A Day at Willard Cemetery 5.18.2013

On Saturday, May 18, 2013, I visited the Willard Cemetery for a second time. This was the day of the annual Willard Tour that benefits a day care center on the old Willard property. Hundreds of people attended the tour and a good crowd gathered at the cemetery. Quite a bit has changed since my first visit on May 14, 2011, when the grass was up to my knees and no one was there but me, my husband, and two of our friends. It was a very sad place. The Willard Cemetery Memorial Project was formed by Colleen Kelly Spellecy in 2011. She has done a fabulous job organizing the group, having a sign installed at the entrance, raising awareness about the project, getting the cemetery lawn mowed, and collecting donations. I was happy to see so many concerned people at the cemetery.

Now there is hope, not only for the Willard Cemetery but for all state hospital and custodial institution cemeteries across the State of New York. A bill was introduced to the NYS Legislature in March 2012 and was re-introduced on January 18, 2013 as S2514-2013. If this bill becomes law, then the names of our forgotten ancestors will be released. They will finally be honored and remembered with dignity. This bill specifically addresses the “burial records” issue. Although HIPAA has stepped out of the way to allow individual states to release “medical records” 50 years after a patient has died, I am not sure if this issue was specifically addressed in this bill. Let’s take one step at a time and be grateful for what is in the works right now! Anyone who has ever dealt with the New York State Office of Mental Health in trying to obtain any type of information on an ancestor, whether it concerns asking where they are buried or obtaining a medical record, knows how arrogant and non-responsive they are unless you have a Ph.D. after your name. This needs to change.

Another fact that people don’t realize is that the great majority, if not all, of these historical cemeteries are “inactive” which means no one else will be buried there. I hope that ALL names are released including more recent burials. For example, when Willard closed in 1995, a gentleman was transferred to another facility. When he died in 2000, he asked to be buried in the Willard Cemetery because this was his home. Who will be here in 2050 to add this man’s name to a headstone or memorial? Who allowed these cemeteries to become forgotten?

Who was sent to Willard? Anyone who was not considered “normal” including the elderly with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Remember, there really were no nursing homes until the 1950s. Others were Hearing Impaired, had Developmental Disabilities, were Trauma Victims including Victims of Domestic Violence and Rape (back then they called it “Seducer’s Victim”), had PTSD (Soldier’s Heart & Shell Shock), Menopausal Women, Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Brain Injuries, Stroke Victims, Epilepsy, Neurological Disorders, Psychiatric Disorders, and some were locked up because of their sexual orientation, personal beliefs, and religious beliefs. These people, their families, and descendants, have nothing to be ashamed of. That would be like being ashamed of heart disease or diabetes. Putting names on a memorial, headstone, or list, should not be offensive to anyone.

Also attending the tour on this day was Seth Voorhees, Senior Reporter for the Time Warner Cable news channel YNN that serves Rochester and the Finger Lakes. Mr. Voorhees was genuinely interested in my mission to get this law passed in New York and offered me the opportunity of an interview. Although I am not a public speaker, I jumped at the chance to get the word out to a larger audience. I can’t thank him enough for all the time he spent putting this video report together. This piece aired on YNN, Saturday, May 25, 2013. I also need to thank Senator Joseph E. Robach for drafting and introducing the bill to the New York State Legislature. I hope this piece will raise awareness about the anonymous graves issue as this was never about patient confidentiality, it’s about respect.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE VIDEO They’re Buried Where? by Seth Voorhees.
Not Forgotten by Colleen Spellecy.

The list of these former New York State Hospitals includes but is not limited to: BinghamtonBuffaloCentral IslipDannemoraEdgewoodGowandaHudson RiverKings ParkLong IslandManhattanMatteawanMiddletownMohansicPilgrimRochesterSt. LawrenceSyracuseUtica, and Willard.

The Feeble-Minded and Epileptic Custodial Institutions of New York includes but is not limited to: Craig Colony for EpilepticsLetchworth Village for Epileptics & Developmentally DisabledNewark State School for Developmentally Disabled WomenRome State School for Developmentally Disabled Adults & Children, and Syracuse State School for Developmentally Disabled Children. There may be more.

Seth Voorhees & Lin Stuhler 5.18.2013

Seth Voorhees & Lin Stuhler 5.18.2013

Roger Luther from nysAsylum.com & Lin Stuhler 5.18.2013

Roger Luther from nysAsylum.com & Lin Stuhler 5.18.2013

Colleen Spellecy, Craig Williams, Lin Stuhler 5.18.2013

Colleen Spellecy, Craig Williams, Lin Stuhler 5.18.2013

Willard Cemetery Sign 5.18.2013

Willard Cemetery Sign 5.18.2013

Willard Cemetery Memorial Project 5.18.2013

Willard Cemetery Memorial Project 5.18.2013

Willard Cemetery 5.18.2013

Willard Cemetery 5.18.2013

Old Metal Marker 5.18.2013

Old Metal Marker 5.18.2013

Willard Cemetery 5.18.2013

Willard Cemetery 5.18.2013

This photo is of the Civil War Veterans Section of the cemetery. They were provided with clearly inscribed headstones from the government. Colleen discovered that a few of them were not “inmates” of Willard but were residents of the town. I wonder how many other United States Veterans who served their country with honor but ended up at Willard are buried here among the 5,776 in anonymous graves?

10 thoughts on “A Day at Willard Cemetery 5.18.2013

  1. Thank you so much for sharing these photos..the sign is really great.. My appreciation and encouragement to all those involved in this memorial opportunity for those who were at Willard. The Civil War photo was really great too. Do the Civil War monuments have names and dates?

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  2. Jc and I have been there many times. We have spent hours uncovering markers just so others can see. Our investigations as a paranormal group at Grandview and Elliott Hall as well as some of the other buildings has brought us to an understanding of this place few will ever know. Port City Paranormal has a big stake in Willard. I would do almost anything to go back there. The voices we recorded and the lives we touched were beyond comprehension. We came to know some of these folks through reading and our investigations. Thanks to Mr. Williams who believed in us and the staff who opened their hearts to us and answered all our questions. The extensive research we have done on the net, books, at Cornell Library and Ovid library, has given us a new and fresh perspective of Willard Asylum. They did their very best for the patients with what tools they had. it is truly an amazing place!

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    • Thanks, Doug. I agree that they did the best that they could. The first people to arrive at Willard came directly from the county poor houses. They were so sick and had been treated so terribly that many of them didn’t last long. As I have said before, it was a different time.

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  3. Pingback: Lin Stuhler’s Willard Cemetery Project | Jon Crispin's Notebook

  4. Pingback: Restoring Lost Names, Recapturing Lost Dignity by Dan Barry – The New York Times | The Inmates of Willard 1870 to 1900 / A Genealogy Resource

  5. I haven’t persevered my search for why my G.G.G aunt was in Willard where she died. I guess I am fortunate that I know where she is buried. Her body was sent back to her parents here in Genesee Co. My wish is just to know why she was there and what did she die from. There is a record of her being in the Genesee Co. Poor house and said being insane. I gave up immediately finding out her records where never going to be accessed. I have to agree with everyone above. What difference does it make when my Aunt died in 1892. As for the thinking that others in the family might be bothered what happens when the family have all died and the only ones left is my generation. I am going to be 70 soon. It has never bothered me why or what a person has done in my family. I am just a person in my family trying to find out how my relatives lived on a day to day basis and that includes illnesses and anything else a family member may have done. This may be off the track but I too would like to know about my g.g.g. aunt that no one had ever talked about.

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