It was a packed house at Monday's sneak preview of Kings Park: Stories From An American Mental Institution. A record breaking 1550 people showed up to watch, causing the festival's organizers to open a second theater.
Kathy McDonald was first in line and spent her entire life in Kings Park until a recent move to St. James. Like so many Kings Park residents, Kings Park State Hospital provided steady employment. As a food server during college, she worked with group four which was comprised of elderly women.
“The first floor was condemned because of bug infestation, on the second floor the ladies were perfectly sane but some just had nowhere else to go and the third floor was a locked ward and it was filled with people who were confused – looking back they probably had Alzheimer’s or dementia,” said McDonald.
Jean Paladino, a former Kings Park resident for thirty years, waited in line with several hundred optimistic film goers last night in hopes of getting in to see the sold-out show.
“Almost everyone on my block, worked there,” she said. “It was part of the fabric of our lives."
McDonald and Paldino spoke of young women who had babies while being institutionalized in Kings Park and their children ended up growing up in the hospital. An elderly woman who was on line spent time there as a patient in the early sixties after a bout with post-partum depression.
Also curious to see the film were Kings Park residents Alyssa and Rich who recently purchased a home near to the hopstial.
“We live around the corner and we’re into Long Island folklore, so we had to see the film,” said Alyssa.
“We go for a walk in the middle of day, on a sunny day and it’s so quiet, if there is a breeze you can hear things flapping on the buildings - the property has an eerie quality,” said Rich.
Smithtown historian and author Brad Harris was also waiting in line.
“I just wanted to see this documentary on the hospital because I have written a lot of articles on the hospital and wanted to see it from the patient’s perspective,” said Harris who is also a trustee of the Kings Park Heritage Museum.
“I was always fascinated with the fact that it (the hospital) was self sufficient, it had livestock, the piggery, the power plant,” he said. “I think KP was really unique in leading the way as far as self-sufficiency and they were cutting edge in the treatment of patients,” said Harris.