It’s probably not okay to call it the insane asylum. It’s officially the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, a mixed-use development with a brick-oven bakery, a coffee roaster, farm-to-table restaurants, a nature school and a place to buy ethically sourced yoga pants.
But there’s something satisfyingly shocking about calling it the insane asylum. It seems right to acknowledge why this place of luxury goods and services looks like the setting for A Series of Unfortunate Events, why it’s so beautiful and so obviously, poignantly, haunted.
It’s the word insane that’s the problem, for who could dislike the word asylum, which connotes protection, refuge and safety?
I love the idea that we used to shelter not only the criminally dangerous but the sick in the soul, the depressed, exhausted and nervous of the world. Not just for our sakes, but for theirs. The words insane asylum speak to me of what the Victorian-era psychiatrist Thomas Kirkbride—the designer of these buildings—described as “respectable decorum.”
Traverse City has some of the last standing Kirkbride buildings in America, and as I walk the grounds I feel perhaps a little too much sympathy with the former residents.