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 Mass.gov). 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