Restoring Lost Names, Recapturing Lost Dignity by Dan Barry – The New York Times

UPDATE 12.22.2014 – THE NEW YORK TIMES: No Longer Anonymous: Gravedigger Gets His Due at a Psychiatric Hospital by Dan Barry.

UPDATE 12.21.2014, From DARBY PENNEY: “A shout-out to the power of the press to shame government into doing the right thing, and the power of dogged activists to make change! Breaking news: Lawrence Mocha will be honored by name in the Willard Cemetery. Thanks to Dan Barry’s powerful 11/28/14 article in the NY Times, and years of hard work by Colleen Spellecy and the Willard Cemetery Memorial Committee, the New York State Office of Mental Health has changed their mind and will allow the plaque to be placed with his name and full information about him. They located a relative of Mr. Mocha who gave permission. In addition, according to Colleen Spellecy, “They also want to work with us on a general memorial honoring all of the individuals buried within Willard cemetery. After these memorials are installed they want to support a multi-denominational community service to re-consecrate the cemetery lands and dedicate the memorials. They will then invite the Mocha family to participate in this event and OMH will work with them to provide necessary travel arrangements.”

“OVID, N.Y. — For a half-century, a slight and precise man with an Old World mustache resided as a patient at the Willard State Psychiatric Hospital, here beside spectacular Seneca Lake. You are not supposed to know his name, but it was Lawrence Mocha. He was the gravedigger.

Using a pick, a shovel, and a rectangular wooden template, he carved from the upstate loam at least 1,500 graves, 60 to a row and six feet deep. At times he even lived in the cemetery, in a small shack with a stove, beside a towering poplar.

The meticulous Mr. Mocha dug until the very end, which came at the age of 90, in 1968. Then he, too, was buried among other patients in the serene field he had so carefully tended.

But you will not find the grave of Mr. Mocha, whose name you should not know, because he was buried under a numbered marker — as were nearly 5,800 other Willard patients — and the passing years have only secured his anonymity. The hospital closed, the cemetery became an afterthought, and those markers either disappeared or were swallowed into the earth.


A few original cast iron grave markers. Nearly 5,800 patients were buried under numbered markers to shield their names. Credit Ángel Franco/The New York Times

Now, though, this obscure gravedigger has come to represent the 55,000 other people buried on the grounds of old psychiatric hospitals across New York State — many of them identified, if that is the word for it, by numbers corresponding with names recorded in old books. This numerical system, used by other states as well, was apparently meant to spare the living and the dead from the shame of one’s surname etched in stone in a psychiatric hospital cemetery.

A retired schoolteacher, Colleen Spellecy, is seeking to end the anonymity, which she says only reinforces the prejudices surrounding mental illness. One way to do this, she says, is to place a plaque bearing Mr. Mocha’s name on the spot where his shack once stood.

“He’s a symbol for what we want to do with all the rest,” Ms. Spellecy said. “It’s almost like if we could just do something for one, we could do it for all.”

But the State Office of Mental Health, which oversees some two dozen hospital cemeteries tucked in upstate corners and along busy Long Island highways, has consistently denied her request. Its officials say that a generations-old state law protects the privacy of people who died in these institutions.

“Stigma and discrimination is alive and well, though I wish it were not,” said John Allen, special assistant to the commissioner of mental health. “Outing every family, whether they want to be outed or not, does not conform with the reality.”

But advocates say that other states have long since figured out how to return names to those buried under numbers — a process that the advocacy organization Mental Health America says would help to end prejudice and discrimination. In an email, its spokeswoman, Erin Wallace, wrote: “These people had names, and should never have been buried with us forgetting them.”

Larry Fricks, the chairman of the National Memorial of Recovered Dignity project, an effort to create a Washington tribute to all mental patients buried without names, agreed. He suggested that the cost of memorializing so many people could be a factor in a state’s reluctance — and some of those books with recorded names have been damaged and even lost over the many years. The issue is not trivial, Mr. Fricks said. “There is something embedded deep in our belief system that when people die, you show respect.”

