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Danvers State Main Cemetery

Hello Ghoul fiends!

Danvers State Hospital, once referred to as "the Castle on the Hill," opened in 1878. The Gothic structure was designed to promote healing and followed the Kirkbride architecture plan. The plan was designed after the ideas of Thomas Story Kirkbride, a psychiatrist at the time. The plan included a lot of natural light, air ventilation, and typical "bat wing" style floor plan.

The hospital closed in 1992 and soon after the cemeteries on-site became overgrown with weeds and grasses. The graves, some dating back to 1878, were marked with numbers (see picture below and above), not names. This was apparently common practice to "protect the privacy of the patient." Some have theorized this was to protect the family from the stigma associated with mental illness, especially at a time when it was not understood. It is believed that those buried at Danvers Main Cemetery did not have family to claim them but it was also practice at other hospitals to bury patients on-site if families could not pay the funeral costs.

After hiking in the area and seeing how the cemeteries had become overgrown, a woman named Pat Deegan had wanted to do something about the condition of the cemeteries. In 1998, the Danvers State Memorial Committee (DSMC) was formed. DSMC made up of 60 ex-patients and allies took on the task of cleaning up the sites and converting the numbered markers to granite stones with names. The Danvers State Memorial Committee members painstakingly went through death records at Danvers Town Hall to gather the information needed for the names of patients in the cemeteries. Apparently Danvers State Hospital records did not exist for the cemeteries and unfortunately not all of the numbered stones could be "matched with names." As a result, the DSMC members created a monument as you enter the cemetery listing the names, dates of birth and death of the patients buried with a lovely bench and candle.

Between the Main Cemetery and Middleton location, there are 770 graves. The main cemetery has 677, with 542 identified and 354 have matching names to their number. The Middleton cemetery has 93 numbered markers with 84 identified, but the names could not be matched with the numbers. I will do a follow-up blog on the Danvers State Middleton Cemetery location in the coming weeks.

The Danvers State Memorial Committee and all those who helped with the grants to see this project move forward, did a truly amazing job. As you enter the cemetery there is a stone that reads "Danvers State Hospital Cemetery: The Echoes They Left Behind." It just says so much about how the survivors did not forget. Even after almost 20 years, the cemetery is well maintained and is a beautiful place of peace. DSMC met their goal of creating a place of remembrance and helping break those stereotypes associated with mental illness. Please note: Danvers State Main Cemetery is in a residential area, so respect is warranted if you visit. I would not linger too long, and be sure not to park in resident parking.

I must say again I am stunned that so much of the Kirkbride was saved (what I believe is part of Building F and maybe parts of D and G??? facade ). To many, it was not enough. I get it, it is such a SMALL portion of a mammoth. At some point I will share my original pictures of Danvers State before the demolition and you will see it really is not a lot. But when you go to Danvers after being at Northampton State, it is amazing how much of an attempt was made to save SOME in comparison, it just feels like so much more there.... I agree, it was not enough, and there is a sense of loss that it is now surrounded by all of this new construction that lacks the Gothic style.

I guess when you think of Danvers State Main Cemetery and what was saved of Danvers State, it is bittersweet. I hope that the grounds continue to be cared for and that over time they are maintained so future generations can enjoy what is left. As I mentioned, I will do a follow-up on the Danvers State Middleton Cemetery location in the coming weeks to compare how the DSMC was able to approach the preservation and memorialization at that location. I hope you have a wonderful weekend and bootiful day!

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