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History of Our Work

The Danvers State Memorial Committee formed in 1998 to work for the restoration and proper memorialization of the two cemeteries at Danvers State Hospital. Ours is a story of successful grassroots, direct-action campaign completely run by ex-patients. We have given a detailed history of our work, as well as some of the obstacles faced by our group and how we overcame them. You can read the history as a whole, or use this index to study topics of interest to you. Just click on the link and go to the part you want to read!

Spring 1997 - March 1998: How the Danvers State Memorial Committee got started; how we organized ourselves; planning our approach; working through conflict; finding room for anger.

May 1998 - Summer 1998: Our first rally; media coverage; using field trips to boost group morale.

Late August 1998 - November 4, 1998: Dealing with state bureaucracy; using the media to break a stalemate; turning a disappointment into a reason to celebrate.

Autumn 1998 - December 1998: Ex-patients get a voice and a vote on the sale of state hospital property.

Winter 1999 - September 1999: Launching our legislative campaign; building cross-disability coalitions; testifying before the legislature; buttons, slideshows and speeches; from a local to a state-wide issue; maintaing the morale of the group.

Autumn and Winter 1999-2000: Strategy for finding the names of those buried

Spring 2000 - July 1, 2000: Cemeteries cleared and landscaped; community members coming forth to offer support; negotiating with state bureaucrats; debating the use of prisoners to clear state hospital cemeteries.

October 5, 2000 - October 9, 2000: Rally; strategies for building and keeping membership; working the media, getting a donation from a Hollywood movie producer.

Winter and Spring 2001: Legislation re-introduced; the campaign grows; TA for new memorial groups; developing a strategy to overcome confidentiality rules so that names can replace numbered grave markers; using photographs as an advoacy tool; advocating for housing and jobs through the sale of the state hospital.

June 11, 2001 - Present: The state pays for proper headstones with names; researching names of those buried in state hospital cemeteries where names have been lost; advocating for housing and jobs during sale of a state hospital; RFP to cut memorial stones with proper names to replace numbers.

The History of Our Work to Restore the Cemeteries at Danvers State Hospital:
The Anatomy of a Successful Grassroots, Direct Action Campaign

Spring 1997 - While walking her dog on the grounds of the closed Danvers State Hospital, ex-patient activist Pat Deegan came upon an abandoned cemetery with numbered markers obscured by the dense overgrowth. She found a second cemetery soon after. Both cemeteries were so overgrown that it was impossible to determine how many graves there were. Pat then began searching for cemetery records but discovered that they had been lost. She began to interview former patients and employees to learn more. One former nurse gave Pat a photocopy of a few pages from the old cemetery ledger. The former nurse had secured these before the original ledger was lost over 35 years ago. Pat then began to taking 35mm slide photographs of the overgrowth and the few visible markers at the cemeteries.


February 19,1998 - Pat organized a slideshow and, with the help of Joan Rapp of the Northeast Area DMH, organized a forum where ex-patients and citizens came to watch and discuss what to do. The images of the two neglected, overgrown, and forgotten cemeteries were riveting and there was immediate consensus among the group that the cemeteries must be properly restored and memorialized. Many members from this first meeting signed up to meet again the next month to get to work.


March 1998 - The group met a month after the slideshow. We decided to call ourselves the Danvers State Memorial Committee (DSMC) and we agreed that our goal was to restore and properly memorialize the two cemeteries at Danvers State Hospital. We nominated a steering committee of 12 people (almost all ex-patients) and agreed that the steering committee would meet at least monthly. The larger membership was welcome to attend any of the steering committee meetings and many did. Some of the issues we had to deal with at this early date included many heated discussions of who was responsible for cleaning up the cemeteries. The tension was between the strategy of recruiting the local Boy Scouts to clear out the cemeteries versus holding the state accountable. Although getting the Boy Scouts would be a "quick fix", we knew that within in year the cemeteries would again be overgrown. Something more permanent - perpetual care - was needed. Ultimately we decided to hold the state accountable for restoring and properly memorializing the two cemeteries.

