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Massachusetts Consumers/Survivors/Ex-patients
Campaign to Restore State Hospital Cemeteries

Ex-Patient activists in Massachusetts are working to restore neglected cemeteries at State Hospitals. We share images of our work in this slide show in hopes that it will inspire you to do the same in your state.

tumbnail Slide 1:A news reporter stands inside the jungle-like overgrowth of the main cemetery at Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts. From the density of the overgrowth, landscape specialists estimated that the cemetery had been neglected for over 35 years.
tumbnail Slide 2: Graves at Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts are marked with only a number. The State has lost the list of the names of those buried there. We turned this photograph of grave marker #115 into a button to use during our advocacy campaigns.
tumbnail Slide 3: We found a second, older cemetery on the grounds of Danvers State Hospital. Again, graves are marked only with a number and there is no record of who is buried there. As ex-patient and activist Jim Squeglia said, "To me, seeing these cemeteries is the worst thing I have seen happen at Danvers State Hospital."
tumbnail Slide 4: Once the two cemeteries were cleared, we discovered that 768 former patients were buried on the grounds. Some people wondered why we were even bothering with such "depressing" issues. Mark Giles, an ex-patient and activist responded by saying, "This is about respect. We have been neglected for too long. The rebirth of the cemetery is just a small step towards respect and dignity for us all."
tumbnail Slide 5: We soon decided to check the condition of other cemeteries at state hospitals in Massachusetts. Our first stop was Metropolitan State Hospital - now closed.
tumbnail Slide 6: Once again we found anonymous, numbered grave markers. However, at Metropolitan State Hospital some graves are marked with a "c" for Catholics.
tumbnail Slide 7: This crude cinderblock marker had been unearthed. Note how the marker has a "p" signifying Protestant. We did not find any "j" markers for people of the Jewish faith. We found 480 markers in this cemetery but the total number of former patients/inmates buried is not known.
tumbnail Slide 8: The stark anonymity of these markers is disturbing. The state claims that confidentiality regulations do not allow for the release of names of those buried! Are we mental patients even in the grave? "They were humiliated and abandoned in life. The very least we can do is make sure they get the dignity in death that they never got in life." Pat Deegan, ex-patient and activist.
tumbnail Slide 9: There are 594 confirmed burials of former patients/inmates in this empty field at Northampton State Hospital in Massachusetts. There may be as many as 1200 people buried here but state records are sketchy. All of the markers have sunk below the ground and are no longer visible. "Do the right thing. It's not about money. The state must restore these cemeteries. DO THE RIGHT THING!" Mark Giles, ex-patient and activist.
tumbnail Slide 10: These broken markers signify the resting place of former patients/inmates from Taunton State Hospital in Massachusetts. These graves are not on state hospital land but are located in the "pauper cemetery" in the downtown area.
tumbnail Slide 11: Even in the pauper cemetery in Taunton, the graves of former patients/inmates are marked with only a number. "We need to acknowledge these people in death but also how they suffered in life." Sandy Fallman, ex-patient and activist.
tumbnail Slide 12: At Foxboro State Hospital in Massachusetts we found two cemeteries with an estimated 1,100 people buried there. The top number is the patient ID number and the bottom number is the grave number. Are we mental patients even in death? Why does the state hide our names? "It has been said that no families have come forward to claim their relatives buried in these cemeteries. WE are their families!" Mark Giles, ex-patient and activist.
tumbnail Slide 13: At Grafton State Hospital in Massachusetts there are 1,041 people buried. Again markers are simply numbered. "We are speaking for those who can no longer speak for themselves. We are the voices of those who are buried here. We are the echoes they left behind." Bill Capone, ex-patient and activist.
tumbnail Slide 14: This is how some citizens of the Commonwealth bury their pets in pet cemeteries.
tumbnail Slide 15: In a field with 1,147 other graves, this rusted steel post marks the resting place of a patient/inmate from Worcester State Hospital, buried there in 1988 ! Do we deserve less respect than animals? "We have a vision. We see the cemeteries both as sacred ground and sanctuaries for both the living and the dead. We see places of Peace and Beauty. We see proper memorials, a quiet fountain, and the sound of birds." Judy Robbins, ex-patient and activist.
tumbnail Slide 16: Our campaign to restore the cemetery started locally at Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts. Then our concern grew to include all those buried on state properties including mental institutions, institutions for people with mental retardation, institutions for people with disabilities and prisons. Here, Bill Capone speaks up and breaks the silence by telling his story of incarceration as a child in state institutions. "You might not believe in hell. But you are looking at hell. I lived in it. Danvers State Hospital was my home. Hell is not under the ground. You're looking at it right here in this building." Bill Capone, ex-patient and activist.
tumbnail Slide 17: Over sixty people, including state legislators, ex-patients, reporters, and officials from the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health attended our rally to break the silence about the neglect of state hospital cemeteries. The media responded rapidly to our struggle and gave us front page coverage in two regional papers.
tumbnail Slide 18: Researching cemeteries takes a lot of work. Here ex-patient activist Judy Robbins works in 90 degree heat to pull back brush to reveal yet another marker.
tumbnail Slide 19: Even after the cemetery was cleared, many of the markers had sunk beneath the ground or had been covered over by erosion. Here ex-patient activist Judy Robbins scrapes away dirt to reveal another marker. Groups of ex-patient activists also began going to town hall to search through 125 years of death records in order to begin to identify those who are buried. So far we have found many immigrants from Italy, Ireland, Russia and the Canadian Maritime Provinces. Many were also local people whose families had forgotten about them.
tumbnail Slide 20: A number of artists and community leaders have come forth to support our efforts. Here ex-patient activists Steven Shuman and Mark Giles meet with artist Mike Ramseur (far left) in his studio.
tumbnail Slide 21: Ex-patient activist Bill Capone points to one of Mike Ramseur's pictures. Mike has used pastels to create hundreds of impressionistic drawings of Danvers State Hospital.
tumbnail Slide 22: The media, including television, has responded positively to our campaign to restore patient/inmate cemeteries at state facilities. Here ex-patient activist Mark Giles shows the viewing audience our map of the cemeteries.
tumbnail Slide 23: Media coverage of our campaign has portrayed ex-patients as activists and community leaders. This kind of positive press coverage helps to offset the association of mental illness and violence so often attributed to people labeled with mental illness. It is also an empowering and healing experience for ex-patients to break the silence and tell the truth of our experiences.
tumbnail Slide 24: We continued to hold rallies and included more and more ex-patients from around the state. The smallest victory was occasion to gather our group together to celebrate and renew our commitment to the cause.
tumbnail Slide 25: Here over 20 ex-patients gather at town hall to advocate for restoration of the cemeteries. There is a role for everyone to play in a campaign such as this.
tumbnail Slide 26: Here Commissioner Mary Lou Sudders of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health responds to questions and challenges from our group.
tumbnail Slide 27: We now have a bill in the Massachusetts State Legislature calling for the state to restore and properly memorialize all cemeteries at all current and former state-run facilities. This includes not just mental institutions, but also prisons, state-schools for the retarded, and public health hospitals. The bill has already passed the State Administration Committee and is now in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
tumbnail Slide 28: Members of our group are also advocating that the Chapel on the grounds of Danvers State Hospital be turned over to us for use as a Hall of Remembrance. "We don't want them to rip down these buildings and pave this place over like it never existed. Future generations must remember what happened here. Future generations must remember what happened here or they are doomed to repeat the horrible crime of warehousing people for life." Pat Deegan, ex-patient and activist.