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

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hillcrest Cemetery (Grafton S. H. Cemetery), Shrewsbury 1-2

From Grafton State Hospital, Grafton

After visiting the former Grafton State Hospital, I dropped by Hillcrest Cemetery where approximately 1,041 male and female patients held at Grafton State Hospital are buried. Their identities are only distinguished by the numbers on austere concrete blocks.

There is always a mystery in Massachusetts woods. A state hospital on the hillside and its hidden graveyard are some of those mysteries. Even the residents would not imagine there is a graveyard in their backyard, but the local teenagers find it anyway; they seem to be strangely fascinated by those numbered gravestones.

Hillcrest Cemetery has one of those Massachusetts mysteries, but there is a further puzzlement that nobody knows for sure.

Grafton State Hospital was established in 1901 as a farm colony for Worcester State Hospital. Started with 700 acres of land containing about 500 patients, the camps had grown to 1,200 acre land with 1,730 patients in 1945. Grafton was closed in 1973, and some portion of the former campus is now occupied by a veterinarian school, a federal job training program, and some office complexes.

According to 1917 annual report of the Trustee of Grafton State Hospital, the necessity to provide a new burial site was discussed because the plot in Hope Cemetery in Worcester was about to exceed its capacity. Soon this site in Shrewsbury was selected, securing enough land for 3,000 burials.

A path leads to the cemetery. Note the pine trees.

Hillcrest Cemetery is  right across the MBTA Grafton Station and the former Grafton State Hospital colony called "Pines" where "excited" female patients were held. The part of the former Pines section is now converted to the Job Corps training facility. The name of the colony was taken from trees grow in the area such as Elms, Oaks, and Willows. Because of the proximity, the cemetery's landscape was undoubtedly the one of the Pines colony.

Finding a parking spot was little tricky. Initially, I was counting on the MBTA parking lot, but the big signboard on the entrance said: "PARKING FOR COMMUTERS ONLY" (ok, I got it). While I was driving around the area, I saw a sedan car parked on Centech Boulevard ("Centech" is a name of an office park) and glimpsed a veteran-looking old man and his wife were heading to the cemetery.

Eventually I found a space across the Job Corps entrance. I was still unsure whether it was OK to park here for while, and asked a passerby. He didn't think it was a big deal, so I decided to leave my car there.

Click picture to read

There was a memorial in the cemetery, commemorating the patients who served in the armed forces. Guessing from the years they were born, they must have been veterans for World War I and II, Korean War, and maybe Vietnam War. The list was predominantly male, but I found a name "Mary" who was born in 1892 and died in 1939. She must have been a World War I nurse, I guessed.

Now I got why the old couple was visiting the cemetery.  

The sky was grey, the air was humid. Flies were annoyingly buzzing around my ears. It was about to rain.

Signified by the flags, the gravestones for veterans were concentrated on the east corner.  As I was exploring the cemetery, the fluttering red and blue fabric caught the edge of my eyesight several times, made me feel the visitors were coming from the woods.

Of course, there was nobody.

The site was well maintained. It looked like the ground was regularly mowed, and gravestones were not obscured by dirt, leaves, or grass. According to the Greater Grafton Blog and the Grafton News, the Job Corps trainees are maintaining the ground and gravestones.

The names of the patients and the corresponding number on the gravestones are documented. Considering the other state hospital cemeteries where chunks of recodes has been missing, it is a remarkable point. As you can see from the above picture, some of the plots seemed to be cleared, only leaving hollow dents filled by dead leaves. I hope they joined a family plot somewhere in the country, I thought.

Now, you wonder what is the mystery attached to the cemetery. I'll show you:

To be continued: Hillcrest Cemetery, Shrewsbury 2-2

Locate Hillcresat Cemetery @ Google Map


  1. What a place riddled with so many stories! I imagine it could be a treasure trove for both a writer and a photographer! Great series of photos!

    1. Hi Gemma,

      Thank you for visiting my blog. I feel there are more layers of mysteries I haven't discovered yet in this cemetery!


  2. I'm glad there is documentation to link the numbered graves to their occupants. I felt quite sad when I saw the thumbnail photo.

    1. Hi Ann,

      There is documentation, but generally speaking it is difficult to obtain. Sometimes even possible descendants cannot access the info from the state (I think court order is required) due to "privacy protection".

  3. Interesting post, such a fancinating place.

    Herding Cats

    1. Hi Nicloa,

      Tanks for visiting my site!

  4. I share the teenagers' strange fascination with those numbered gravestones. They just beg for the stories to be told. :-)

    1. Hi Francisca,

      If the teenagers grow up with their mind intact, they'll be like us - an invigorating life, isn't it?


  5. As I mentioned last week, I will try to discover how our asylum's dealth with deceased inmates who were without family. I am sure it would have been in a similar fashion to what you document here.

    Thank you ever so much for joining our meme. Whenever you have an appropriate post in the future, I would welcome your name to appear in our list. Much appreciated.

    1. Hi Julie,

      That would be an extremely interesting project for me to read; I know there are numbered graves in Canada and the US but I don't know beyond that.

      I will post lots of post related to the meme, so thanks alot for the offer.