Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tewksbury State Hospital Cemetery, Tewksbury

Continue from: Stonecroft @ Tewksbury Hospital, Tewksbury

There are two cemeteries for Tewksbury State Hospital. The one I visited is called "the Pines Cemetery". The other is simply called "the Pauper Cemetery". They are located in separate woodlands nearby the hospital. According to the Public Health Museum, approximately 15,000 patients, who had no relatives claimed their bodies, are buried in those no-name cemeteries. Apparently, the records between 1854 and 1894 are missing, but at least the patients deceased between1891 and 1930 are buried in the Pines Cemetery. In the Pauper Cemetery, the burials took place as late as 1960's.

Established in 1892, Tewksbury Hospital was originally called as the Tewksbury Almshouse. Many of them were destitute immigrants notably from Ireland. In addition to the poor, they accepted the "pauper insane", alcoholics, and patients with such contagious disease as TB.

Old Administration Building/ Public Health Museum 

One of the many reasons why I visited the Public Health Museum was to gather information about the cemetery. Usually, consulting a map and some web sites suffice the function. But look at this... 

Google Street View of the Pines Cemetery

No way I'm going to visit the cemetery without the firsthand information, I thought. Helpful guides at the museum provided detailed information about the cemetery, encouraging me to visit there. So I decided to go.

Ok, it doesn't look so intimidating on a hot sunny day. But I didn't bring a bunch of I went for a rudimentary measure by picking wild flower and put it on a stone hedge. I set my foot onto the pine woods.

There are at least two graves around the snapped tree; click picture to find them

The grave marker in the Pines Cemetery is made of metal and has a cross surrounded by a laurel wreath. Like numerous state hospital cemeteries in Massachusetts, the only information that distinguishes one from another is a number on the center of the cross.

A new guide told me that she was surprised how obscure those markers were when she first visited the cemetery. "If you aren't careful, you'll step on them!" She told me. I was puzzled by her statement because the museum display of the markers were well over 12-inch high.

She was right. Some of the markers were buried deep. 100 years are long time, the forest soil accumulates. The rusty color blended into the surrounding, making it more difficult to spot.

It was the first summer day, hot and humid. Mosquitoes seemed to be waiting for THIS day. I was the prime subject for their feast. I was the walking cocktail platter for them. Why could they sting through my thick, stripy sailor shirt?

Sorry sorry, I forgot a flower bouquet but I searched for an hour...With a rather illogical reasoning for the mosquito siege, I was running through the woods in a nearly panicked state.

Although more sporadic, the markers were located even in the middle of the woods. "How big is the cemetery? Can I go through this?" I began to feel the past and the present were finally connected through the landscape. The sheer number of the anonymous markers spoke about the scale and gravity of the hardship against the destitute.

I finally came to the south side of the cemetery. The grave markers were densely arranged but I somehow felt they were less lonely compared to the sporadically placed markers in the middle of the woods.

One, two, three...Uh-oh

The attack of the mosquitoes became less intense, and I felt more relaxed...But oh boy, I was running on poison ivy.

According to the information in 2004, local volunteers, Eagle Scouts, and Boy Scouts routinely maintain the ground. But it's such a large cemetery; the section the job has done will overgrow again when they finish the last section. Considering from how the grave markers are placed, it is almost impossible to cut the grass with mowing machines. Everything has to be done by hand. Poison Ivy is a big headache among the volunteers.

Fresh paint were on some of the grave markers, suggesting there is a sustained local effort to maintain the ground. But the other location nearby a middle school does not seem to be as maintained as the Pines Cemetery is. Remember, about15,000 people were buried in the two locations. We have a lot of job that has to be done. 


I thank helpful guilds at the Public Health Museum for providing insightful, valuable information of the hospital, cemetery, and history of public health. I recommend you to visit the museum! Museum URL:

Locate Tewksbury State Hospital Cemetery @ Google Map

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Stonecroft, Tewksbury

Reminder: Stonecroft sits in the middle of an active hospital property. Please respect hospital workers and patients and do not disturb the property.

Continue from Tewksbury Hospital, Tewksbury

Conditions at the Tewksbury Almshouse were deplorable. Chronically underfunded, overcrowded and in disrepair, the Almshouse housed an average of 940 men, women and children during the years that Sullivan was there. The mortality rate was very high, and within three months of their arrival, Jimmie Sullivan died. --From Perkins School for the Blind

Stonecroft, Rear

Tewksbury Hospital was established in 1852 as a state-run almshouse. Over the years, the almshouse experienced diversified operation, began accepting "pauper insane" in 1866. Alcoholics were also admitted as a course of expansion. In the early 20th century, more facilities were added to treat patients with TB, small pox and typhoid.