In addition to his name and burial site, here is what else you are not supposed to know about Lawrence Mocha: Born poor in Austro-Hungarian Galicia in 1878. Hit in the head with a rock as a young man. Drank heavily, was briefly institutionalized, and served in the Army. Emigrated, and found work at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Caused a ruckus one day and was sent to the psychiatric unit, where he talked of guilt and depression, of hearing God and seeing angels. Sent to Willard in 1918, never to leave. Kept to himself for years, but eventually took an interest in tending to the graveyard. Requested freedom in 1945, but was ignored. Made an extra dollar here and there by preparing bodies for burial. Stopped having episodes, if that was what they were. Dug, and dug, and dug.

Gunter Minges, 73, the last grounds superintendent at Willard, sat on his pickup’s tailgate at the cemetery’s edge and recalled Mr. Mocha in his last decade. A reclusive man, he said. Had special kitchen privileges. Smoked a pipe. Wore hip waders, because groundwater would fill his neat rectangular holes. “He dug until he died,” Mr. Minges said, and was rechristened with a number. Then, with a Catholic priest at graveside, the grounds crew used ropes to lowered Mr. Mocha’s coffin into a hole dug by someone else. “But where it is,” Mr. Minges said, “I don’t know.”

Many of the numbered metal markers, forged by hospital patients and spiked into the ground, vanished over the years, sold for scrap or tossed into a nearby gully as impediments to mowing. In the early 1990s, groundskeepers began affixing numbered plaques flat onto the ground, but the job was left incomplete when the hospital shut down in 1995. In a last-minute search of Willard’s buildings for items worthy of posterity, state workers opened an attic door to find 427 musty suitcases. Among them: a brown leather case containing two shaving mugs, two shaving brushes, suspenders, and a pair of black dress shoes that a slight and precise immigrant hadn’t worn since World War I.

The discovery of the suitcases led to an exhibit at the New York State Museum in Albany, a traveling display, and a well-received book about forgotten patients called “The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic.” Confidentiality laws forced its authors, Darby Penney and Peter Stastny, to reluctantly use pseudonyms; Lawrence Mocha, then, became Lawrence Marek.

Ms. Penney said that for the last several decades of his life, Mr. Mocha exhibited no signs of mental illness and was not on any medication. Her guess: “There were certain people who were kept there because they were decent workers.”


Lawrence Mocha Credit New York State Archives and New York State Museum

And Mr. Mocha was the meticulous gravedigger.

Ms. Spellecy read the book. She is a wife, a mother, and a retiree who lives in Waterloo, about a half-hour’s drive from Willard. Visiting the cemetery for the first time, she “sensed the injustice immediately,” she said, and quickly set about to forming the Willard Cemetery Memorial Project. Its mission: “To give these people a name and a remembrance.”

They have also engaged in a contentious back and forth with the Office of Mental Health over its refusal to grant names to the dead — beginning with a plaque on that boulder to honor Mr. Mocha, and then, perhaps, a central memorial that would feature the names of all those buried anonymously or beneath numbers.

“It’s as if they are saying that they own the cemetery and therefore they own the names,” Ms. Spellecy said. “In so owning the names, they are owning the person — as if these people continue to be wards of the state.”

State officials say that they are bound by state law to protect patient confidentiality, even after death, unless granted permission by a patient’s descendants to make the name public. They also say that attempts to change the law have failed, and that, even now, some descendants express concern about prejudice.

Mr. Allen said that the state had worked with communities throughout New York to restore these cemeteries as places of reverence and contemplation, and had assisted families in locating graves. In fact, he said, “We have helped a number of families place a marker at a number.”

But without some descendant’s consent, Willard’s dead will remain memorialized by a number, if at all.

