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Worcester State Hospital
Hillside Cemetery Renovation Project
Last Revised, May 28, 2001

Cemetery Listing
Wednesday, July 12, 2000
By James Dempsey
Telegram & Gazette Columnist
Worcester, Massachusetts

There were flowers yesterday on two of the 215 graves at Hillside Cemetery in Shrewsbury, several colorful bunches at the grave of Celia Warner and a simple white bouquet at the stone of Storey M. Hinckley. The tranquil setting was classic New England: an old cemetery warmed by the July sun, surrounded by leafy countryside and bounded by a simple stone wall with granite pillars and iron gates. But it wasn't so long ago that one couldn't perform the simple act of laying flowers on the grave of a fondly remembered one at either of the two sections of the old state hospital cemetery. In the section on the western side of Lake Street, the markers had been all lost under the spreading grass. The other section, on the east side of the street, was completely overgrown, remembered only dimly in the stories of old-timers. This hill in Shrewsbury, where bucolic scenes are just a stone's throw from the relentless traffic of Route 9, was once the site of a 120-acre farm operated by Worcester State Hospital. Patients worked here, growing crops and looking after animals, and many of those who died ended up buried in Hillside. But they weren't shown the regard of being given even the simplest headstone. Each grave was marked only by a concrete brick into which was inscribed a number. To find the location of a particular grave, one would have to look up the name in the death registry, which was kept at the state hospital, note the number, then travel to Shrewsbury to find the corresponding marker at the cemetery. Small wonder the cemetery fell into disuse, even though the last burial there was as recently as the 1980s. What used to be Hillside Farm is today the home of the Department of Mental Retardation's Glavin Regional Center. It was Glavin's program director, Al Bacotti, who first realized, seven years ago, that the state of the cemetery was symptomatic of the way people with mental illness and retardation had been treated. It occurred to me we really ought to provide some degree of respect, he said. At around the same time, Glavin workers discovered the smaller section of Hillside Cemetery on the other side of Lake Street. A check of the death registry at the state hospital showed that more than 1,600 patients had been buried in Hillside. A renovation project was begun, and Hillside Cemetery West, as the once-forgotten section is known, was rededicated last year. Each grave was given a flat stone marker that noted the name and dates of the deceased. Now the people at Glavin are working on the larger section, Hillside East. For two years, Judy Burke and Louise Nelson spent a day every week in the back room of the City Clerk's office in Worcester, using the dates of internment from the old state hospital registry to find accurate information from birth and death certificates. They located the records of all but 11 of the 1,400 people buried in the eastern section. They think this small group of patients may have been at Cushing Hospital in Framingham. Meanwhile, Glavin program coordinator Bob Johnson spent his days at Hillside East, unearthing the old concrete markers in preparation for their replacement with granite stones. I've found about 900, Mr. Johnson said. They're a step and a half apart. Glavin plans to install the gravestones at a rate of 200 a year. The project is more than decorative. The fact that the cemeteries are being restored is seen by many as symbolic of a new respect for the mentally ill and mentally retarded. Now they're not just numbers in a field, said Diane Enochs, regional director for the state Department of Mental Retardation. Mr. Bacotti has received calls from descendants trying to track down forebears who were state hospital patients, and was pleased at the sense of acceptance he found among them. We meet people who are at least one generation removed from those buried here, and you see no stigma attached to having someone in the family with a disability, he said. While attitudes toward those with mental disabilities have a way to go, he said, affording them this kind of dignity in death, even belatedly, is a step forward. Our evolution as a culture makes me feel very good, said Mr. Bacotti. It seems people had died and just been forgotten about, said Mrs. Burke. A lot of people call and say they had relatives at Worcester State Hospital, and have questions about them. At least now we have a record of where they are, if people want to pay respects. The first person to be interred at Hillside was Aristodemus Busellui, who was born in 1880 and died in 1918. The last was Lylle Pankala, who was born in 1918 and died in 1989. Now each has a name, as does everyone else buried at Hillside.

Cemetery Listing

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