Something Truly Disturbing Took Place At This Abandoned Elementary School In Massachusetts

Secret medical experiments on children, radioactive injections, and….Quaker Oats?

In the mid-20th-century, the Fernald School in Massachusetts performed medical experiments on children involving nuclear radiation. Neither the children nor parents were informed that researchers were quietly slipping radioactive material into the breakfast and milk of children under the care of the Fernald School.

Read on to learn about this horrifying chapter in Massachusetts medical history, and the unlikely sponsor of these experiments.

The Walter E. Fernald School is the oldest public institution for the mentally disabled in the Western Hemisphere. It was built in 1848 and originally called the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded.

Eugenics is the now almost universally condemned practice of trying to “improve” the genetic quality of the human race, often through forced sterilization or reproduction. In Fernald’s case, this meant separating those deemed “inferior” from the general population so that they would not breed.

Though it was supposed to be a school for the mentally handicapped, some modern scholars estimate that as many as half the residents of Fernald had no serious mental disability – they may have been simply poor or socially “undesirable.”

About 2,500 “feeble-minded” young boys were confined at the Fernald school at the time of the experiments. Some boys were encouraged to join a special “Science Club.” Club members were promised more food than usual, parties, and even trips to see the Boston Red Sox play at Fenway Park.

The experiments were conducted on the 57 members of this club. Though the parents were informed that an experiment involving nutrition would be performed, they were not told the experiment would involve spiking the children’s cereal with nuclear material.

In order to learn more about the absorption of iron and calcium, researchers added radioactive tracers to the food and also injected some children with the material.

Apparently, the Quaker Oats Company was planning on using the results of the study in an advertising campaign. The company was sued as a result of the study, and settled the lawsuit in 1997.

To be fair, there has been some speculation regarding how harmful these experiments really were. Some scientists think that the children weren’t exposed to enough radiation to have a serious impact on their health.

There have also been allegations of other atrocities at the Fernald School. Allegations of sexual abuse, forced electroconvulsive therapy, solitary confinement and threats of lobotomy have all been brought against the institution.

After operating for a number of years as a mental facility for adults, Fernald finally closed in 2014. The estimated yearly cost per patient at the time of its closing was $1 million. The school is off-limits to the public.

For another bizarre story about a failed social experiment in Massachusetts, check out our article on the nation’s first utopia.