State officials also say that at the request of the Willard Cemetery Memorial Project, they are searching for any relatives of a certain individual — they would not say “Lawrence Mocha” — who might grant permission for the public release of that individual’s name. This is highly unlikely, advocates say, given that this individual never married and left Europe a century ago.

But Ms. Spellecy will not give up. She and other volunteers are developing a list of the dead through census rolls and other records, and hope to secure permission from descendants to have those names made public, perhaps even in granite. When asked why she has committed herself to this uphill task, Ms. Spellecy paused to compose herself. With her eyes wet from tears, she said: “Every stage of life is very sacred. Life deserves to be remembered, and revered, and memorialized.”

A few weeks ago, Ms. Spellecy and some others bundled up and went out again to the 29 acres of stillness that is the Willard cemetery. They removed a little brush and cleaned a little dirt from a few of the numbers in the ground. The autumn winds carved whitecaps from the steel-gray lake below, while fallen leaves skittered across a field of anonymous graves, many of them dug by a man buried here too, whose name, Lawrence Mocha, you are not supposed to know.”

SOURCE: “Restoring Lost Names, Recapturing Lost Dignity” by Dan Barry – The New York Times. (A version of this article appears in print on November 28, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Restoring Lost Names, Recapturing Lost Dignity.)

1. CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE VIDEO They’re Buried Where? by Seth Voorhees
2. Cemetery Information at the NYS Office of Mental Health
3. New York State Hospitals, Custodial Institutions & Cemetery Projects.
4. S2514-2013 – NY Senate Open Legislation – Relates to patients interred at state mental health hospital cemeteries – New York State Senate
5. NEW HIPAA UPDATE March 2013!


1887 Ten Days In A Madhouse by Nellie Bly

Positively Demented

Positively Demented

“It started as a dare. “New York World” managing editor John Cockerill suggested an outlandish stunt designed to attract readers, while testing the journalistic mettle of the intrepid Nellie Bly. Bly would pose as an insane woman and allow herself to be committed to Blackwell’s Island — New York City’s notorious asylum. What resulted was a searing exposé that got the attention of reformers and readers alike.” (2)

Ten Days In A Madhouse

Ten Days In A Madhouse

American journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochran, born in Pennsylvania on May 5, 1864, and died in New York City on January 27, 1922, used the pen name Nellie Bly. Prior to 1887, she feigned insanity in order to go undercover and investigate first hand the treatment of the women in the Insane Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. What is most amazing to me is how quickly she ended up there. Miss Cochran, alias Nellie Brown, never showed any displays of violence or agitation and only stated that she lost her trunks, didn’t know how to work, and that people looked crazy to her. One doctor stated that she was a hopeless case. This is a true story about how penniless women, with no support and nowhere to go, many of whom were not insane, were treated during the nineteenth century. The link to the full text is located below as source 1. 

Nellie Bly - Elizabeth Jane Cochrane

Nellie Bly – Elizabeth Jane Cochran


“A few more songs and we were told to go with Miss Grupe. We were taken into a cold, wet bathroom, and I was ordered to undress. Did I protest? Well, I never grew so earnest in my life as when I tried to beg off. They said if I did not they would use force and that it would not be very gentle. At this I noticed one of the craziest women in the ward standing by the filled bathtub with a large, discolored rag in her hands. She was chattering away to herself and chuckling in a manner which seemed to me fiendish. I knew now what was to be done with me. I shivered. They began to undress me, and one by one they pulled off my clothes. At last everything was gone excepting one garment. ‘I will not remove it,’ I said vehemently, but they took it off. I gave one glance at the group of patients gathered at the door watching the scene, and I jumped into the bathtub with more energy than grace.