Stonecroft, Front

"It used to be 'the place to die'." The guide at the Public Health Museum said. "It took quite a time to remove the image."

Anne Sullivan's brother Jimmy was one of the numerous sick paupers who were admitted to the Tewksbury just waiting to die. He supposedly died from TB like his mother did. Considering from her background as a nearly blind, destitute Irish immigrant daughter, I'm now very impressed how much Anne achieved in her life. When I was a kid, she's "the teacher of Helen Keller", but now as a grown-up immigrant woman, I cannot help admiring her guts to fight with her tough upbringing.

Bird's eye view of the hospital in 1930's

Looking at a picture drawn in 1930's,  the guide kept pointing outlying buildings saying, "this is for TB", "this one is also for TB", "this one, too."  He kept going on. The picture was drawn in 1930's. Before the arrival of streptomycin in 1943, good rest, food, and air were the measures against TB.

"This one is for alcoholics."

Finally, something other than TB. Alcoholism was another issue of the time.

From MACRIS database

"We used to admit, what would you say..."

Together with other guide, we began brainstorming for the antiquated term for "traveling homeless who has no intention to work".


"Not quite..."

We came up with several words: "vagabonds", "tramps", "vagrants"...anyway, I'll settle as "itinerants".

"They liked Tewksbury over Bridgewater (another state-run almshouse of the time) because they were forced to work there; the rules were very strict at Bridgewater. On the other hand, we didn't force them to work here."

In my mind, the landscape of the interwar London and the US somehow doubled. I guess it's the time to re-read Down and Out in Paris and London.

What is this lodge-like building called "Stonecroft"? After listening to the history of the hospital, I felt this must be related to tuberculosis treatment. I could see this lodge sitting on the hill in Southern Germany or Austria, think about the Sound of Music. All I could imagine from this building was "good air and plenty of sunlight".

TB patients in pre-antibiotic time, from Public Health Museum

However, as the way the facade is clad with dug-up stone suggests, the detail is very vernacular of Massachusetts; I wouldn't be surprised if the WPA built this as a part of job creation projects* during the 30's.

* For the examples of Massachusetts WPA stone-clad structures,  please refer to: Slayton Tower, Melrose; Wright's Tower, Medford.

 WPA mural at Public Health Museum

Guess what, according to the MACRIS database, Stonecroft was built in 1935, just around the time multiple TB wards dotted the Tewksbury Hospital. There was no mention about the WPA, but I feel the chance is high.

I peeked through a broken window to access the current state of the interior. It seemed to be utilized as a  storage space. A cold breeze came through the crack; it was damp and had a smell of dusty mildew. "That's not good for my lung...", I instinctively held my breath.

There is little information available about the original purpose of Sotnecroft. The MACRIS determines this building's significance as "agriculture; Architecture; Health Medicine". Indeed there is an active horse barn just down the hill. The name "croft" also suggest its agricultural nature. My estimation about Stonecroft as the TB ward is quite unlikely; it is more likely one of the farm cottages. But who knows?

I have to remind you that I initially hesitated to post Stonecroft because it sits on a functioning hospital ground. But as an enthusiast of the WPA artifacts, I thought this building is an interesting conglomeration of the history of public work policy, public health, and vernacular architecture; it should attain more positive attention. So, if you know about the history of Stonecroft, I would be delighted to know!

Continue to: Tewksbury State Hospital Cemetery, Tewksbury

Anne Sullivan, Perkins School for the Blind:
The Public Health Museum, Tewksbury Hospital:
Tewksbury Mass Historical Properties (PDF):
Stonecroft, MACRIS database:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tewksbury Hospital, Tewksbury

Old Administration Building, built 1894

Tewksbury Hospital was one of the state run almshouses established in 1852. The Bridgewater, Monson and Tewksbury Almshouse were opened to accommodate an increasing number of destitute immigrants in Massachusetts.

The Bridgewater Almshouse later become a correctional facility for "criminally insane", and Monson became "Massachusetts Hospital for Epileptics" in 1895. Tewksbury began accepting "pauper insane" in 1866. Alcoholics were treated in the course of expansion. The almshouse/ asylum also admitted patients with such contagious disease as TB, small pox and typhoid, but also remained as an almshouse, especially during the time of the Great Depression.

Wrought Iron Gare, circa 1900

Anne Sullivan was one of the "paupers". Abandoned by an alcoholic father from Ireland, Anne and her brother, Jimmy were admitted to the Tewksbury Almshouse in 1876. Like their mother, Jimmy is said to die from consumption only 3 months after the siblings' arrival to the almshouse.

Currently, Tewksbury Hospital is a state run facility for psychiatric and medical treatment. I visited the hospital for the Public Health Museum*, thinking about obtaining some historic materials and information about the hospital cemetery.

