‘Bull Street’: Movie documents history of South Carolina Lunatic Asylum

ROCK HILL, S.C. — As a kid growing up in South Carolina, if you were in the house cutting up or doing something bad, your parents would often threaten to “send you to Bull Street.”

It was a common threat used against children across the Palmetto State: either act right or you end up at the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum.

Founded in the early 1800s, the facility sat on Bull Street in downtown Columbia and served South Carolinians with mental illnesses.

At the time, it was only the second mental health facility in the country, and during its nearly 200 years of existence, it gained a chilling history.

“Every other person that we talked to across the state had a family member there or had a story about Bull Street,” said writer and director Lynn Dow.

Dow explained that her ties to the institution, through her family lineage, led her to create the film “Bull Street.”

“My great-great-grandmother, actually. The story goes that she had a fight and a disagreement with the sheriff in the town. And they hauled her off to Bull Street,” Dow said.

Her great-great-grandmother’s story is what inspired Dow to tell the story of how the asylum at the South Carolina State Hospital contributed to the loss of generational wealth.

“My great-great-grandmother died on Bull Street. And I found out that when she was committed there, she lost her land,” Dow explained. “When my family would return to visit, we had no place to go.”

Dow said the story of Bull Street is layered with different messages, including one surrounding mental illness.

“There’s a mental crisis in America today that’s leading to homelessness,” Dow elaborated. “I thought that I’d take that bull street from the past and put it with what’s prevalent today.”

The movie, which will be a fictional tale, is set to premiere in Rock Hill and other South Carolina cities.

Councilman William “Bump” Roddey hopes viewers come away with a new perspective surrounding a notorious part of the state’s history.

“To shed more light on things such as mental illness and the transition that we’ve made from the stigma that’s been put on mental illness,” Roddey said.

The South Carolina State Hospital was torn down nearly two centuries after it was built. It is now apartment homes.

The movie “Bull Street” premiers at Regal Manchester in Rock Hill on Thursday.

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Almiya White

Almiya White, wsoctv.com

Almiya White is a reporter for WSOC-TV

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