The water was ice-cold, and I again began to protest. How useless it all was! I begged, at least, that the patients be made to go away, but was ordered to shut up. The crazy woman began to scrub me. I can find no other word that will express it but scrubbing. From a small tin pan she took some soft soap and rubbed it all over me, even all over my face and my pretty hair. I was at last past seeing or speaking, although I had begged that my hair be left untouched. Rub, rub, rub, went the old woman, chattering to herself. My teeth chattered and my limbs were goose-fleshed and blue with cold. Suddenly I got, one after the other, three buckets of water over my head–ice-cold water, too–into my eyes, my ears, my nose and my mouth. I think I experienced some of the sensations of a drowning person as they dragged me, gasping, shivering and quaking, from the tub. For once I did look insane. I caught a glance of the indescribable look on the faces of my companions, who had witnessed my fate and knew theirs was surely following. Unable to control myself at the absurd picture I presented, I burst into roars of laughter. They put me, dripping wet, into a short canton flannel slip, labeled across the extreme end in large black letters, ‘Lunatic Asylum, B. I., H. 6.’ The letters meant Blackwell’s Island, Hall 6.” (1)

An Insanity Expert At Work

An Insanity Expert At Work

Her Bedroom

Her Bedroom

The Insane Asylum

The Insane Asylum

The Front Hallway

The Front Hallway

1. Ten Days In A Madhouse by Nellie Bly at A Celebration Of Women WritersTen Days in a Mad-House, Published with “Miscellaneous Sketches: Trying to be a Servant,” and “Nellie Bly as a White Slave.” by Nellie Bly [Elizabeth Jane Cochran Seaman] (1864-1922) New York: Ian L. Munro, Publisher, n.d.

2. PBS American Experience – Nellie’s Madhouse Memoir.

3. National Women’s Hall Of Fame – Elizabeth Jane Cochran (Nellie Bly).

State of New York, State Board of Charities, In the Matter of the Investigation of the New York City Asylum for the Insane, Report, August 12, 1887.

Manhattan State Hospital & Cemetery.

Quiet Inmates Out For A Walk

Quiet Inmates Out For A Walk

1860 Rats At Bellevue Hospital


New York Times Rats

The Commissioners of the Department of Public Charities and Correction have promptly investigated the case of the infant of MARY CONNER, which was mutilated by rats at Bellevue Hospital, and the death of which is supposed to have resulted from that cause. Messrs. DEAPER, GRINNELL, BELL and NICHOLSON spent several hours at the Hospital, night before last; examined all who had anything to relate with regard to the occurrence, and had several of the alleged culprits, or members of their numerous family, before them, — for the rats at Bellevue are a bold and reckless race, and do not hesitate to come forth from their hiding-places, and scamper about even in the presence of men in high position. The evidence thus collated was arranged in due form, and presented before the Commissioners at their meeting yesterday afternoon. The details are uninteresting and unfit for publication. The leading points are as follows:

MARY CONNER went to the Hospital last Sunday afternoon, sent thither by the Superintendent of Out-Door Poor, Mr. KELLOCK. She was placed in the “Waiting Room,” where about twenty women slept, and by 9 o’clock all had retired. During the evening she had made no complaints, and gave no intimation of her coming confinement; in her testimony she declares that she did not expect it so soon. At 6 o’clock in the morning Dr. HADDEN, the House Physician, was summoned to attend her, and found the new-born infant lying partly under the body of the mother, dead and cold. “The nose of the child, upper lip and a portion of the cheeks seemed to be eaten off,” says Dr. HADDEN. “The toes of the left foot and a portion of the foot were eaten off, or apparently so. The lacerated portions were covered with sand and dirt.” He states that the abdomen of the child was flattened out by the weight of the mother. He is quite sure that the gnawing was done after the death of the child, and believes that it was done by rats. The mother was feeble and listless — hardly accountable, the doctor thinks, for anything she might say. She declared that it did not make any difference to her whether the child was dead or alive. From her testimony we learn that she is a servant girl, 31 years old, born in Dublin, has lived eight years in this country, and is unmarried. She perceived, on the night in question, that there was a cat or rat on the bed, but could not tell which. She was either asleep or in a fainting condition most of the night.

