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‘Cuckoo's Nest' hospital to be torn down

Oregon State Hospital, the mental institution where the 1975 movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” was filmed, is making way for a new complex. Most of the dilapidated, 125-year-old main building will be torn down and replaced starting this fall.

Although mean Nurse Ratched was pure fiction, the Oregon State Hospital has struggled with real troubles over the years, including overcrowding, crumbling floors and ceilings, outbreaks of scabies and stomach flu, sexual abuse of children by staff members, and patient-on-patient assaults.

Politicians had been talking for years about the need to replace the hospital, but didn't get serious about it until a group of legislators made a grim discovery during a 2004 tour: the cremated remains of 3,600 mental patients in corroding copper canisters in a storage room. The lawmakers were stunned.

“Nobody said anything to anybody,” said Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, who dubbed the chamber “the room of lost souls.”

The remains belonged to patients who died at the hospital from the late 1880s to the mid-1970s, when many patients were all but abandoned by their families in institutions.

“It just created such an emotional momentum” for replacing the hospital, said Courtney, who led the effort to build a new institution.

Although “Cuckoo's Nest” was filmed here, neither the movie nor the 1962 Ken Kesey novel on which it was based makes any specific references to Oregon State Hospital. Kesey drew on his experiences working at a veterans hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., and set his satirical story at an unnamed institution in Oregon.

Actor Michael Douglas, co-producer of the movie, scouted various West Coast locations and chose the Oregon institution because then-Superintendent Dean Brooks agreed to give the moviemakers unfettered access.

“They wanted to make it on location with real patients,” said Brooks, now 91.

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