Should people ever be so far forgotten that they aren’t given a proper burial, that their final resting place is no longer cared for? No one visits, no one remembers?
There are over 55,000 people buried in makeshift cemeteries on the grounds of abandoned psychiatric hospitals throughout the state of New York.
They are buried beneath a numbered marker, a numerical system put into place to show a little mercy to the relatives and the dead from the disgrace of having one’s family name etched into a headstone located in a psychiatric hospital cemetery.
The placards reinforce the prejudices that have always surrounded mental illness, as well as the sordidd and often clouded histories of the asylums themselves.
Without a descendant’s consent to make someone’s name public, the deceased patients will forever remain memorialized by just a numeral, if at all.
According to officials from the State Office of Mental Health, which oversees around two dozen hospital-associated cemeteries hidden all over New York, a generations-old law safeguards the privacy of the folks who died in these institutions. They are required to protect patient confidentiality, even in death.
They have been forgotten; at least for the most part. Many of the names of the dead have vanished in old record books, which have been damaged and lost over the years.
Even the numbered metal markers themselves, often forged by hospital patients, have disappeared, either from theft or the result of nature reclaiming the land where the placards were spiked into the ground.
One final resting place in particular, the Willard State Psychiatric Hospital cemetery located on the shores of Seneca Lake in Upstate, New York, is a 29 acre sprawl where nearly 5,800 patients were anonymously buried.
The cemetery was used from 1870 until 2000, but when the hospital eventually closed, it became simply an afterthought. There are no flowers. No one comes to kneel down on the grass and pay their respects or reminisce on memories gone by.
Like most abandoned places, this one is eerie. In a way, it is forsaken. A place where forgotten souls await for someone to remember them.
In an effort to acknowledge those who have been forgotten, a venture, called the Willard Cemetery Memorial Project, is currently working toward getting families involved to give them proper recognition.
Doesn’t everyone’s life deserve to be honored and remembered — even asylum patients?
The advocacy organization Mental Health America says that this project would ultimately assist in ending the discrimination and prejudice that continues to shroud the mental health system.
When Atlas Obscura recently visited another abandoned cemetery at Letchworth Village in Rockland County, they discovered the exact same scene: graves marked only with numbers.
The only difference was that there was a granite monument placed at the entrance, which listed hundreds of names to commemorate some of the estimated 1,000 people buried there.
This cemetery was used from 1917 to 1967, and although some resting places are marked by customary tombstones purchased by the deceased’s relatives, the majority are remembered as just a number.
Image credit: joncrispinposts.com, inmatesofwillard.com, Atlas Obscura