Wake County

Dorothea Dix Halloween costume removed from stores following complaints

A Dorothea Dix psych ward costume at Halloween Alley has been removed from stores at Crabtree Valley Mall and Cary Towne Center after mental health advocates complained.
A Dorothea Dix psych ward costume at Halloween Alley has been removed from stores at Crabtree Valley Mall and Cary Towne Center after mental health advocates complained. Courtesy of National Alliance on Medical Illness Wake County

Halloween Alley store owners have avoided planned protests by local mental health advocacy groups by removing a costume of a blood-spattered uniform bearing the words “Dorothea Dix Psych Ward.”

Ann Akland, advocacy chairwoman with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, in Wake County, said advocates for people with mental illness did not like the stigma associated with the costume. Dorothea Dix Hospital opened in 1856 in Raleigh and served patients with mental illness until it closed in 2012.

“They have this costume with blood on it,” she said. “People are going to be out trick-or-treating in the community and spreading the notion that people with mental illnesses are scary and violent.”

This season’s Halloween Alley stores are in Cary Towne Center and Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh. The stores are owned and operated by the Sanford-based company, Floretta Imports, which mostly sells party supplies. The company has previously operated stores in Cary and Raleigh.

Following complaints from NAMI, the costume was removed Thursday from both locations.

Susan Brightbill, owner of Floretta Imports, said the company had worked with a manufacturer that makes costumes with the names of cities or local establishments. Halloween Alley hadn’t carried the locally themed costumes before and decided to try them out. A similar costume – an orange prison uniform with “Raleigh Central Prison” printed on it – still hangs in stores.

“It was something new,” she said.

Before the costume was removed, Akland said NAMI planned to hold rallies at both malls to encourage the store’s owners to remove the costumes. She said 95 percent of people with a mental illness are not violent, as the costume might indicate.

While Akland also doesn’t approve of costumes with straightjackets or anything referencing asylums, she said she thinks there might not have been as many complaints if the costume didn’t say “Dorothea Dix.”

“This one is just so personal to us because so many people in NAMI Wake County have had people in Dix hospital,” Akland said. “A number of people that work in the mental health system worked at Dix hospital, and everybody is just outraged by this.”

The Dorothea Dix property has stayed in the spotlight since it closed because of its size. The city of Raleigh worked for years to buy the land from the state and reached a deal earlier this year, paying $52 million for the site.

Brightbill said while the company “didn’t set out to offend anyone,” the costume was intended for Halloween.

“It’s Halloween,” she said. “I think people can lighten up a little bit.”

Kathryn Trogdon; 919-460-2608; @KTrogdon

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