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Hidden Valley Road

Inside the Mind of an American Family

By Robert Kolker
  • Read in 19 minutes
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  • Contains 12 key ideas
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Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker
Synopsis

Hidden Valley Road (2020) tells the remarkable story of the Galvin family of 12 children, half of whom were diagnosed with schizophrenia. Remarkably, the Galvins went on to become one of our best hopes for understanding the biological nature of this often misunderstood mental illness.

Key idea 1 of 12

After moving into a new home on Hidden Valley Road, the first signs of illness appeared in two of the Galvin children.

In 1963, the Galvins were living in a modern, split-level house on Hidden Valley Road in the Woodmen Valley area, just outside Colorado Springs. Their house was one of the first to be built on a four-mile stretch of dirt road in a neighborhood developed for families of the Air Force Academy.

The key message in this blink is: After moving into a new home on Hidden Valley Road, the first signs of illness appeared in two of the Galvin children.

Their new home was just enough room for Mimi, Don, and their 12 kids. They were able to squeeze a massive table with six seats on each side and one on each end into the dining room, and the living room was big enough for the boys to indulge in their wrestling matches, which had become a household feature over the past ten years. 

Often, these matches would get overheated and turn into real fights, especially between the two oldest boys, Donald and Jim. By the time they moved to Hidden Valley Road, the two brothers had practically become mortal enemies. But this tension was somewhat relieved by Donald heading off to Colorado State University the same year they moved into the new house.

But something else was going on with Donald and Jim. While Donald was the all-star athlete and seemed intent on making his father proud, Jim had always been a rebel. So, when Jim got expelled from school for sneaking into an Air Force jet and messing around in the cockpit, Mimi and Don brushed it off as regrettable teenage shenanigans.

They did a similar thing when Donald was 17 years old and violently broke ten dishes while standing in the kitchen. Typical teenage drama, they thought. But things got worse as Donald began his sophomore year at Colorado State. Soon Mimi and Don wouldn’t be able to brush it aside so easily.

Between September 1964 and the fall of 1965, Donald visited the campus health center four times. First, to treat a mysterious cat bite. The second visit was due to his concerns that he might accidentally catch syphilis from his roommate. The third time he arrived with a back sprain and was told to spend the night in the infirmary. As he explained it, one of his brothers had jumped on him from behind while he was visiting his family. 

On his fourth visit, Donald arrived with serious burns and clothing that had obviously been on fire. It turned out that Donald had jumped into a bonfire.

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