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; Texas; Maryland; Florida; Washington; and even Binghamton State Hospital of New York has a searchable list on line.
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, Creedmoor, Dannemora, Edgewood, Gowanda, Hudson River, Kings Park, Long Island, Manhattan, Marcy, Matteawan, Middletown, Mohansic, Pilgrim, Rochester, St. Lawrence, Syracuse, Utica, 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.