Good Bye!

I started this blog on July 10, 2011, thinking that maybe 5 people would actually read it and find the posts interesting. Five years later, I have created 12 pages, written 211 posts including countless PDF files, published 739 comments, and received 352,795 views. I self-published The Inmates of Willard 1870 to 1900: A Genealogy Resource, on December 17, 2011, with my own money, to further the cause of restoring dignity to the forgotten people who lived and died at New York State Hospitals (Insane Asylums), who had been buried on New York State property in anonymous, unmarked cemeteries and graves for over a century. New York State Senate Bill S840A-2015 became a law on August 18, 2016, but it did not include provisions for a searchable database available to the public as New York State lawmakers and the Office of Mental Health believed that if they did so, they would be sued. Their belief is that putting a name on a memorial or a headstone in public is different than publishing the names on a specific public website (as if no genealogy geek in the future will photograph the graves along with the names and publish them on the internet). This makes no sense to me. I believe that the New York State Office of Mental Health did not want to disclose the names of deceased patients because the burial ledgers may have been carelessly lost or destroyed. They would also have to explain why these cemeteries had never been marked in over 150 years, why they fell into such a state of neglect and disrepair in the first place, and why Kings Park State Hospital Cemetery is being used as a youth baseball field. The following states took a different approach and put searchable databases on the internet available to the public: Kansas; Minnesota; Nebraska; Ohio; TexasMaryland; Florida; Washington; and even Binghamton State Hospital of New York has a searchable list on line.

Monument For The Forgotten-Museum of disABILITY History, Buffalo, NY.

Monument For The Forgotten-Museum of disABILITY History, Buffalo, NY.

The reason why New York State Hospitals / Insane Asylums, Feeble-Minded and Epileptic Custodial Institutions are so important to the world is because there were 26 of them, possibly more. These institutions housed many newly arrived immigrants during the mid 19th and early 20th centuries from all over the world, especially Western Europe. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who would like to know the final resting place of their long, lost ancestor. It just doesn’t seem fair to me that this one stigmatized group of people are being denied the one and only thing that we really have to be remembered by; our name. Even though I initiated the original bill in August 2011 and it was introduced to the New York State Senate by Senator Joseph E. Robach in March 2012, I was never allowed to write it. This is the bill that I would have written:

“This bill is important and necessary in order to restore the dignity and personhood of the thousands of people who were incarcerated and died at former New York State Insane Asylums, (later renamed State Hospitals), Feeble-Minded and Epileptic Custodial Institutions. When the bodies of the inmates were not claimed by family members, they were buried in anonymous, unmarked graves, or, their bodies and brains were given to medical colleges for research. These forgotten souls deserve to have their names remembered and available to the public by means of a searchable internet database. Some of these deceased patients were undoubtedly United States Veterans who served during the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam, who suffered from PTSD and Shell Shock. Their graves deserve to be marked with the American Flag and honored like any other veteran’s grave.

The list of these former New York State Hospitals includes but is not limited to: Binghamton, Buffalo, Central Islip, CreedmoorDannemora, EdgewoodGowanda, Hudson River, Kings Park, Long Island, Manhattan, Marcy, Matteawan, Middletown, Mohansic, Pilgrim, Rochester, St. Lawrence, SyracuseUtica, and Willard

The Feeble-Minded (Intellectual Disabilities) and Epileptic Custodial Institutions of New York includes but is not limited to: Craig Colony for Epileptics, Letchworth Village for Epileptics & Intellectually Disabled, Newark State School for Intellectually Disabled Women, Rome State School for Intellectually Disabled Adults & Children, and Syracuse State School for Intellectually Disabled Children. There may be more.

There is no good reason why these long deceased souls need to be punished and stigmatized in death for an illness or intellectual disability that they lived with in life. The great majority of these former state hospitals closed in favor of smaller group home settings or changed their names to Psychiatric Centers in the early 1970s. This in turn led to many patients being thrown onto the streets to live in cardboard boxes, or thrown into jail with no psychiatric services, just as they did 150 years ago. I do not understand why anyone would need to have their name withheld from any cemetery list until 50 years had passed after their death. This requirement in the bill only serves to feed the stigma.”

