The John Armstrong Chaloner papers have been arranged into five series: Correspondence, Legal Papers, Writings/Drafts, Printed Materials, and Personal Materials. Correspondence, almost half the collection, comprises business and personal correspondence. Most the content consists of Chaloner’s communications and consultations with various attorneys in New York, North Carolina, and Virginia that address his multiple legal battles. Legal Papers consists of legal briefs, appeals, court transcripts, depositions, memos, and notes from Chaloner’s various legal petitions and trails. Writings/Drafts comprises manuscript drafts, notes, and some published versions of Chaloner’s assorted publications. Printed Materials includes an assortment of magazine articles, advertisements, invitations, flyers, and newspaper clippings. Personal Materials includes some personal photographs and an assortment of financial documents such as bills, receipts, cancelled checks, and ledger sheets.
John Armstrong Chaloner (1862-1935) was a celebrity and writer known for coining the catchphrase “Who’s looney now?” in the aftermath of psychiatric experiments and own legal troubles regarding his sanity. Known in his youth as Archie Chanler, Chaloner was the great-grandson of John Jacob Astor. When Chaloner’s family learned he believed he possessed a new sense that he called the “X-Faculty,” they had him committed in March 1897 to a psychiatric hospital in New York. In June 1899, a court declared Chaloner insane and ruled he be permanently institutionalized. Chaloner escaped in November 1900 and entered a private clinic, where doctors declared him competent and able to function in society. He spent the next two decades crafting legal strategies to challenge his New York verdict and lunacy laws in general. His case became the cause célèbre for many leading psychologists. Continually at odds with his family, in 1908 Chaloner legally changed his name from Chanler to what he believed to be its original spelling. Chaloner reconciled with his family in 1919, when they no longer opposed his petition for a New York court to certify him legally sane, but kept his changed surname.
Throughout his legal battles, Chaloner published almost two dozen books and articles on his experiments with psychotherapy and his stay in the insane asylum. Books like The Lunacy Law of the World (1906) attacked psychiatric medicine, which proved controversial within the field. Chaloner had also married the novelist Amélie Rives in 1888, but the couple divorced in 1895. After his escape from the asylum, Chaloner lived near her Albemarle County home for most of his remaining life on his own estate, the Merry Mills. Chaloner died of cancer in 1935.