He Wanted the Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter's Quest to Know Him
Mimi Baird, Eve Claxton
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Soon to be a major motion picture, from Brad Pitt and Tony Kushner
A Washington Post Best Book of 2015
A mid-century doctor's raw, unvarnished account of his own descent into madness, and his daughter's attempt to piece his life back together and make sense of her own.
Texas-born and Harvard-educated, Dr. Perry Baird was a rising medical star in the late 1920s and 1930s. Early in his career, ahead of his time, he grew fascinated with identifying the biochemical root of manic depression, just as he began to suffer from it himself. By the time the results of his groundbreaking experiments were published, Dr. Baird had been institutionalized multiple times, his medical license revoked, and his wife and daughters estranged. He later received a lobotomy and died from a consequent seizure, his research incomplete, his achievements unrecognized.
Mimi Baird grew up never fully knowing this story, as her family went silent about the father who had been absent for most of her childhood. Decades later, a string of extraordinary coincidences led to the recovery of a manuscript which Dr. Baird had worked on throughout his brutal institutionalization, confinement, and escape. This remarkable document, reflecting periods of both manic exhilaration and clear-headed health, presents a startling portrait of a man who was a uniquely astute observer of his own condition, struggling with a disease for which there was no cure, racing against time to unlock the key to treatment before his illness became impossible to manage.
Fifty years after being told her father would forever be “ill” and “away,” Mimi Baird set off on a quest to piece together the memoir and the man. In time her fingers became stained with the lead of the pencil he had used to write his manuscript, as she devoted herself to understanding who he was, why he disappeared, and what legacy she had inherited. The result of his extraordinary record and her journey to bring his name to light is He Wanted the Moon, an unforgettable testament to the reaches of the mind and the redeeming power of a determined heart.
From the Hardcover edition.
struck down smaller animals and ate entire carcasses, sucking blood, voraciously. In my dreams I could see the saber-toothed tigers as they took to upright positions, a force of gravity slowly changing the shape of their heads and other parts of their bodies, developing into savage, primitive men. These men rode large, powerful, and very fleet horses with hair growing to great lengths. These riders of that ancient age used no saddle or bridle but buried their legs and hands into their horses’
patients in cold packs, could be concealed in the electric light fixture or could be hidden by hooking them on an iron pipe concealed about a foot up the ventilation shaft. Through a small hole in the mattress, small articles could also be concealed. I made many attempts to find ways of unlocking my door, usually with crude keys made from bedsprings or by using sound vibration produced by hammering on the doorknob. I also tried the scheme of hooking the iron crossbar at the foot of the bed over
upstairs to the little bathroom adjacent to my parents’ bedroom to find him stepping out of the shower, wrapping a towel around his middle. To me, he seemed as tall as the giants in my fairytale book. My memories of my father’s presence came back to me in bright flashes. After my stepfather passed away, and the Woodstock summer house was sold, I moved to that same Vermont village, a place I had always loved. It was 1979. My children were teenagers, and I had decided to return to work. I applied
Westborough, and it was addressed to Reverend Corny Trowbridge, our minister at Chestnut Hill. I remembered Corny’s kindness to my father, visiting him while he was in the hospital and sending him a copy of a book about St. Francis. Evidently my father had begun a correspondence with the reverend soon after. In the letter, my father returns to the idea that his life may hold some greater purpose: Dear Corny, Your letter written from the Saranac Inn was a powerful communication. As with all of
but my body won’t seem to let me yield to this type of therapy,” I explained. “I seem to fight restraints with automatic muscular efforts beyond my control.” She then closed the door and returned in a few minutes with underwear, bathrobe and slippers. I was then allowed to take a shower bath and put on these crude garments. I returned to my room and was locked in. My memory remains quite clear for the events of the night and following morning. As I left the room where I was kept in restraints,