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

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

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

From Hillcrest Cemetery, Shrewsbury 1-2

So, why is there an abandoned tower in the state hospital cemetery property? There is an interesting discussion about the original purpose of the tower speculating it was: a Civil War era watching tower, Irish tower commemorating Irish immigrants held in the hospital, water tower for the hospital, etc.

My initial guess was the tower was constructed by hospital patients as a part manual labor. Agricultural fieldwork was the major mode of labor in the hospital, but stones and rocks from cleared fields gotta go. Maybe some patients were more keen to do construction work rather than agricultural one.

But why a tower? Me as an amateur daydreamer, I have to say a certain urge is imprinted in New Englander's DNA; if there are chunk rocks, they are utilized as boundary walls. After enough of them were constructed, you can decorate gates with them. Oh, don't forget! They can be a great material for your house foundation! If you are not satisfied enough, you can decorate the facade with them. What's next?  Building a tower on top of a hill!

Inside of the tower: a fire place, Chinese takeout, and god knows what...

A joke aside, a tower at the Brattleboro Retreat was what I was thinking about in connection with an asylum and tower. Established in 1834 as the Vermont Asylum for the Insane, the Brattleboro Retreat in Vermont is a privately run  hospital noted for its progressive approach to the treatment of mental disorder. When established, the management of the Retreat  was greatly influenced by a new treatment approach called Moral treatment.

Moral treatment built its foundation in 18th century Europe. A French physician Phillipe Pinel freed his patients from shackles and dark dungeons. An English Quaker, William Tuke established York Treat in 1796 where the patients stayed in a small community in a countryside.

Massachusetts own Dorothea Dix was a strong supporter of Moral treatment. By advocating humane approach to the treatment of mental illness, she reformed many state hospitals in a nationwide scale.

According to Joseph A. Citro's Weird New England, the construction of the tower at the Brattleboro (the Retreat Tower) began in 1887. The doctors thought that the outdoor physical labor would help improving the patients mental and moral condition.

They miscalculated. Some patients were stacking stone thinking about his ultimate cure; ending his life. The records of the incidents are secret, but "a fair number of individuals" committed suicide by throwing themselves from the top of the tower, hence the unfortunate name "Bloody Tower" comes from. The gate was immediately closed off.    

Newgate exercise yard by Gustave Dore, 1872 from Wikipedia

The gate to the Hillcrest Cemetery Tower was open. The ceiling, stairs, and floors --possibly all made of woods-- were collapsed, creating a well-like space where nobody would think about climbing up for the deadly scenario.

Thinking about the bloody story of the Retreat Tower on the bottom of the well, my mind began feeling like becoming one of the Dore's prisoners at Newgate Prison in Victorian London. Daily exercise circling inside of the stone enclosure might provide you enough sunlight, fresh air, and physical strength just keeping your body alive, but how about your mind? What, I don't hear you. Mind? Does it set me free from this hell hole? Moral? What is that?


Or I'm thinking about movie Ring or novel Wind-up bird chronicle

So what is the real purpose of the tower? According to the State record, the tower was built to supply drinking water for the hospital. The construction started in 1903, a wooden tank was placed on top of the tower to provide enough elevation so the water was able to be distributed to the entire campus.

The mystery seems to be solved. But there is one question that nobody answered for me: who built the tower?

RIP to all at Hillcrest Cemetery.

Locate Hillcrest cemetery@ Google Map

Hillcrest Cemetery, MACRIS details:
Grafton State Hospital Water Tower, MACRIS details:
Grafton State Hospital,  Asylum Projects:

Restoring Respect, Dignity, and Honor to Grafton State Hospital Cemetery, The Grafton News:
Tower at Hillcrest Cemetery Originally Built to Hold Water, The Grafton News:
The latest theory about the Grafton State Hospital Cemetery Tower, the Greater Grafton Blog:


  1. Shuko: I am visiting from a link on CaT's blog post about the Waltham Asylum cemetery.

    I am the host of a meme known as Taphophile Tragics which you may care to find here

    I wonder if posting to a meme like this is at all of interest to you. I think your interests and my own, and those of other contributors to the meme, are very similar.

    I would welcome you very warmly were you to decide to visit, and perhaps, contribute either this week or next week.

    With my warm regards


    1. Hi Julie,

      I think I'm a Tahophile! I don't know much about meme thing, but I'd love to contribute this week or next week.


    2. Ghh, misspell. Taphophile!

  2. Forgive my ignorance but I'm confused is there 3 cemeteries for Grafton? Hope, Hillcrest, & is there one on the actual grounds of the hospital itself? Thanks ~ K.

    1. Hillcrest Cemetery is the cemetery for Grafton State Hospital. Prior to the establishment of Hillcrest, the hospital was using a plot in Hope Cemetery.

      Some mention Hillcrest as "Grafton State Hospital Memorial Cemetery", but the locals seem to stick with the name "Hillcrest".

      I hope it helps!

  3. *grin* ... Goodo ... I look forward to perhaps seeing your name added to our list. Happy hunting in the meantime.

  4. This story is so tragic, so sad to think of the people.
    Thank you for exploring the place and sharing it with us at Taphophile Tragics.
    Shalom from Jerusalem.

    1. Hi Dina,

      Thank you for visiting my blog.

      There are so many tragedies like this in Massachusetts. I'm trying to figure out why there are so many numbered gravestones in this state.


  5. Grafton State Hospitals burial practices may seem a bit cold, as in just using numbers and not names, but, they were one of the very few asylums that actually buried every unwanted/unclaimed patient. Many of the asylums in New England held a body for only 72 hours, and if unclaimed, gave the bodies to medical institutions for dissection. The older patient burial ground at Worcester State Hospital is so much more horrendous then most, given the fact that patients from just 30 or so years ago have nothing but iron fence rods stuck over their graves. At least in Grafton they kept a record.

    1. Hi Pat H.,

      Thank you for the detailed insight over the various practices in MA asylums. If they can build a memorial with names and DOB, I also think they kept a good record of the patients.

      How do you know those info? I am also interested in knowing those various practices and procedures of those asylums.


    2. Good luck getting a copy or any information regarding the treatment of the patients. The only good record kept was their dates of death which I find rather bazaar. My great, great grandfather is buried at Hillside along with a row of others who died that same year, 1919. He was incarcerated at Worcester's Insane Asylum for reasons unknown to anyone, an Italian immigrant & stone cutter. I wonder if diphtheria was the cause of so many deaths in the years 1919 - 1922?