*Open Wednesdays 10am to 2pm, or by appointment. Please refer to my post: Stuck in the Emerson Iron Lung .

After visiting the museum, I decided to walk around the campus because a kid on a horse back caught my attention. I first thought how strange to see a horse on a hospital property, but it seems to be a part of Animal Assisted Therapy; that makes sense.

When established, the hospital was planned according to the cottage plan, a style gained popularity in the late 19th century asylums. Multiple building blocks, chiefly made with redbrick, dotted the broad campus. The patients were assigned to a specific ward or block sorted by the condition, gender, etc. Prior to this, all the types of patients were placed into a single, bat wing shaped building called the Kirkbride plan (i.e.: Danvers State Hospital in Danvers, Our Lady's Hospital in Cork.)

In the cottage plan, each building blocks were usually connected by underground tunnels; Tewksbury Hospital was no exception.

When you visit the museum, I recommend taking a closer look to an areal view of the campus drawn in the 30's. The museum guide who used to be the hospital worker told me the staff used to use tunnels for a dating spot. Since the nurse dormitory on the campus was under the watchful eyes of the superintendent, they met at "a secret spot" where they won't be seen or heard. I guess that's how a romance was carried out in the numerous state hospitals in Massachusetts... I'm thinking about proposing a plot based on hospital tunnels, possibly a noir type, to Scorsese, what do you think?

Currently, the tunnels are used for accommodating boilers, and hospital workers don't use them for going back and forth between buildings, forget about a secret dating spot! But you can still recognize some of the tunnel portals on the campus.

It was past 2pm, and I decided to sit down on a picnic table to eat some snack. I couldn't find any supermarket on the way to the hospital except a huge distribution center for a local supermarket chain.

Nibbling on a granola bar, I felt sort of déjà vu. There is a resemblance to Medfield State Hospital. Medfield was built in 1852, the year the Tewksbury Almshouse was established. The spread out, the cottage plan hospital grounds have a very similar feel of landscape. If Medfield State Hospital wasn't abandoned, it would have looked like Tewksbury, I thought.

In next post, I'll introduce more about Tewksbuty Hospital. Stay tuned.

Continue to: Stonecroft, Tewksbury

Locate Tewksbury Hospital @ Google Map

Tewksbury hospital,
The Public Health Museum
Anne Sullivan, Perkins School for the Blind
State Hospitals of Massachusetts,
Tewksbury State Hospital, Asylum Projects
Cottage Planned Institutions, Asylum Projects

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Stuck in the Emerson Iron Lung

(a follow up of: Emerson's Iron Lung and Quonset Hut, Cambridge)

Recently, I visited the Public Health Museum at Tewsksbury Hospital and came across an object I mentioned in my past post.

I live close to the former main office of J.H. Emerson Co. in North Cambridge. The company was the leading manufacture of a negative pressure ventilator a.k.a Iron Lung during the polio outbreaks between the 40's and 50's. It was a temporal measure for the majority of the patients, but some remained to rely on an Iron Lung permanently.

After the development of the vaccine in the 60's, the company had been manufacturing the "cough assist" products. The company was sold in 2007, and the office became empty. But rusty Iron Lungs in a Quonset Hut were left visible from the sidewalk for few years. They are already cleared, and the Quonset Hut is waiting to be demolished.

More modern one

At the Public Health Museum, I was with two museum guides. (Hey, I'm a VIP!) Looking at a more modern version of an Iron Lung embellished with cute stickers, one of the guides -- a lady in my mom's age -- told me that she personally knew people had contracted polio.

The other guide, a tough looking grandpa with Boston accent, is a retired hospital worker at the Tewksbury. Looking at an older version of the machine, he mentioned about the photo full of Iron Lungs taken during the highest of the epidemic. What a coincidence, I've cited the photo in my past entry... In his generation, this is the vision of the polio epidemic.

He told me the PBS crew used the above machine to shoot a documentary.

"They recreated the hospital ward, and a child actor, a boy, went inside of this."

"If you were the child actor, could you be inside of this ?"

"No thanks."

He frowned a bit. The voice had a tone admiring the kid's professionalism. I agree with him, no thanks for me, either.

He or she would sure learn how to tell a person approaching from the shoes.

"Why is there a mirror here?", I asked.

"They were lying down, the bodies were inside of the tank. You couldn't move your neck towards a person talking to you."

There was a metal plate; manufactured by J. H. Emerson Co. at an address in Cambridge. Yep, it's from North Cambridge.

FDR and polio

Locate Public Health Museum/ Tewksbury Hospital @ Google Map

Public Health Museum:
Last breath, Mass High Tech: