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Why Restore State Hospital Cemeteries?

Some people ask why restoring state hospital cemeteries is important. They reason that money should not be spent on "the past", but on present concerns. It is true that there are many important areas that need additional state funding including the development of affordable housing, employment opportunities, supported education programs, peer support programs, self-help initiatives and empowerment activities for users of mental health services. However, members of the Danvers State Memorial Committee also recognize that state hospital cemetery restoration is an issue that is of concern today, not just a concern from the past.

The past is not simply "past" in the sense that it is over and done with. The past lives on in the present as the questions we ask and do not ask, and as the problems we must struggle to solve. If in the past former patients of state hospitals were discarded as so much rubbish in anonymous numbered graves, and if in the present we allow these places to decay and become overgrown, then this is a statement about how we continue to dishonor people with psychiatric disabilities in the here-and-now and for generations to come. To restore state hospital cemeteries is to right a wrong from the past, and to honor those who receive services through the Department of Mental Health in the present.

Why restore state hospital cemeteries?

  • It is important to restore state hospital cemeteries because row after row of nameless, numbered markers conveys a message of shame, stigma and disrespect for those ex-patients who are buried there, and for those of us living today who are diagnosed with mental illness. Cemetery restoration is an opportunity to reclaim our pride as psychiatric survivors and to make the statement that we are, above all, human beings who deserve the same respect and dignity as any other citizens in the Commonwealth.

  • It is important to restore state hospital cemeteries because it gives us the opportunity to be portrayed in the media as civic leaders and to break the stereotype of "the mentally ill as dangerous deviants."
  • It is important to restore state hospital cemeteries because it gives those of us who were once patients in such institutions an opportunity to return, to remember, to grieve and to collectively do something positive to bring closure to that painful time in our lives. Getting involved in ex-patient led efforts to restore state hospital cemeteries can be a healing process for those involved.

Here are what some members of the Danvers State Memorial Committee have said about what restoring state hospital cemeteries means to them:

"This is about respect. We have been neglected for too long. The rebirth of the cemetery is just a small step towards respect and dignity for us all." Mark Giles

"We are speaking for those who can no longer speak for themselves. We are the voices of those who are buried here. We are the echoes they left behind." Bill Capone

"We need to acknowledge these people in death but also how they suffered in life." Sandy Fallman

"We have a vision. We see the cemeteries as sacred ground and sanctuaries for both the living and the dead. We see places of Peace and Beauty. We see a proper memorial, a quiet fountain, and the sound of birds." Judy Robbins

"It has been said that no families have come forward to claim their relatives buried in these cemeteries. WE are their family." Mark Giles



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