Another source of tension in our early meetings was anger. Some members of our committee were very angry about the abuse they had suffered at Danvers State Hospital. They wanted the truth of their experience to be acknowledged. They did not want a "sanitized" version of the Danvers State story to be told. Other members, particularly the two mental health staff people on the committee, felt that anger was inappropriate and really didn't belong as part of the message of the Danvers State Memorial Committee. Eventually the mental health staff left the Steering Committee and the remaining group began to harness members' angry indignation into a powerful motivating force. Anger was not our whole message, but angry indignation, a desire for a formal apology, and a sense of dignity were core aspects of our group identity. We wanted to speak to the whole of the Danvers State Hospital experience, not just a sanitized version of it.


May 1998 - Our first action was to meet with Department of Mental Health Commissioner Mary Lou Sudders. A group of 10 of us brought photographs of the the abandoned cemeteries to her office and discussed our concerns. She agreed that the situation was unacceptable and she promised to find some money to help clear the cemeteries. She also agreed to attend our first rally.

June 1, 1998 - Our first rally! 70 ex-patients, community members, clergy, DMH officials, and the press gathered in front of the main "Kirkbride Building" at Danvers State to hear from ex-patients. Marie Balter, Bill Capone and Judy Robbins, all members of the steering committee, spoke passionately about the need to properly restore and memorialize the forgotten cemeteries. They talked about what they experienced as patients there - both the good and the bad. Other members of the group held up enlarged photographs of numbered grave markers and passed out sign-up sheets for our new mailing list. Then the speakers invited each person to come forward and take a long-stemmed carnation. Everyone did so and formed a procession toward the overgrown cemetery. The group of 70 people each took turns placing a flower on the one numbered marker that was visible. This was a gesture symbolizing their commitment to working toward full restoration of the cemeteries. A local minister gave a blessing and we had a moment of silence.

After the rally everyone was invited to a local hall for a bag lunch and to hear more details about how to get involved. We have found this strategy of holding an event, and then having a meeting, to be effective in building the membership of the Danvers State Memorial Committee. The next day the two regional newspapers ran our story, with photographs, on the front page. A follow-up story ran in the Boston Sunday Globe. Members of the steering committee were interviewed on National Public Radio. We quickly learned that our issue was a very visual story, and one that immediately captured the imagination and hearts of reporters and their readers/listeners. The media soon became important allies in our campaign to restore the cemeteries.


Summer 1998 - Members of the Danvers State Memorial Committee made numerous trips to explore the cemeteries in order to assess how many people were buried there and if there were even more cemeteries. The overgrowth made our progress slow and tedious on those hot summer days! During the summer our group also received a grant for $10,000 from the Office of Consumer and Ex-patient Relations of the Department of Mental Health. This grant gave us much needed resources to carry on our work. Finally, during the summer we took a field trip to Mt. Auburn Cemetery. We walked around this beautiful cemetery in order to get an idea of what a well kept cemetery looked like. We also wanted to get ideas for memorial markers. We have found that group outings such as these help to build group spirit and commitment. State hospital cemetery work is for long-distance runners and as a rule, we find it important to have some type of rally, outing, or social every few months in order to keep up the morale of the group.


Late August 1998 - Over the course of the summer we continued to stay in touch with DMH Commissioner Sudders and were anxious to have her release the promised funds to clear the cemeteries. However, we soon realized that two state agencies were involved with Danvers State Hospital. Because Danvers was a closed facility (it closed in 1991), the Department of Capital Asset Management was in charge of the grounds and upkeep of the facility until it could be sold. However, the Department of Mental Health was in charge of the records (or lack thereof) of those former patients buried in the cemeteries. Which department could give our committee access to the grounds? Which department was responsible for clearing out the cemeteries? Where should the money come from? As our steering committee bounced between DMH and DCAM, the summer months were slipping away along with our goal of having the cemeteries cleared. Finally we made the decision to call in Channel 5 investigative news reporter Jorge Quiroga to help settle the matter. His special report aired in late August and featured DCAM and DMH commissioners sitting in the same room promising to have the cemeteries cleared.