Well, the bill that I wanted didn’t come to pass. I will keep this blog up and running for the purpose of historical research and I might post something now and then but there is nothing left for me to blog about, and I will not continue to bang my head against the wall trying to convince New York State lawmakers and the New York State Office of Mental Health to change their position. So, I will say, Good Bye! A few years ago, I donated $100.00 dollars to the Willard Cemetery Memorial Project and I cannot afford to give any more. If you are so inclined, please donate to the cause or start a cemetery organization of your own. The saddest part of this law is that by the time this organization raises enough money to mark 5,776 graves, I will be too old to care, and I am not aware of any other cemetery organizations for the other 25 New York State institutions. Thank you for all of your support over these past five years! May God Bless You and Your Loved Ones!!

Sincerely, Linda S. Stuhler

QUESTIONS & CONCERNS: CONTACT JOHN ALLEN, Director, Office of Mental Health, Office of Consumer Affairs, Central Office Staff, 44 Holland Avenue, Albany, New York 12229, Phone: (518) 473-6579, Fax: (518) 474-8998.

Photo by Roger Luther at www.nysAsylum.com

Photo by Roger Luther at http://www.nysAsylum.com

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35 thoughts on “Good Bye!

  1. I am trying my best as I write this to obtain information from NY State on my grandmother a Polish immigrant who had nine children and after the death of her eighth child was sent to Willard where she spent the next 37 years of her life and died there. All I get is that her records are sealed. Then how did the state open these records to two authors who wrote the book ” The Lives They Left Behind” that contains intimate details on the lives of several former patients who also died at Willard. So far I have contacted my state senator Rich Funke and our New York state senator Kristin Gillibrand. NOthing yet. But I will keep trying. Thank you for youir efforts.

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  2. Thank you so much for your efforts. I will miss your updates very much.

    On Oct 12, 2016 1:06 PM, “The Inmates of Willard 1870 to 1900 / A Genealogy Resource” wrote:

    > lsstuhler posted: “I started this blog on July 10, 2011, thinking that > maybe 5 people would actually read it and find the posts interesting. Five > years later, I have created 12 pages, written 211 posts including countless > PDF files, published 739 comments, and received 352,” >

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  3. Linda, you have done so much but the State of NY is well, the State of NY. Everything is so politically driven. The laws that govern the people don’t always make sense. You did all that you could. I am glad you are not taking this down. I love hearing from you and reading your posts. We continue to do our research on Willard and mental health in general. I loved your book. We use it for reference. I have a picture of the only headstone in Willard Cemetary. We also have her info from Ancestry. Be glad to share that with you.

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      • I agree that the laws of NYS do not always make sense. If there are over 200 people interested in this web site has anyone thought of starting a class action suit against the State Of New York for the release of these records?

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        • The biggest problem is that lawmakers and the OMH view patients buried in State Hospital Cemeteries as “protected health information.” It gets very complicated even though the federal HIPAA law says that this is NOT protected health information 50 years after a person’s death. And we are only talking about CEMETERY BURIAL RECORDS, NOT MEDICAL RECORDS! I turned 60 yesterday. It took me 5 hours to write the “Good Bye” post. The research and the writing is very time consuming and I’m tired of fighting. Please feel free to carry the torch! Thanks so much, Donald!!

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      • I thought about your message last night. Why don’t you write something up along with the picture or send me the link of your article and I will happily post it on this blog. Thanks, Doug!!!!!

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  4. Thank you for the work you have done for The Inmates Willard . .. Perhaps in a more enlightened era the database that would be so helpful will be created.

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  5. I was a student nurse on a three month psychiatric rotation in 1954and have fund your blogs quite interesting. I still remember some of the patients and their names and have been back to Willard to drive around the grouds and reminisce. I never knew where the cemetery was until this spring when a friend and I were visiting. And isn’t it a shame that the beach, which is so valuable, is lying unused?

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  6. I am sorry to see you go. I have been reading your blog ever since I found it. My problem isn’t like most of your followers, I know where my g.g. aunt is buried(family plot) but what I don’t know is why she was there and why she died in 1892 in Willard. All family has passed now except a couple of us g.g.g nieces and nephew doing research on the Pfann family. I hope that all your efforts will pay off and that you will get to see the benefits of your work. Sue Ames

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  7. Linda, a great big thank you and I want to express appreciation to doing the labor in the trenches of the wheels and machinery of government for, with and by the People. I would say that you did hit a Home Run, and the score may still be lop-sided DMH- State Government 25 vs People 1. The victors in these battles often have their day through the creative minds and wills of the People. You mentioned the work of some enterprising souls making a compilation on their own.
    Where do we get the names of inmates buried?
    Who can we make a donation to for the persons who died at Willard?
    Refresh our minds. Is there a Standing Committee or Willard Hospital Inmates Cemetery Committee?
    Much has been done so far, we shouldn’t see an erosion of that.

    Waiting to hear from others.

    Don Hoff
    Pine City, New York

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    • Thank You, Donald! You can’t get the names officially, that’s the problem. If you are a person who has a lot of time on your hands, many of these are public records available at your County Clerk’s Office. The Willard Cemetery Memorial Project accepts donations for the Willard State Hospital Cemetery but it is the only organization that I know of that represents a NY State Hospital/Asylum Cemetery. I interpreted the law to say that ONLY cemetery organizations will be able to receive the names of patients for the express purpose to mark or memorialize graves. I will be dead by the time this happens.

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  8. Thank you for all your efforts, Linda. It sounds like you gave it your best shot, and we all know your heart was in it. I’m still trying to learn where my gg grandmother’s buried and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s in one of these places. I guess I’ll never know. Maybe some day we’ll all revert to living with common sense and decency and respect for the battles these people had to fight in life and in death. Thanks again.

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  9. Thank you so much for all that you have done. As a student nurse in the early 1970s, I had some training at one of the Ohio State Hospitals. What a world unto itself it was! I also battle a mental illness, so there but for the Grace of God go I. I find the history of these institutions and the patients fascinating.

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  10. Linda, I know it was never easy, but you accomplished an amazing amount. Thank you for all that you have done to honor our relatives passage through life, and to bring that passage out of the shadows and into the light. I will deeply miss your posts, but certainly understand your deep frustration concerning the battle. The State’s position on the issue is archaic and insulting, and hopefully, at some their inhumane position will be reversed. Until then, every letter to the NY State legislature and Department of Health & Hygiene counts. You don’t need to be NY State resident to write a NY State representative. NY has a website that lists almost every representative’s email address. and other contact information.

    You can easily work your way down the list and write various assemblywomen/assemblymen and bring the issue and your feelings about it to their attention. There isn’t a politician out there, who doesn’t dream of playing at a national level at some point in their later careers. Reminding them of that fact and that you would appreciate anything they can do to apply pressure on the NY State Department of Health & Hygiene to release access to the wealth of genealogical and medical data included in those records held at the NY State Archives to family members.

    I would also write Senator Joseph E. Robach and others who voted for the bill that was just passed to thank them for their efforts. You will receive an automated response from the New York State Archives and the Department of Health & Hygiene, but make yourself enough of an annoyance, sooner or later someone is going to want to do something to get rid of you, or at the very least possibly consider their stance of denying families access to their relatives records, DOD’s and information concerning their places of burial.

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  11. Linda,
    Thank You for All you have done. As I said in an e-mail to you, all this “Political-Stuff” aka: “Games” … reminds me of the TV show HOUSE of CARDS…and you played the Game well !
    Sharon
    P.S. I love your book, Too >>

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  12. Pingback: Dix Hospital Cemetery / Willard Suitcases | Jon Crispin's Notebook

  13. Thank you for your work here. My great-grandfather is listed in the 1920 Census. I have no idea when he died. I believe he was alcoholic & a bit of a social misfit–and just one of the thousands warehoused at Willard when his life fell apart. In spite of that he had managed to produce a couple of generations of talented, kind, and loving progeny, so his life wasn’t in vain, and yet incredibly disrespected by the system.

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  14. I am entangled in the red tape of the NY State Mental Health office. I am convinced they have a section in this organization dedicated to holding at bay people like me who have a legitimate claim to records of their relatives who were housed at Willard. I am going to speak to a lawyer next week to see if a legal remedy exists. It would be nice to have class action but I am willing to go it alone.

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  15. The Schoharie County Annual Supervisors reports from 1932 and before list all who were in the county poorhouse and sometimes list where residents were sent to out- of- county asylums. Perhaps other counties did the same think?

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