A little while back, July 5th of this year to be precise, my Mom and I did something a little out of the ordinary, while most folks were visiting family, having picnics, camping or any number of other typical summer activities, my Mom and I decided to go visit the cemetary at Warren State Hospital. I took my camera, but as I walked around I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures, I can’t explain why I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures, I just couldn’t. It was a very sobering experience, in that as I walked around, reading names of people buried there, and seeing the dates tht were on some of the headstones, I felt like the research I was doing about Warren State Hospital was about more then just events on a timeline, but that for the first time it became real to me that the place I was researching was about more then buildings and supervisors, it was about the patients who lived and in some cases died there. Learning about how things have changed in how folks who are placed at Warren State Hospital are or have been treated. I was choked up at times because having been a patient at Warren State myself years ago, I felt oddly connected to the people buried in the cemetary, like I somehow knew at least a little bit of what their life was like there, though at the same time I knew that my time there was spent very differently from how their time was probably spent.
Warren State Hospital like many state hospitals built around the same time was a self-suficient farming community. They grew crops, tended to livestock, had a prize winning herd of dairy cattle at one time even. Early on it was more unusual for a patient not to have some kind of job to help with the day to day functioning of the hospital then it was for a patient to be working. Things change though and people saw that patients had become a source of cheap labor in some cases and the farming ended and by the time I was there, things were very different we pretty much sat around most of the day staring at the tv, a few had jobs in the sheltered workshop, but they were a minority. I think that the thing I had in common with those who were there in the 1900’s was that I knew the feeling of being segregated from the rest of the community, I knew what it was like to hear the heavy doors close behind me and know that this was for real I was in a place I didn’t want to be, didn’t know what to expect, and to be honest at times could be very frightening. I also experienced the loss of a friend while I was there, so I knew what it was like to have made a friend there only to have them die in a place that was suppose to protect people. Things were probably somewhat quieter on the wards when I was there then they were in the 1900’s considerin medications have advanced and helped to treat the symptoms that would have previously caused the wards to be more chaotic then they were when I was there. In all though, I felt like photgraphing the cemetary seemed like something that I couldn’t do not because I was afraid of consequences of taking photos, but rather because of a deep sense of respect for those buried there and knowing some of what they may have experienced. I plan on going back to the cemetary again to once again pay respect to those who are buried there because in many ways when they were sent to Warren State, society turned their back on them and tried to deny they existed. I feel like going and paying respects to them is the one decent thing I can do for them now so they aren’t forgotten.