November 4, 1998 - DMH contracted with a landscape company to clear the cemeteries in the autumn. The contractor simply ran a bobcat type bulldozer through the cemetery to clear out the brush which was then piled at the base of the larger cemetery. When we went out to see the work, members of our committee wept. It was an awful sight: some markers were pulled out, tractor tire marks marred the hillside, and roots and stumps remained two inches above the ground making it dangerous to walk about. Again our committee was faced with a question: how should we respond to this "clearing"? After much debate we decided to "call the glass half-full", and to celebrate the fact that although we were far from satisfied, we could at least now count how many grave markers were in each cemetery. And so we organized our second rally to celebrate the "clearing". About 40 people and the press attended. We had a blessing, released balloons, and members spoke about their dreams and hopes for the cemetery and why the work was important. Again we met for bag lunches and discussion to build our fellowship and renew the commitment our membership.


Autumn 1998 - As mentioned above, Danvers State Hospital closed in 1991 and the Department of Capital Asset Management was charged with selling the property. The legislation detailing how the property was to be sold included the creation of a Citizens Action Committee (CAC). The CAC was to be composed of town officials, state representatives and one family member of a person diagnosed with mental illness. The Danvers State Memorial Committee felt strongly that an ex-patient should also be appointed to the CAC. We met with Commissioner Sudders of DMH to gain her support and succeeded in getting one of our members appointed to the CAC. Judy Robbins - a member of our steering committee - is a lifelong citizen of the town of Danvers and is a former patient of the state hospital. Judy began to attend meetings of the CAC on a regular basis. We considered it a great victory to have an ex-patient on the CAC. We felt it important for ex-patients to have a voice in how the state hospital property was to be used after it was sold by the state.


December 1998 - 20 members of the Danvers State Memorial Committee attended a special meeting at Danvers Town Hall. It was the first and only meeting where DMH Commissioner Mary Lou Sudders and DCAM Commissioner Lark Palermo were in attendance. Members of our group spoke eloquently and passionately about what the experience of being a patient at Danvers State Hospital was like. They spoke about why the sale of the property to a developer must include jobs and permanent, affordable housing for people diagnosed with mental illness as part of the deal. Members also said the cemeteries must not be sold and that any developer who is allowed to buy the property must be willing to provide upkeep of both cemeteries. Finally, members of the Danvers State Memorial Committee told the CAC and Commissioners that Our Lady of the Hill Chapel at Danvers State was a very special place for many patients. It was a place where people could pray, meditate, seek solace and comfort. Members said they wanted any prospective developer to restore the chapel and make it a Hall-of-Remembrance that preserved the history and lessons of Danvers State Hospital for future generations. As these expatients spoke, a quiet respect was felt in the room. In years to come, members of the CAC would reference the testimony of these ex-patients over and over again in their deliberations about the sale of Danvers State.


Winter 1999 - State Senator Fred Berry and Representative Ted Speliotis file a bill to have all cemeteries at state facilities restored and properly memorialized. The bill does not call for new taxes. Instead, the bill calls for .5% (one half of one percent!) of the sale or lease of state properties to go toward the establishment of a centralized fund that would oversee the upkeep of any cemeteries on state facility properties, forever. After a series of meetings with these legislators, the Danvers State Memorial Committee agree to back the bill. The filing of the legislation marks the transition of our campaign from being a regional campaign to restore one state hospital cemetery, to a statewide campaign to restore all cemeteries on state facility lands i.e., prisons, state hospitals, public health hospitals and state schools.


