Local group will not let Westborough State Hospital’s patients be forgotten
By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
Westborough – For 125 years, until it was shut down by the state in 2010, the Westborough State Hospital was “home” to hundreds of patients. Mental health issues were treated differently in the early days of the hospital’s existence; its first name, the Westborough Insane Hospital is one that modern day society would never accept. Many of the hospital’s patients were admitted because their families could not or would not deal with the patients’ issues; they often left the patient there and dropped all contact. The staff in essence then became the patients’ de facto families.
For over 500 of those patients, their deaths were treated in a pragmatic way. There was no wake, service, or other memorial – the body was simply put in a cardboard box and transported to the town’s Pine Grove Cemetery for a burial. And in a final indignity, there was also no grave stone indicating who the person was, just a small stone with a number on it.
A newly formed group, the Westborough State Hospital Cemetery Project, is hoping to rectify what they feel is a terrible wrong. The group’s members, some of who currently work as patient advocates, are now in the beginning stages of conceptualizing a memorial that they hope to have built at the cemetery. (They are also closely working with the state’s Department of Mental Health, under whose auspices the hospital fell.)
Glen Malloy, who previously worked at the Westborough State Hospital, is one of the leaders of the group.
“These people were recipients of real injustice over the past 100 years,” he said. “They deserve to be recognized as human beings, not just numbers. It’s about returning dignity to them. Hopefully this will also bring awareness to mental health issues and show how far we have come in 100 years.”
It was also important, he noted, to remember that there were many people who worked at the hospital, who were “altruistic and kind-hearted.”
The area the patients were buried in is at the far end of the cemetery, near what are known as “the paupers” and “the babies” sections. (Cemetery groundskeeper Don Gale explained that many families in the mid 1800s to early 1900s, especially young parents starting out, didn’t yet have burial plots. So when babies died at birth, as was common at that time, they were buried in a common plot.)
Except for one veteran’s grave marked with a flag (left there by VFW members), the area where the state hospital patients are buried looks like just an ordinary, well-kept lawn. There are
only a few of the small, numbered stone markers present; Gale said that is because they have all deteriorated over time.
The project to build the monument is still in the very early stages, Malloy said. But a Holliston architect, Ed Clinton, has agreed to help them with an initial design concept. Those plans would feature a granite rotunda with a statue and panels that would illustrate the history of the hospital. Possibly the panels would also list the names of the patients, although that may not be allowed because of privacy concerns, Malloy said. And in some cases, names have been lost forever, he added, because the early hand-written records have either faded or were not updated at the time.
Although the project is just getting started, the group is hopeful that once others learn of their mission, they will join them in ensuring that the 500 plus patients finally get the justice they deserve, he added.
On May 29, several members of the Employment Options Clubhouse of Marlborough paid tribute to the former patients as they laid flowers on the graves.
Ossie Rambarran, a site director with the state’s Department of Mental Health, said it was appropriate that the group did so on that day as May is Mental Health Month.
“Hopefully this will be a tradition we can hold every year,” he said.
For more information on the initiative to build the new memorial, contact Malloy at 508-877-2104.
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