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Hidden Valley Road

Inside the Mind of an American Family

By Robert Kolker
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Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker

Hidden Valley Road (2020) is a compassionate account of the chilling history of the Galvin family. Between the years 1945 and 1965, Don and Mimi raised 12 children in their suburban home in Colorado Springs, six of whom were eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. Their story is one of heartbreaking childhood trauma, debilitating illness, and, ultimately, scientific research that could change the way our society engages with mentally ill people. 

Key idea 1 of 10

Mimi agreed to pregnancy after pregnancy to distract from her many disappointments.

The early years of Mimi’s marriage were a far cry from her exhilarating romance with dreamy, dark-haired Don. After their 1944 shotgun wedding in Tijuana, Mimi joked that Don only came home long enough to get her pregnant again.

By the time the couple moved to Colorado Springs for Don’s new job, Mimi had given birth to three boys, and Don had already had an affair, the first of at least six throughout their marriage. Mimi was disappointed by married life. She’d left her home behind to follow Don around the country; now she felt abandoned. Don wanted a big family; so, in hopes of luring him back home, Mimi agreed to pregnancy after pregnancy.

The children did bring her joy. They let her play the role of “good mother,” even if Don wasn’t around.

The key message here is: Mimi agreed to pregnancy after pregnancy to distract from her many disappointments.

The couple got a big new house on Hidden Valley Road. But it didn’t change the distance that was developing between them. Don didn’t tell Mimi much about his life. But Mimi kept trying to make him happy. She even converted to Catholicism for him, something she’d promised before they got married. She became close with the local priest in Colorado Springs. They would study scripture together over cocktails, and he got acquainted with her growing number of sons, too. By 1957, Mimi and Don had eight boys. They all slept in one room, in two four-bed bunks in the basement.

The eldest, Donald Jr., grew into a high school football star. He was dashingly handsome, all dark hair and flashing eyes, just like his father. But he wasn’t clever or charismatic like Don Sr. Worse, he was violent. He would force the younger brothers to fight each other. He and Jim, the second oldest, fought terrible battles all through the house.

Don and Mimi chalked it up to boys being boys. But it was more than that. Even Donald Jr. himself knew he wasn’t connecting with the world in a conventional way. This was the first sign of his eventual diagnosis: schizophrenia.

There was another reason for Donald Jr.’s angst, one that didn’t become clear until decades later.

Their priest, Father Freudenstein, had been abusing him for years, along with dozens of other boys in Colorado Springs. Eventually, doctors would blame this abuse for Donald’s psychotic break, the initial spring of a waterfall of family trauma.

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