Spring 1999 - The Danvers State Memorial Committee makes field trips to other state hospital cemeteries as well as cemeteries at state schools for the retarded and public health hospitals. We photograph and document conditions at Northampton State, Grafton State, Tewksbury State, Worcester State, Foxboro State, Taunton State, Westboro State, and Meteropolitan State as well as the Fernald State School and the Wrentham State Schoool. We identified at least 18,084 former DMH clients buried in 16 cemeteries at State Hospitals. This number does not include those buried in pauper field with numbered markers in town cemeteries and it does not include those buried in state schools or prisons. These field trips to discover, explore and document the cemeteries proved to be powerful morale builders for our group. We always packed lunches and brought as many people as possible. Often our trips were on weekends to maximize participation.


In addition, the steering committee of the Danvers State Memorial Committee began to build coalitions with other organizations in an effort to build support for the new legislation. We began giving slideshows at clubhouses and consumer organizations around the state. We spoke at rallies during mental health month and mental illness awareness week. We contacted organizations of people with other types of disabilities including the Independent Living Centers, the Association for Retarded Citizens, and the Massachusetts Alliance for the Mentally Ill. All of these groups proved very supportive and turned-out their membership to support the cemetery bill. The one constituency that we could not find a support organization to build a coalition with, was ex-inmates of prisons buried on prison property.


May 26, 1999 - Over 100 supporters show up to testify in support of Senate Bill 1401. The room is so packed that the Chairperson - Senator Diane Wilkerson - agrees to move the hearing to the front of the agenda. Many members of our group testified. We also put on a short slideshow because when it comes to restoring state hospital cemeteries, a picture is, quite literally, worth a thousand words. We distributed buttons for all our supporters to wear during the hearing. The buttons were simply a picture of grave marker #115. During her testimony, DSMC member Sandy Fallman said, "See the buttons we are wearing? It is a photograph of grave marker number 115 from Danvers State Hospital. Who is number 115? We don't know. Do you know who number 115 was? The state has lost the record of who was buried here but of one thing we are sure: the person buried here was not a number. The former patient buried here was a human being just like me and you." The State Administration Committee was truly moved by our testimony. After the testimony we held a press conference. Again members stood with enlarged photographs mounted on cardboard, showing the state of decay and disrespect of the cemeteries. Once again the press responded with a flourish of supportive articles.


September 1999 - Our bill passes the State Administration Committee with amendments that make the demands of the bill stronger than we ever dreamed. Specifically, the bill emerged with strong demands for each state agency (DMH, DMR, Corrections) to fully account for the identity of each person buried in each grave at every cemetery and to make that report in a timely fashion.

Autumn and Winter 1999-2000 - During this period members of the Danvers State Memorial Committee - especially Sam Chivers, Arlene Horrell, and Steve Shuman - begin the laborious task of trying to identify who was buried in the 768 graves in the two cemeteries at Danvers State Hospital. We had found an old photocopy of part of the cemetery ledger. It contained the names of approximately 150 people and corresponding grave numbers. However, we still had to find a way to identify the names of the remaining 636 people. We discovered that although the state hospital kept its own records, the town of Danvers was required by law to keep a death certificate for everyone who died in the town, including those who may have died at the state hospital. These certificates were transcribed into huge ledgers kept at town hall. So our committee members began to go through these ledgers, one year at a time. Each time we found the "place of death" to be Danvers State Hospital, we checked to see if any mention was made of where the person was buried. If we found the person was buried at the "asylum cemetery", the "state hospital cemetery", the "Hathorne cemetery" or the "Middletown cemetery", then we recorded the name and other identifying information. Unfortunately, grave numbers were not recorded. In this way, over the course of a year, we began to piece together a first glimpse of who was buried in the cemeteries.


