Emily Part II
The Willard Asylum
The Willard Asylum was once a very large and impressive establishment. The entire facility originally covered over one thousand acres of land. It was comparable to a small town. Willard was a self-sufficient community that met all of the needs of its residents, from food production to medical care.
Getting Closer to Emily
For years I searched for Emily through documents, studying everything that would help me understand her path. That wasn’t enough. I wanted to stand on the very ground she stood on. And so, my pilgrimage took me to the Willard Asylum.
I drove through small towns, past quiet farms, and down rolling hills. The multiple brick structures once collectively known as the Willard Asylum appeared in the scenery. I felt relieved. My journey to Willard was over, yet I was excited knowing that my exploration was about to begin. Although Willard wasn’t as large as it once was, a good portion of the town was saved, repurposed, and is being used. The state has repurposed part of the site into a correctional facility. On my self-guided tour, there are apartments, a bank, and several buildings have been rehabbed and preserved. Although I read about the changes, my heart wanted to see them as Emily did almost one hundred years ago. Oddly, several dilapidated buildings in the center were left untouched. They stood as a reminder of what they once were, part of a psychiatric facility and home to Emily.
Time Stood Still For This Part of Willard
My journey continued on foot, and I was drawn to the crumbling structures that time had forgotten. A chain link fence was installed around the entire perimeter, and signs warned against trespassing. Vines grew up the side of the fence, like curtains. They were thick in areas and disturbed my view. Young trees took root in every available space. It seemed as if nature was protecting Willard from further damage or claiming it for her own. It made me sad to see the disrepair. This is a piece of history, a history I share with Emily now. The architecture had once been so impressive, with roofs made of slate shingles that still held firm. Enormous windows filled the sides of every wall; some had every pane still intact, while others had missing and broken glass. One area in the wall had a gaping hole where a doorway might have once been on the second floor. I could see inside the building and look down the length of a hallway. It was an eerie feeling as I imagined the residents who walked those very hallways, yet now they were quiet and abandoned. Individual rooms lined the hall, and I saw overturned furniture that had been left behind. Furniture that the patients once used was now forsaken and left to rot. There was a sense that once the doors had been closed, they never opened again. Time stood still for this part of Willard.
Forty-two Years, Ten Months, and Eight Days
I thought about Emily and the first time she saw Willard. My reaction was likely very different from hers. I knew my visit would be short, but for Emily, Willard became her home. We both saw the same buildings, yet we each saw something very different. Emily’s future was uncertain. She was alone with no family, and English was not her native tongue. Emily had to have been scared. Her future was unknown. Could she have known that this was where she would spend the rest of her life?
I walked around the grounds and looked at every brick, broken window, and rotted beam. I tried to feel Emily’s story. Willard had taken Emily on the day she arrived as a resident. I know she was there from census records, but little else is known about her life. There wasn’t any family who knew of Emily. I haven’t found a single picture of her. She ceased to exist outside the walls of Willard; it was her home for the next forty-two years, ten months, and eight days.