The Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane, is an infamous psychiatric hospital/prison located on the northern outskirts of Gotham City. It’s notorious for housing Gotham’s most dangerous criminals (most of which belonging to Batman’s vast rogues gallery).
Depicted as a stone hellhole labyrinth of insanity, Arkham Asylum is a mind warping, soul snatching place that could turn even the sanest of people into a disturbed, violent psychopath. As a result, most of those associated with Arkham Asylum have eventually ended up as patients.
Despite being a “maximum security” prison, tasked with keeping some of the most viscous and evil criminals in the DC universe off the streets, Arkham Asylum doesn’t boast much of a track record to match its description. Corruption is rife within the institution, and as a result, escapes are frequent.
Although it would seem that escaping isn’t even necessary as some if its most disturbed patients are often deemed “cured” and released back on the streets to reoffend. There was even one instance when an extremely dangerous serial killer was signed out into the care of a homeless alcoholic.
History of Arkham Asylum
Arkham Asylum made its first appearance in Batman #258 (1974). Its real world imagining was largely inspired by the Arkham Sanatarium in the fictional city of Arkham that can be found in many of the novels written by H.P. Lovecraft.
Its origin in the comics is that it was built around the family home of its founder Amadeus Arkham. The house itself is a decaying Victorian mansion, that also has a haunting past of its own that dates well before Arkham Asylum was built.
The House of Madness and Ill Humours
Before the Arkham family, it belonged to an expert in the occult named Jason Blood. It was here Blood used to carry out exorcisms on suspected victims of demonic possession. At the time mental illnesses were less recognised and often mistaken as behaviour caused by a demonic presence.
He kept these “patients” malnourished and locked in cages suspended from the ceiling. He even went to the lengths of murdering some of them, to “free” them from their perils.
Eventually, he sealed off the basement to keep the demonic spirits from escaping and “The House of Madness and Ill Humors”, as it was known to the people of Gotham, was closed down for good.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the house belonged to the Arkham family. It was around this time that Elizabeth Arkham, the mother of Amadeus Arkham fell ill with dementia and was rendered bed ridden. Amadeus cared for her until her bloody death in 1920.
It was said that she had slit her own throat, but in actual fact Amadeus had killed her and repressed the memory after she became too much for him to cope with. Inspired by his experiences caring for his mother, Amadeus became a psychiatrist and dedicated his newly inherited house to the treatment of those suffering from serious mental illnesses.
Martin “Mad Dog” Hawkins
One patient Arkham took a particular interest in was Martin “Mad Dog” Hawkins, a serial killer with a habit of raping and sexually mutilating his victims. Arkham felt that the penal system didn’t know how to treat it’s more disturbed prisoners and wanted to help change that.
So, he began the construction of the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane (named after his mother) and made it his personal goal to provide the specialised treatment that met the needs of inmates with severe mental illnesses.
Whilst the construction of the Asylum was in progress, Arkham moved his wife, Constance and daughter, Harriet to the adjacent city of Metropolis. It was here that he also briefly treated Hawkins and his other patients at the state psychiatric hospital.
At some point Hawkins escaped, managing to successfully evade recapture. Not long after this, the work was completed and Arkham moved his family back to Gotham, however, unbeknownst to him he was being stalked by Hawkins.
In April of 1921, Arkham came home to find that Constance and Harriet had both been raped and murdered by Hawkins. Inevitably, he was eventually captured by the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD), and when Arkham Asylum finally opened in November 1921, he was committed as the first official inmate.
Arkham then took it upon himself to personally treat Hawkins and surprisingly, for several months he did so without any issues. That is until the anniversary of his family’s murder when he suffered from a nervous breakdown and executed Hawkins, by electrocuting him to death while he was strapped to a table.
The GCPD treated the incident as an accident, but Arkham’s mental health steadily declined until 1929, when he was convicted of killing his stockbroker, and ironically became a patient in his own hospital.