Spring 2000 - In the spring of 2000 the Chronicle television newsmagazine program did a special on the cemeteries at Tewksbury State Hospital. Members of the Danvers State Memorial Committee appeared on the show and shared their reaction to the 10,000 numbered and forgotten graves in 3 cemeteries at that state facility. Media exposure such as this began to bring new resources and allies to our group. For instance, an artist, a sculptor and a photographer contacted us independently to learn more about our work and to share their artwork related to Danvers State Hospital. A man writing a book about Danvers State Hospital came forward and wanted to interview members of our committee. Another businessman who had a family member in a state hospital came forward and offered our group a generous donation and instruction on how to do fundraising.

By the spring of 2000 groups of consumers in many states across the US began to organize to restore state hospital cemeteries. Our group began to network with these other groups and we all provided inspiration to each other.

Also, during the spring of 2000 members of the Danvers State Memorial Committee continued to meet with DMH Commissioner Mary Lou Sudders and DCAM Acting Commissioner Stephen Hines. We brought in photographs that showed members of our group posing amidst the new overgrowth that was taking over the hastily cleared cemeteries of a year ago. Again, these photographs seemed to be an especially effective advocacy tool. Eventually the Commissioners agreed to free up $44,000 to have a landscaper clear and landscape the two cemeteries at Danvers State. In addition the money secured routine mowing and upkeep of the cemetery for three years. Tom Tagan from the Northeast DMH area office kept our group informed of the bidding and contracting process.


Summer 2000 - During the summer of 2000 the landscaper began to clear the brush from the cemeteries. Markers were raised and leveled. Grass was planted. A fence was put up in each cemetery. As the work was being done, our group again had to make some important decisions. For instance the company doing the landscaping had secured the labor of prisoners to help clear the cemeteries. Members of our group began a series of debates about how we should respond to this. Some group members remembered institutional peonage or the practice of having patients work for no money and calling it "therapy". They objected to the prisoners being used in a similar fashion. Other members of the group sympathized with the argument, but also noted that the labor was "voluntary" and that many prisoners valued the time outdoors. In the end the group decided not to protest the use of prison work crews. Instead they decided to bring lemonade up to the workers and to thank them for their efforts. This type of debate and problem solving is at the heart of the work of restoring state hospital cemeteries. Members learn, not just to express themselves, but to argue their point, listen to other views and come to consensus in order to move the group towards it's goal.

July 1, 2000 - Our cemetery bill 1401 dies in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The group is saddened by this but recommits to refiling the bill in the next legislative session.


October 5, 2000 - On this date the Danvers State Memorial Committee held another rally to celebrate the landscaping of the two cemeteries. We called the event, "Another Step Toward Dignity - A Celebration of the Landscaping of the Cemeteries at Danvers State Hospital." We prepared for this rally for months in advance. Over 100 people came including TV crews, reporters, legislators, ex-patients from across the state, church members, family members and other supporters. Buttons were passed out that simply showed grave #115. Again members of the committee spoke passionately about what the newly landscaped cemeteries meant to them. Three members of the committee told the story of their work in town hall to identify who was buried in the cemeteries. They told the story of Frank from the Azores in grave # 1 and Annie from Nova Scotia in grave #2. These stories were based on information we had collected from the death records and included a flourish of imagination as we tried to humanize and personalize the people buried in the cemeteries. Again a minister was invited to bless the cemeteries and January Germano lead us in song. Then each person p was asked to come forward and take a flower bulb. Each person placed the bulb in a small hole next to a grave marker and covered it over with dirt. The bulb would wait out the long winter and, we hoped, would blossom in spring. Again we held a gathering after the rally. Bag lunches and fresh coffee were available to all as were more speeches, more songs and victory chants! Once again the media coverage was outstanding. NECN TV and WHDH Channel 7 news covered our rally. The event was covered in the Salem Evening News and Danvers Herald. The Boston Sunday Globe ran another article about our work later that month.