When these facts had been read, the President, Mr. DRAPER, said he had not received any communication from the Warden of the hospital in relation to the matter. Mr. NICHOLSON asked whether the President had taken any action in the case. The President answered that he had sent a letter to the Warden stating what he had heard, and telling him to see that a sufficient watch was kept in the various wards, to prevent any unfortunate occurrence in future which watchfulness could prevent. The Board confirmed the action of the President.

Mr. GRINNELL said he knew nothing of the occurrence until he read it in the newspapers. He had learned that there had not been any efforts for the extermination of rats made for some years. He had been so informed by Mr. DALY, the Warden. The President then presented propositions from several rat exterminators, offering to relieve Bellevue Hospital from rats. The propositions were referred to the Committee of the Whole, with power. After the passage of a resolution to meet every Thursday at 3 1/2 P.M., the Board adjourned.

Bellevue Hospital is completely overrun with rats. Our reporter, yesterday, made the acquaintance of several of them. They are large wharf-rats, and their presence there in such numbers is attributed to the contiguity of the East River. The Hospital, most of our readers are aware, was erected nearly fifty years ago, on a site which is bounded by First-avenue, Twenty-sixth and Twenty-eighth streets and the water. The main building stands on land of natural conformation, but the “new wing,” in which are the apartments for females, is supported on piles driven into “made land.” From the Hospital through this “made land” — everybody knows how it is “made,” by piling dirt on top of rubbish and loose stones — five sewers carry off all that is waste-worthy and empty it into the river, and by these sewers the vile, gregarious, amphibious and nomad vermin, swimming in crowds from place to place, have been induced to stop, to build their nests in the substratum of loose stones, or to burrow in the grassy banks near the water-side. It must be borne in mind that these creatures are not the common rats that infest private dwellings, but monsters that devour those lesser mischief-makers, inhabit about wharves and in storehouses and granaries, will, on occasions, dive into the water and glide swiftly through it, and of whose exploits we have heard more in “thrilling tales of the nineteenth century” than in sober, matter-of-fact narrative. In the vicinity of hospitals near the water, they are always found. Blackwell’s Island swarms with them, and they have been inmates of Bellevue since a period of which “the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.’ Unsuccessful efforts have, from time to time, been made to drive them out or destroy them. Six years ago, thousands of them were poisoned, and the place got in such bad order in consequence, that at one time it was almost determined to abandon it. The unsavory remains of the dead enemies of the institution were, however, removed; but the building was alive again, in a very brief period, with their successors. Since then, many attempts upon their lives, with arsenic, strychnia, terrier and grimalkin have been made with various success, but the water-rat is exceedingly prolific. A workman employed at the Hospital informed us that a day or two ago he found a nest in which there were two old rats, with a family of eighteen little ones; and at another time a litter of sixteen was turned up with his spade. Where one has fallen a dozen have sprung up in its place. Twelve dozen of traps awhile ago were sprung upon a host of them, but after two or three such experiments the survivors found out the trick of it, and the bait was left untouched. In the interior of the edifice you find rat-holes at every corner. In the female wards the rats in the night-time run about in swarms. There are fewer of them in the male wards, but there they are plentiful, and in the private apartments of the main building those employed in the institution go to bed with a broom-stick at hand, that they may repel them when they grow too familiar. This sounds like fiction, but we are assured that it is true. Myriads swarm at the water side after nightfall, crawl through the sewers and enter the houses. In a bath-tub, last Monday night, forty rats were caught. The vermin have full possession of the building, and if, without reconstructing its interior entirely, they are removed, it will be more than amazing.

