Dunning — the name scared Chicagoans for many decades. It was the common name for the Cook County Hospital for the Insane, which served as both an asylum and a poorhouse. Dunning hovers in the background of Alchemy of Bones … playing a prominent role later in the book when newspapers report on a possible connection between Dunning and the Luetgert murder case.

In his book Challenging Chicago. Coping with Everyday Life, 1837-1920 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1998), Perry R. Duis writes: “For many generations of Chicago children, bad behavior came to a halt with a stern warning: ‘Be careful, or you’re going to Dunning.’ The prospect sent shivers down the spines of youngsters, who regarded it as the most dread place imaginable… Dunning … evoked images of gloomy institution walls, the cries of the insane, and the hopeless poor peering from its window.”

At least one of the women mistaken for Mrs. Luetgert ended up at Dunning. Caroline Johnson, the woman obsessed with digging into the ground in Melrose Park, was sent there after an appearance in the insanity court. The other cases up on the same day included a man who thought he was a talking machine and a woman who had kept her husband awake nights by telling him about a magpie who wore a silk hat and ate nothing but sawdust.

Other patients taken to Dunning that year included a man who imagined himself to be a first-rate pugilist, a woman who constantly feared being poisoned, a man who thought he was Christ, a woman found in park looking for a “prince” who had promised her marriage, a man who wandered about the boulevards ogling women and girls, several people who were hearing voices, and a man who had cut off one of his hands, explaining, “I have read in the Bible if they right hand offend the cut him off, and I cut him off. I think he will grow again.” [Read the rest here]