Sunday, August 29, 2010

Medfield State Hospital Cemetery, Medfield

Continues from: Medfield State Hospital

Remember us for we too have lived, loved and laughed – Medfield State Hospital Cemetery

After visiting the now defunct psychiatric hospital, I headed to the Medfield State Hospital Cemetery where the patients between 1918 and 1988 are buried. Driving to a field half a mile apart from the hospital, I was thinking about how the deceased had been carried to the cemetery.

I have to confess that walking through a woodland to the cemetery was little scary; a little visibility made me anxious where the passage leads to. However, I soon arrived at a well maintained cemetery gate. There was a modest monument with inscription: Remember us for we too have lived, loved and laughed*. Looking at a desiccated flower basket on the monument, I was regretting not bringing a bouquet. 

*The word on the monument, which was erected in September, 2005, appeared on the movie Shutter Island, as the crew used the Medfield as a part of their movie sets. The phrase was written by a former Medfield State High School student.


It is not a first time walking through a cemetery like this, and I always experience a complete silence. There is a constant noise of cars from a nearby road and sound of birds from surrounding woods, but how strange… there is no sense of sound in the field. With a tingling sensation, I observed austere concrete headstones with numbers for identification purpose.  However, many were associated with newer gravestones with the names, and the years of birth and death of the patients.  

Observing the gravestones and imagining the faces of the deceased, I was thinking about a handful of people I saw at the hospital. When I visit nature trails I always say hello or hello-back to pass-bys… I wondered why the people I encountered at the hospital -- non-goth grown-ups who love exercising -- avoided eye-contact (well, except the guy on SUV). At the end of the day, it is no nature trail, and they might have regarded me as a non-local weirdo snooping around. 

I was convinced about the weirdness when I headed back from the cemetery to my car parked at a nearby nature conservation. There were a father and three children packing up to leave. I said hello to the father just to be courteous, but he gave me a blank stare through a pair of sunglasses. Driven by desperation, I also said hello to the children; they literally gaping at me as if they encountered an alien (OK, I AM an alien, etranger, auslander, gaijin…or whatever to you, kids!); I felt as if I were an escaped patient from the hospital.
I have to clarify that what I think creepy is not the deceased or cemetery but the power that enables reducing people’s identity to mere numbers, like the headstones at the cemetery. We -- the people outside of the institutional wall -- do have a fear towards the confined “unknown”. The numbering may be the process of reducing the anxiety to something tangible but faceless facts, dehumanizing them to a level that we have forgotten they too have lived, loved and laughed.


Locate Medfield State Hospital Cemetery @ Google Map  

Paid Respect: Hospital dead get names, not numbers, Wicked Local Medfield:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Medfield State Hospital, Medfield

Visited on August 21, 2010

Together with my brand-new Nikon 5000, I visited now defunct Medfield State Hospital in Medfield, MA (now open to public between 6am to 6pm, yay!) Passing through beautiful woodlands and a train track, I was wondering  how the patients-going-to-be had reached the hospital.

When I approached the entry, a sign warmly welcomed me: “PASS AT OWN RISK … ENTRY TO BUILDINGS PROHIBITED … POLICE TAKE NOTICE.”

Built in 1852, this vast, spread-out psychiatric hospital differs from a typical image of the asylum of the time; located at an outskirt of a town, a Kirkbride looming on a hill like a broad-winged bat... On the contrary, the Medfield used to be a self-sustained community which supplied their own food from its farm, potable water from nearby wellfield, and even coal-generated electricity.

The facility closed its door in 2003. Like all the abandoned buildings, it suffers a rapid decay.  A guy patrolling with a non-descript SUV -- I hope he is a hired guard, but I’m not sure about it! -- kindly reminded me about falling shingles.

Yeah, he's right...

Anyway, anyone who attempts to enter the buildings isn’t the brightest spark.

Ugh, Poison Ivy!


 A seemingly non-religious chapel anchors the campus geographically and symbolically. The building with lovely details on its doors appears to be suffering the least decay.  Possibly a higher craftsmanship was applied to this important building, or maybe the word “asbestos” scares trespassers away.

Mesothelioma, anyone?

Amid the 19th century red brick structures, a low-hung, middle of the century complex caught my attention.  The sign obstructed by the ubiquitous ENTRY TO BUILDINGS PROHIBITED notice indicates the building used to be a job training facility.

Like other state-run institutions in the mid century, I assume this hospital experienced the shift in the way of treating patients -- from confinement to community placement; the advent of psychiatric medication, the change in people’s mentality, and more practically, overcrowding are some of the reasons I can think of. I find it interesting the date of the building exemplifies the historical shift in the treatment.

And now, the campus is totally deserted. Only wild turkeys roam the space like it used to be.

Currently, the town is selling the property to any third-party, but the future of the building is still uncertain.  Sardonic teenagers (or to be fair, teenager-used-to-be) know what they ought to say:

(Continues to Medfield State Hospital Cemetery)

Locate Medfield State Hospital @ Google Map