 SOURCE: Published: April 27, 1860, The New York Times, Copyright @ The New York Times

1865 New York Times – Commissioners Of Public Charities And Corrections.



1907 The Deportation of Insane Aliens

By 1880, New York State was overwhelmed with the immigrant pauper insane population which by its own laws, was required to care for them. The state legislature enacted new laws allowing for the deportation of this “dependant, defective and delinquent class” of immigrants in order to relieve the state of its financial burden. One of the problems that resulted from the actions of the state legislature was that the sick, blind, deaf and dumb, crippled, feeble-minded, and insane class of immigrants, were sent back to their original port of departure in Europe by themselves with little or no money, and many were sick and improperly clothed. No one bothered to make sure that these helpless people actually made it back to their homes, which in many cases was quite a distance from the port. Many of their relatives and friends never saw or heard from them again. Without the efforts of Miss Louisa Lee Schuyler and The State Charities Aid Association in 1904, this problem may never have been brought to light. On February 20, 1907, the problem was resolved with a new immigration law.

Immigrants Aboard Ship 1902

Immigrants Aboard Ship 1902

State Charities Aid Association of New York 1904
“The United States immigration regulations exclude from admission into the United States insane persons, persons who have been insane within five years previous to landing, and persons who have had two or more attacks of insanity at any time previously. Any alien of these classes who succeeds in entering the United States, or any person who becomes a public charge from causes existing prior to landing, may be deported at any time within two years after arrival, at the expense of the person bringing such alien into the United States. Under certain conditions, the secretary of the treasury is authorized to deport such aliens within three years of landing. Under the provisions of this law 147 insane persons were deported to foreign countries from the State of New York during the fiscal year 1903.

From different sources it came to the attention of the Association that insane aliens deported by the government did not always reach their homes so promptly as they should, and sometimes not at all.  In this connection the following quotation from the annual report of the superintendent of the Manhattan State Hospital, West, for the year just closed is significant:

‘While perhaps, it is a matter that does not officially concern the hospital, I desire to state, that I have received several communications from the relatives of patients deported, who claim, up to four or six weeks after such deportation, they have been unable to find that they have arrived at their homes, and could obtain no trace of them. Any conditions which do not afford protection to the insane alien until she reaches her home, are indeed unfortunate, and it appears to me, that some steps should be taken by the proper authorities, toward remedying these matters. The steamship companies do not appear to hold themselves responsible beyond the port where the patient was originally received aboard their steamship.’

The Association, therefore, has made some inquiry into the methods pursued in the deportation of insane aliens, and although it has been possible as yet to make only a cursory examination of a few cases, the conviction is inevitable that the methods of deportation are not such as to afford the patients proper care and protection in all cases, nor to do justice to their friends and relatives. Only five cases have been studied. A brief account of three of the five cases which are at all complete will give some idea of present methods.

1. ‘Case of M.S., a young woman, aged 29 years, a native of Finland, arrived in this country November 1, 1902. About a year and a half later she became insane and was committed to the Manhattan State Hospital, West, April 14, 1904, where she was visited the following week by her friends, the matron and missionary of the Immigrant Girl’s Home. Hearing that the girl was to be deported, these friends offered to arrange for her deportation, hoping to find some woman returning to Finland who would take charge of her. Ten days after this, before the girl’s friends had had time to move in the matter, they received a notice from the hospital that she was to be deported in three days. The names and addresses of the girl’s relatives in Europe were not in the possession of the hospital nor of the steamship company which was to take charge of her, and how she was expected to reach her home, the Association has been unable to discover. The friends of the girl, at the suggestion of the Association, procured these names and addresses, and gave them to the purser of the steamer on which she was to sail, and the Association took the precaution of sending the information to the home office of the steamship company in Glasgow, and of asking the officials there for some particulars regarding the method of transporting the patient from Glasgow to Finland. The following extract from the steamship company’s reply shows the methods employed:

‘Immediately on landing at the dock she was taken to a boarding house where she was properly taken charge of, being attended to by the women of that house. We are forwarding her to-night in charge of our shore interpreter to Hull, and he has instructions to see her safely on board the steamer for Helsingfors, which leaves Hull to-morrow. We have also addressed letters to the owners of the steamer, both in Hull and in Helsingfors, with a request to take some interest in the case, and to give the necessary instructions regarding treatment on board.’

