.

He, the deceased patient, had been overheating due to lack of air conditioning and having his bed situated over the steam pipes.  It was summer, and he was overheating. The patient had known heart issues, aggravated by high doses of psychiatric medicine.

Unsurprisingly, attendance at the hospital began to drop further after the exposes. In 2002 the state announced that they would close the hospital in a year. There were only a couple hundred patients in the buildings. The buildings themselves needed major repairs. The hospital closed May 2003.

Why people are still interested in the abandoned hospital:  They think it is haunted. Since the hospital closed, people who explore the empty buildings,  talk about hearing ethereal voices, footsteps, or the rattling of chains. They’ve also mentioned feelings of being touched.

The buildings look like a scene in a horror movie.

Jenn asks J because he’s been inside if he ever heard of feeling something otherworldly. J said he had heard chains rattling off the steam pipes but he believed it was other people who were farther down the tunnel.  He himself used to rattle the chains to scare people.

The woods around the hospital have been dubbed the “Evil Woods” by locals. They began tearing down the buildings in spring on 2018.

Here is where Ali talks about J being in the tunnels and her being wrong.

Jenn wants to know why the woods are evil.  Ali believes it might be because they think the area is tainted by the abuse.  J thinks that abandoned places are creepy, especially when you know of the abuse there.  He said that just walking up feels creepy.  He first went at night, at age 12, with an older cousin, that’s when a second older cousin peed his pants.  They went back the next day, during the daytime and it seemed less ominous.

Then J didn’t go back again until he was 17.

Once when J and his friends were exploring, they went into a 3 or 4 story building.  In a closet on the top floor, in a corner, there was a ladder leading to the roof.  There were beer bottles everywhere.

Jenn wanted to know if it looked like they just picked up and left.  Where their beds left behind?  J didn’t see any beds, but he saw frames and broken chairs.  Vandals at work.  The pool was filled with broken chairs, bottles, fallen ceiling tiles, and debris.

Graffiti was everywhere. Ali believes scary graffiti writings are small during the day but terrifying at night.

One underground building J went into, he was told it was a water reservoir, you had to climb into.  People had written satanic graffiti and melted candles down there. J said if you waited for someone to climb in and you jumped on the roof, it created a loud noise that scared everyone inside. Some guys tried to scare him and his friends by jumping on the roof, that’s how he learned that trick.  Scaring girls there, was a way to meet them.

Published by Michigan and other mayhem

Random Michigan and mayhem, you know you want it.

2 thoughts on “Show notes: Isaac Knight Capture and Escape along with Northville Psychiatric Hospital

  1. Ask your Mother and Aunt Patty… about Borthville State Hospital… visiting a patient there… AND back in the “old days” Northville was a farming community. Love your podcast.


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