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Notes in a Mirror

Notes in a Mirror coverThe year is 1950. The place is Hillside State Mental Hospital located outside of Chicago. At the time, the treatment of the mentally ill was archaic, consisting of hydrotherapy, electroshock therapy, Insulin coma therapy, and, in the extreme, pre-frontal lobotomy. Tranquilizers were not yet available.

Mary Lou Hammond and Kate Stephens were among the student nurses taking their three month psychiatric rotation at Hillside.

Mary Lou is an extremely sensitive young lady. She begins dreaming about a woman in the early part of the century. The dreams tell a continuing story. Soon Mary Lou finds messages in mirror image writing from the woman in her dreams, Margaret Montague. She claims to have died in 1911. If this entity does exist, what does she want from Mary Lou?
As the students go from one terrifying experience to another in the institution, Mary Lou’s dreams intensify, and so do the messages. She becomes obsessed with finding proof that the woman did exist as the story escalates to its life-threatening climax.

ISBN: 978-0-9824876-1-7
Weaving Dreams Publishing

Notes in a Mirror is now available for Kindle and Nook Books. And is now available as an audiobook through Amazon.com


Before tranquilizers became available, the mentally ill were committed to large institutions where they were supervised and protected from harming themselves and others. One of these institutions was Chicago State Mental Hospital, also known as Dunning; after the name of the man who originally owned part of the land. It was located on Chicago’s northwest side.

The hospital opened in the early part of the twentieth century and officially closed in the nineteen seventies. During those years the poor, the indigent, and the insane, as the mentally ill were called, occupied the cottage wards on over one hundred and fifty acres of land. A tall wrought iron fence surrounded the entire complex. It was a self-contained world with its own treatment buildings, infirmary, power plant and bakery.
The treatments provided were primitive and sometimes dangerous, but at that time, considered ‘state of the art.’

Student nurses from many of the Chicago and suburban nursing schools spent three months at Dunning for their psychiatric training. That was a time most of them never forgot. The author was one of those students.

Today the mentally ill are no longer committed to large institutions. New buildings dot the original grounds of the state hospital. The Chicago-Read Mental Health Center is one of a number of State Community Centers utilizing today’s accepted concepts. The aim is to return patients to the community as soon as possible using medications, psychotherapy, and rehabilitation techniques.
The corner formerly occupied by Chicago State Mental Hospital now holds a shopping center erected where the entrance was located. It is called Dunning Square and is designed like every other strip mall featuring a Jewel, Osco, TJ Max, Burger King and Dunkin Donuts.

This story is fiction. Hillside Mental Hospital is based on the original Chicago State Hospital and the treatments described were those accepted at the time.

Helen appeared on the "Sunday Papers with Rick Kogen" show on radio WGN to discuss Notes in a Mirror. Click the player below to listen to the full interview:

Praise for Notes in a Mirror:

Settling into bed with a new book, and looking forward to reading myself to sleep, I was in for a big surprise. Helen Osterman's Notes in a Mirror is a riveting story that takes you into the past with ease. Her descriptive style (from first page to last) has you eagerly anticipating the outcome. This story of a student nurse on rotation at a home for the mentally ill is captivating. Set in the 1950s, long before medications and counseling came into play, the mentally ill were treated a in less-than-human manner which Osterman describes in chilling detail. A bonus is that the story within the story is equally spellbinding. I did not get much sleep that night, turning each page with eager anticipation until I could no longer see the words on the page. This is definitely a book you won't want to miss.      Linda Thompson, host of www.AuthorsWebTV.com




Please note: All images of flowers and plants shown on this website were grown by the author who, like her character, is an avid gardener.

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