One interesting side note was that as the Danvers State Memorial Committee was holding the rally, a film crew was shooting a Hollywood movie. The movie, released in the summer of 2001, was called Session 9. The film storyline was a familiar one to survivors of the stigma and stereotypes of violence and mental illness. In the film a group of asbestos workers are brought up to clean out the tunnels below Danvers State Hospital. In the spooky setting they come across some therapy tapes between a former patient and a psychiatrist. As the psychological thriller unfolds, the workers become increasingly suspicious as one by one they disappear...(We have no idea of the ending as none of us has seen the film!). What an irony that as the mythology of mental illness and violence was being manufactured on film, the reality of people diagnosed with mental illness as civic leaders, working to restore state hospital cemeteries, was unfolding at the same time. In fact, the film crew took a break and came down to listen to the ex-patient speakers at our rally. A reporter from the Salem Evening News did a special article on the juxtaposition of the two events and we used that interview as an opportunity to promote our campaign and to speak against stereotypes of mental disorders and violence. After discussion, our group decided to approach the film-maker, Brad Anderson and ask for a donation. We got it!


October 9, 2000 - US News and World Report runs an article about the work of the Danvers State Memorial Committee as well as other groups of ex-patients working to restore state hospital cemeteries.

Members of the Danvers State Memorial Committee also attended the National Alternatives 2000 conference in October. This is an annual conference that is completely organized and run by consumer/survivors/ex-patients. We set up a poster board display that showed the work of the DSMC and we passed out copies of our press coverage. We put on a workshop about fighting stigma through state hospital cemetery restoration. We also had the chance to network with a consumer group from Georgia that was working on the restoration of 30,000 graves in cemeteries at the Milledgeville State Hospital (now called Central State Hospital).


Winter and Spring 2001 - In January Senator Berry and Representative Speiliotis refiled our bill. In May members of the DSMC again testified on behalf of the bill. Again it successfully emerged from the State Administration Committee and went on to Senate Ways and Means.

In addition, during this period of time the work of the DSMC fell into three categories - continued advocacy for the cemeteries at Danvers State, outreach and training for new Memorial Groups forming around the state, and advocacy regarding the sale of the property at Danvers State Hospital.

We continued to monitor the upkeep of the cemeteries and made visits to them every few months. After a severe and particularly snowy winter we found that a number of trees and parts of the fence at the cemeteries had fallen down. By now our relationship with the DMH regional person in charge of the cemeteries - Tom Tagan - was very good and when we called to notify him of the damage, he reported he was already "on it".

We also had a series of face to face meetings with DMH Commissioner Sudders to advocate that people should be buried with their proper names, not with numbers. In planning for our discussion with the Commissioner, we reasoned that the state might oppose the idea of having names on individual markers because it is a "breach of confidentiality". We decided to reframe this issue. We decided that putting names on grave stones was not an issue of confidentiality. It was an issue of respect. Patients had not been asked if they wanted to have their name on their grave. It was hospital policy to put numbers on graves and that policy most probably came out of a sense of shame and a desire to protect families from the "shame of mental illness". We decided to argue that we no longer were buying into the mythology of shame. The time had come for respect. It is the norm to bury people with proper markers and we wanted that same standard to apply to former patients of state hospitals. We also prepared for our advocacy on this point by taking photographs of cemeteries at state schools for people with developmental disabilities. It is more traditional in the Department of Mental Retardation to bury people with proper names, especially in the last 30 years. If confidentiality laws do not apply to DMR facilities, why should they apply to DMH cemeteries? Again a group of about 10 of us went to meet with Commissioner Sudders and she was quite in agreement with our point of view. She supported putting individual markers with proper names at state hospital cemeteries.