A letter received by the girl’s friends in New York from the girl’s sister in Finland says that no communication was ever received by the friends in Finland from the steamship company, or from any one except the New York friends. The sister writes that she spent three days going from place to place trying to get information regarding the whereabouts of the patient, and finally located her in the Helsingfors hospital for the insane, where she had presumably been sent by the steamship company. This was in July, – two months after the girl sailed from America. The latest letter received from the patient’s sister came in October, and mentioned that she had been unable to find the trunk which was sent with the patient by the New York friends, and which contained all her possessions. The steamship company seems to have done nothing to see that the patient’s property followed her to the hospital.

The features of this case to which we would call attention are these: The failure of the hospital to cooperate with the friends of the patient in providing for her deportation, though no great haste was necessary, as the time in which she could be deported would not expire for six months; the failure of the authorities of this State to take any responsibility for the patient after she had been handed over to the steamship company, including a failure both on their part and on the part of the steamship company to notify the relatives in Europe, or even to ask her friends in this country to notify her relatives; the failure of the steamship company to make any effort to secure the names and addresses of the girl’s family or to make any use of them when furnished by others; the lack of proper care and protection shown in sending an insane person to a boarding house instead of to a hospital, and in forwarding her by night, in the company of a male attendant, on a long railroad journey. It would be interesting to know how this girl fared from the time she left Glasgow in May until her friends found her in July and how she would have fared if her friends in this country and this Association had not actively interested themselves in her case.

2. Case of M.R., an Austrian girl, aged 20 years. The following account of this case was given by the girl’s cousin: ‘When she became insane her brother, who lives in New York city, thought he would send her home, and told the Manhattan State Hospital authorities that he would try to arrange to do this, planning to send her with some acquaintance who was going over. The hospital, however, said that this could not be done; that she was to be returned by the government. The brother was not informed regarding the time of her return until May 3rd, when he received a letter saying that she was to be deported on May 4th. By the time he received the letter she was already on board, and it was impossible for him to go to the steamer that night. He went, however, the next morning about 8 o’clock, and had great difficulty in getting permission to see her. Finally he was allowed to see her for a few minutes. He found her dressed in a cotton wrapper, such as is worn at the State hospital, and provided with no other clothing. He would have brought her clothing if he had known that she needed it, but as nothing had been said by the State hospital it had not occurred to him to do this. He wished to give her money so that she could buy clothing when she got to Hamburg and spoke to the captain about the matter. The captain thought it useless for the girl to have money, but finally consented to take a few dollars for her use.’

The girl was taken to a hospital in Hamburg on landing there, and the parents of the patient were notified by the hospital of her arrival. In this case the significant feature seems to be again the failure of the authorities in this State to co-operate with the friends of the patient for her deportation.

3. Case of F.H. This patient is the son of one of the two sisters whose pathetic story appeared in the newspapers in November, 1904, at the time they committed suicide because of inability to support themselves. The following extract from the newspaper account of the case, though not altogether accurate, gives an idea of the story of the boy: ‘Everything went well with the sisters until a little more than a year ago. Then the boy was taken sick. His illness left him with a deranged brain. He was kept for a time in Bellevue Hospital and then was sent to Ward’s Island. The sisters visited him regularly once a week there. One week, about a year ago, they learned on their regular visit, that he had been sent back to Austria. This, friends of the sisters say, had been done without notification being sent to the mother. Her grief and her fear that some harm would come to him on the voyage were intense. She immediately raised all the money she could get, and, taking also the little which her sister had, she boarded a fast ocean liner for Hamburg. She landed there on the same day that her son landed, and, taking him under her charge, continued the journey to Vienna, where she had him put in an asylum. Then she hurried back to her sister in this country. The strain on the income of the two, however, was too great, and when they got out of work a few weeks ago they became despondent.’

