Formerly known as "Creepy-chusetts, Strange-chusetts".

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bridgewater State Hospital Cemetery 1-2, Bridgewater

I went to Bridgewater State Hospital Cemetery for a specific reason. I wanted to connect one patient's story -- how he was treated in the hospital, the way he died, and how he was buried -- and a nameless gravestone. His gravestone is one of the numerous numbered gravestones in Massachusetts; I hoped to find what kind of life story could be found from those numbered concrete blocks. 

Bridgewater State Hospital
 The hospital view from corn fields

In 1854, an almshouse was opened in Bridgewater; according to the Public Health Museum at Tewksbury State Hospital, Bridgewater was not a popular destination among the itinerants for its vigorous workload compared to the other two state run almshouses in Tewskbury and Monson.

Soon the name changed as Bridgewater State Hospital. The Department of Correction took over the operation in 1919. Currently this former almshouse is functioning as a medium-security correctional facility for the patients with mental disorder who are "charged with or convicted of crimes ranging from misdemeanors to major felonies" (from The hospital building looks like a typical redbrick structure that is pertained to Massachusetts asylums. But barbed wire on top of the roof and the fence indicate this is an active prison.

Bridgewater State Hospital Cemetery

The cemetery for the deceased paupers and patients was also established in 1853. Located 1.2 mile north of the hospital, the cemetery situates itself in a mix of New England woodlands and the Midwest like grass and corn fields. The road that connects the two is blocked halfway by the Department of Correction; I heard from a friend from Bridgewater that the road was not blocked when she was a teenager. Well, things change.

Conant St. is blocked halfway

There are approximately 347 numbered graves in the cemetery. There is an enclosure for the Jewish patients where I only recognized one gravestone inside. Only one gravestone is accompanied with the information of name, DOB, and DOD. He passed away in 1988, and his numbering is in 310's, indicating the possibility that the cemetery is still accepting burials from the hospital.  

The friend who provided the local information said there used to be no houses around the cemetery; I imagined the place would be a desolate place, but the area surrounding the cemetery field was dotted with a few houses. When I began exploring the cemetery, a worried faced dog was looking at me through the window. I waved at the dog, thinking that fellow would bark at me because I made an eye contact. While I was regretting my childish act, the dog quietly left the window in a relieved manner. Doggie, what do you usually see from the window?

On the property, there is a small enclosed space.This is a historic burial ground called Conant St Small Pox Cemetery established in 1778. The tombstones bear names, dates, and even occupations of the buried. "What is the purpose of this enclosure?" I thought. It implies the deceased inside is not from Bridgewater State Hospital. The enclosure physically and symbolically separates the local members from the patients who were held at the hospital as "pauper lunatics" or "criminally insane".

 "We never talk about the hospital."

Looking at the enclosure, I remembered my friend's word. But this is the enclosure that helped connecting one patient's life and one of the austere faceless concrete gravestones.

From Titicut Follies

To be continued: Bridgewater State Hospital Cemetery 2-2

Locate Bridgewater State Hospital Cemetery @ Google Map


  1. That is not a picture of the state hospital, its an old prison and at one point housed the addiction center, which is now closed. The current state hospital is across the road and down the street. If facing that view, it is to the left down the street and, again across the road.

  2. Hi jlp,

    Thanks for the informed tip! No wonder why the courtyard of the former addiction center looks abandoned when you see it from Google earth. Do you know what is going to happen to that abandoned section that I took picture?

    1. I tried to take a picture of this same section and this is what happened:

      The buildings of the state prison seemed interesting, so I figured I would stop on the side of the road across the street and take some pictures. I walked up and down the street and did just that. Right after I did that, some lady told me through a window in a building nearby that she didn't think I could take pictures of that. So, I got in my car and started it up. Right after that, someone pulls up along side of me and points at me. I shut the car off and then the man came out of his car. He was wearing what looked like a police belt. He then goes to my driver side and asks me why I was taking pictures. I basically told him the architecture fascinated me. I told him I would delete them. And then he says "they're probably going to confiscate your camera." And then two other officers of the prison come to my car.
      One of them asks to see my camera so he can look at the pictures. He hands it back to me and asks me to work it so he doesn't mess it up. So, then I showed him some pictures and deleted them. There was one picture in that series that was taken at a distance of a brick building. I asked the officer if I had to delete that one. He say "not unless you want to spend the night, we've got plenty of beds." So, I deleted that one and was let go.

      The real question is, why would they put me through that much hassle over an abandoned section? What are they trying to hide?

    2. Huh, did it happen recently?

      In the case of above picture, I took it OUTSIDE of the state property without trespassing. To my understanding, it is fine to take pictures from public space. But again, considering from the police perspective, they want to be more than cautious, and will ask civilians to confiscate even they are outside of the state property. Even the section is abandoned, it is still in the property of an active prison. They can see what's happening clearly from the towers and quite likely from CCTV. I guess that is the case what happened to you?!

      Matthew, thank you for letting us know! Be aware!

    3. This one is a good one to keep in mind:

    4. With the exception of my car taking up space past an easement, I was never on the state property. This was, in my opinion, a complete abuse of power. And in all serious, I have obtained photos of things in that place that you would never see from the street. So much for that I guess.

    5. And I have also examined original blue prints of this very building at the state archives.

    6. I looked at the photographer's right again, and I do have a hard time deeming taking pictures of an abandoned prison complex from public space as a violation of "national security".

      Reading your recent experience, I cannot help thinking that no wonder Frederick Wiseman had such a difficult time circulating Titicut Follies.


    to see the titicut documentary. shocking.

    1. Hi Tim,

      I'm so sorry to be this late to publish your comment. I've been ill last month.

      I'm glad you watched the documentary. It was interesting to read one of the comments where he or she remembering watching the documentary in 1974. I didn't know that the operator (prof.) had to keep the name list to show the documentary!


  4. this past saturday we happened to be in bridgewater and thus went to the cemetery you described above. what a sad sad place! and so weird. no sign, no fence, although there were some indications once there might have been a fence around it once...
    i guess we saw the same dog, too. she now came out running towards me, but i am scard of dogs, even though she was really cute. we talked a little with the lady living right across from the cemetery (and the owner of the dog). she said the cemetery is still active!! people are still buried as a number! even though they might be criminals, or not, i think it is really really weird that they still bury them as a number. she also mentioned that every now and then there was a lady visiting the cemetery, together with her small child. they would stand at a particular grave for a while and then leave again, but she had not seen her for a while...

  5. hello! i forgot to link to your blog, as i intended. but now i did.

  6. Where is that structure in the first picture located? That not the hospital on administration rd? Thanks for anyone's response.

    1. I took the pic on Conant St and Titicut St. As jlp said in the previous comments, it's a former addiction center.

  7. I tried to go up there some years back to take photos and I was stopped almost immediately I said I wanted to take pics of the structures on the grounds and was told to exit, I thought it was ok to drive through that area. Tell me Shuko was I wrong to assume?

    1. It seems to be a concurrent happening here. I made sure that I took a pic from a public space (from a public road), not from the state property. But a commenter had a problem like you even if he took photos from the same loc. as I did.

      You may google this: The Photographer's Guide