Another major issue that our group had to grapple with at this time was - who was responsible for paying for the individual grave markers. Some members of our group thought we should do a fundraising campaign to pay for the markers. Others argued that it is the states responsibility and that the state should be held accountable for replacing numbers with names. In the end we agreed that the resources of our comparatively small group were limited. To launch a fundraising campaign would deplete our already over extended person-power i.e., we were already serving on the committee for the sale of Danvers State Hospital (CAC), holding regular meetings to advocate for DSH cemeteries, doing lots of public speaking and slideshows about state hospital cemetery restoration and providing technical assistance to newly forming groups. We simply did not have the resources to carry through with a successful fundraising campaign. In addition, our group decided that we should not let the state "off the hook" and do their work for them. We finally decided it truly was the State's responsibility to undo this wrong and to put proper markers with individual names at the cemeteries. Once again, these types of heated discussions carried on over a number of meetings, provided wonderful opportunities for ex-patients to develop critical thinking skills, debating skills and skills in working out compromises. All of these skills can be used again in other settings as these new leaders move on to other issues and future campaigns.

During the Winter and Spring new Memorial Groups were emerging and interest in the work of the DSMC was growing. We provided slideshows, discussions and trainings about how to organize for state hospital cemetery restoration to groups forming at Metropolitan State Hospital, Northampton State, Medfield State and Grafton State. We conducted slideshows for local chapters of the Massachusetts Alliance for the Mentally Ill, local church groups and even had a consumer come all the way from the State of Washington to learn of our work in order to share it with consumers in that state.

Members from the DSMC continued to attend meetings of the CAC that was charged with forming a recommendation for the sale and reuse of Danvers Sate Hospital. Our goals in attending these meetings were to:

  1. Advocate that at least 10% of the housing built on the former state hospital property be reserved for clients of the Department of Mental Health. We wanted real housing (apartments) and not group homes.
  2. Advocate that at least 10% of any permanent jobs created on the site of the former state hospital be reserved for clients of DMH.
  3. Advocate that Our Lady of the Hill Chapel be preserved as a Hall of Remembrance so that the lessons of DSH will never be forgotten by future generations.
  4. Advocate that the developer take over the care of both cemeteries until such time as our legislation passed and this responsibility was take over by the state.

The Citizens Action Committee (CAC) meetings were held every few weeks at Town Hall. These meetings were quite stressful for members of our group. Often discussion centered on zoning laws and right-of-way ordinances - issues that we had no expertise in. However, we understood that if zoning laws were passed that only allowed for the building of million dollar homes, then we would have little chance of getting affordable housing for people diagnosed with mental illness.

Another factor that made the CAC meetings very difficult was the minority status of people with psychiatric disabilities on the committee. We only had one of fifteen votes. The meetings were also difficult because there were so many competing interests at work on the CAC. Town members on the CAC wanted to make sure to veto any attempt to build a low-income housing development for homeless families out of fear of burdening "the infrastructure of the town" i.e., increasing the "burden" on schools, police, fire departments, and so on. There were people on the CAC that were very interested in making sure that no strip malls went up on the property for fear that it would increase traffic flow and lower property values around the former state hospital. There were people from historical preservation groups that wanted to make sure that the buildings of historical significance were preserved. There were members of the CAC who were advocating for open space, ball-fields and recreational facilities on the property. In addition to the sometimes competing interests of the members of the CAC, there were also outside groups advocating for their interests. The local Hospice organization wanted space and a local low-income housing group wanted 25% of the housing to go for low-income people, especially working homeless families.

At times tensions ran high during CAC meetings. Our group used a number of strategies to continue to effectively advocate at these meetings. First we decided who were our natural allies in the group were. We then built alliances with those people/groups. For instance, the Massachusetts Alliance for the Mentally Ill had a voting member on the CAC and this person was a natural ally who shared our goals for housing, jobs and a Hall of Remembrance. Members of the CAC who were interested in historical preservation were also natural allies because one of our goals was to remember the lessons of Danvers State by having a memorial built. Building alliances such as these helped us feel more powerful. Instead of having one vote, as an alliance we constituted a block of four votes out of fifteen. We also met with the group that was advocating for 25% low-income housing and agreed to push this agenda during meetings. In addition, we provided support for members of our committee at these meetings. When our voting member of the CAC was feeling too stressed by the work, we invoked the ADA and one member of our committee acted as her Personal Care Attendant - helping to take notes, providing emotional support, etc. In addition, members of our group sat in the audience to ask helpful questions and to provide a friendly smile during the heated debates. This was truly some of the most difficult work for the DSMC but, as you will see, was well worth it!