It appears from the records of the Manhattan State Hospital, East, that the boy was admitted there September 25, 1902, and was visited by his mother Sunday, October 5. As he was an alien, having been but nine months in the United States, arrangements were made immediately for his deportation. On October 16, the hospital was informed that the boy would be deported on a vessel sailing October 18, and that he was to be placed on board the 17th. A letter dated October 17 was sent by the hospital to the boy’s mother informing her of his deportation.

Again we note the failure of the State authorities to make any effort to co-operate with the friends of the patient. In this case the hospital did not know of the plans of the Immigration Department for the deportation of the patient until the day before his deportation, and cannot be blamed for not writing earlier to his mother, but under such circumstances it would seem that the friends of the patient should be notified by telegram or special messenger, instead of by a letter, which could hardly be expected to reach its destination before the patient sailed.

To subject insane persons, many of them young and in an acute stage of the disease, to the vicissitudes of a long ocean voyage, with a further journey on the other side of the ocean, is certainly a sufficient risk under the best conditions, and every possible protection should be provided against physical or moral injury. The inhumanity of subjecting relatives of patients to unnecessary anxiety and alarm by leaving them in ignorance of what is happening to those they hold dear, should also be prevented by the establishment of some system which will provide for more personal attention to each case. At present insane aliens are dispatched with little more ceremony than if they were able-minded and able-bodied immigrants, capable of attending to their own interests.”

SOURCE: Reprinted from Twelfth Annual Report of the State Charities Aid Association to the State Commission In Lunacy, No. 89, November 1, 1904, New York City, Untied Charities Building, 105 East 22d Street, Pages 29-34.

To continue reading the rest of the article, click on the PDF file located on the “Interesting Articles & Documents” page.

1902 Insane Patient Escapes

Insane Patient Escapes – Jumps From Ward’s Island Into The East River – Picked Up by Steamboat and Returned to Institution – Claims to Have Recovered His Reason. 1902.

Augustus C. Ward, who for the past seventeen months has been an inmate of the State Insane Asylum on Ward’s Island, escaped from the institution yesterday by jumping into the East River. He took with him a ten-foot plank, and when he was tired swimming he rested himself on the plank. He found it very difficult to steer a true course and was being carried rapidly down stream by the strong tide when he was picked up by the steamboat Middleton of the Hartford Line, bound from Hartford to this city. Ward was detained by the harbor police at Pier A, and later was taken back to Ward’s Island. When seen in the station house, Ward said that he came from Rastus, Banks County, Georgia, about three years ago and secured a position with Broadway Rouss in the tinware department. His health failed him and he became very nervous. He was sent to Bellevue Hospital, and he believes that through his brother’s wife, who lives in Washington, he was sent to Ward’s Island March 2, 1901. He said that he had written many times to his mother since his imprisonment in the asylum, saying that he was well and wanted to come home, but he thinks that his letters were intercepted. Whenever he received a message from home the letter was always opened and it would be marked, ‘Opened by mistake.’ He declared further that whatever trouble he may have had, he had entirely recovered, and that the authorities were only keeping him at the institution because he could do work with which others could not be trusted.

Joseph Reid, who has charge of the tinware department at Charles Broadway Rouss’s store, where Ward worked, said yesterday that the young man was there for about three months in the early part of 1901. One day he became melancholy, burst into tears, and was then sent to Bellevue Hospital. He was there examined by physicians, who said that Ward would have to go to some asylum for treatment. About three months ago, Mr. Reid said, he received a letter from Ward asking him to take him back into the store. Reid wrote to the authorities on Ward’s Island and received word from them that Ward was not in a fit condition to leave that institution. Superintendent A.E. MacDonald of the East Hospital, where Ward now is, said yesterday afternoon that the young man was very penitent, and had promised not to try to escape again.
SOURCE: Reprinted from The New York Times. Published July 24, 1902, Copyright @ The New York Times.