This project focuses on memorializing and commemorating the forgotten cemetery of the former Northampton State Hospital. Like many other Massachussetts State Hospitals, NSH buried some of its patients on its grounds. This took place between when it opened in 1858, until approximately the 1920s. Patients buried at NSH were patients that had no family to claim them, and were technically wards of the State. By approximately the 1920s, NSH began instead to ship its deceased, unclaimed patients to medical schools as cadavers. Thus the cemetery fell into disuse. Records have been lost over the years, and any physical markers or indications are long gone. Over the decades, most records have been lost, and those patients who were already cast away from society have slipped even further from memory.All that remains is a grassy hill, some oral history, and a sense that individuals have been forgotten.
Our project is a local effort that is coordinating with a State effort to have this wrong corrected. We are working to have this site properly memorialized, recognized as a distinct historic site, and to have the site cared for with dignity and respect. It is our hope that this project will raise community awareness and bring the much deserved recognition for those who lived and were buried at the Northampton State Hospital.
Stigma against the mentally ill is certainly not something that has faded away since the 1920s. It is still rampant and cruel today. It is a statement of how little we value the mentally ill that we have forgotten this cemetery at all. Psychiatric survivors are still a marginalized population. To pursue this project is to offer some dignity not just to the deceased, but to those still living who cope with mental illness. Many in our community were actually hospitalized in NSH before it closed in 1993. To raise community awareness of this cemetery and all that it implies could in some way be a step towards reducing stigma.
Our committee, the Northampton State Hosptial Memorial Committee, came together after a presentation given by Patricia Deegan at DMH in October 1998. At this presentation, she spoke about the history of Danvers State Hospital and a patient burial ground that she discovered there. A year and a half ago, Patricia Deegan instigated and coordinated the formation of a group called the Danvers Memorial Committee. This committee has been working since then to have their patient burial ground cleaned up and properly memorialized. In fact, they are also converting one of the old buildings at the Danvers State Hospital into a memorial hall to recognize the people that lived and died there.
At Patricia Deegan's presentation, several people expressed interest in starting a similar project here in Northampton. The local committee formed through a joint effort of Rebecca Macauley, Tanya Beecher, and Ted Clements.
Rebecca Macauley has worked as a patient's rights advocate for close to 20 years and is well known throughout the community. Rebecca was also a patient at NSH and is presently involved on many levels with the local consumer/survivor community. She is currently on the ballot for city councilor of Ward 4, ironically the ward in which NSH lies.
Ted Clements and Tanya Beecher are both graduate students at the Smith College School for Social Work. Both have worked for local human service agencies, and are dedicated to client advocacy and empowerment.
Recently we have been joined by Scott Aschenbach, whose photographic talents have already greatly aided our work. Scott has published calendars featuring portraits of local consumers. Be sure to read his moving article, recently published in our newsletter.
Last update: 5/22/99