June 11, 2001 - On this date seven members of the Danvers State Memorial Committee met with DCAM Commissioner Steven Perini and DMH Commissioner Mary Lou Sudders. The goal of this meeting was to continue to advocate for the state to replace numbered markers with names at the two cemeteries at Danvers State Hospital. To our astonishment, Commissioner Perini announced the availability of money to do just that! The money ($64,000) was to be released in early summer and was to go out to bid as soon as the identity of those buried at DSH had been established. VICTORY!!! Our group left this meeting with really big smiles and a sense of pride that were actually reaching our goals.


July 12, 2001 - On this date the Citizens Advisory Committee met to present DCAM Commissioner Perini with a report titled: "Recommendation of the Citizen's Advisory Committee for the Redevelopment of Danvers State Hospital." Many members of the DSMC turned out for this meeting as well as friends from Western Mass and visitors from New York who were organizing state hospital cemetery restoration. The recommendations included the following:

  • That the Kirkbride building (the original structure built in 1878) be preserved and that 50% of it be used as senior and assisted living units for people with low and moderate incomes.
  • The developer maintain both cemeteries and provide an easement so people could drive to the cemeteries to pay their respects.
  • The developer preserve the Our Lady of the Hill Chapel and provide for a memorial that records the history of the hospital.
  • A minimum of 10% of the housing be reserved for those with low or very-low income, especially for those diagnosed with mental illness. An additional 10% housing built off-site was also recommended.
  • The CAC recommends that 10% of the permanent jobs created with the redevelopment be for persons diagnosed with mental illness.

Of course, these were only recommendations. In the near future we should be hearing about the negotiations between DCAM and the recommended developer, Archstone Communities in partnership with Landmark Senior Living. Then the timeline will look like this:

  • Once the Commissioner of DCAM has made a "provisional designation" of who the developer will be, that developer has 180 days (6 months) to develop a Master Plan. During this time the developer will be exploring issues related to development including utilities, traffic, electric, water and sewer, as well as a very detailed plan of how many apartment units will be built, what the timeline is, etc.
  • The Master Plan must be presented to the CAC for approval.
  • After the Master Plan has been approved, there will be 90 days during which the developer will secure special building permits, etc.
  • Once these permits have been secured, DCAM will "transfer" the property to the developer and construction will get underway. Thus we may be seeing the beginning of the transformation of Danvers State Hospital into "Something Else" as early as June 2002.

The DSMC has mixed feelings about the final report and recommendations from the CAC. We will continue to participate on the CAC during the Master Planning Process in order to advocate for our concerns.


Summer and Fall 2001 - During the summer members of the DSMC and Tom Tagan have been combing records at the Bureau of Vital Statistics and the State Archives in a effort to identify who is buried at the cemeteries at DSH and to match as many names with number as possible. So far we have identified 542 of the 677 people buried in the larger of the two cemeteries. Of these, we have matched 354 names with grave numbers. There are 93 numbered markers in the smaller cemetery and we have identified 84 people buried there although we have not been able to match any names with markers in that cemetery. Our provisional plan is to place markers with names wherever possible. For the remaining, we will have a wall of remembrance that lists the individuals who are buried, but for whom we could not locate a numbered marker.

The Request for Proposals will go out to stone cutters and monument builders in November 2001. Tom Tagan of DMH will be the point person for this project and Sandy Fallman will be our liaison to the bidding process. This means that by the late spring of 2002, we may see individual names instead of numbered markers.




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