Emily Part III
- Emily Part II
- Emily Part III
WILLARD IS HOME
Willard State Hospital was more than a medical facility. It was home to Emily. She lived there for decades through the many changes that Willard saw. Nothing left of her life outside of Willard, so the long-time residents became her family. It was here that she lived, yet no one knew of the life she had.
FROM THE BEGINNING
By April 1930, Emily was a resident of the Willard State Hospital. I don’t know precisely when she was admitted, but there are a few pieces of her life that I have been able to put together. Emily was a widow by the time she was sent to Willard. She had left behind her five children, who were all young adults, except for her fifteen-year-old son. He was left to be raised by his sister.
I can surmise that Emily was grief-stricken by the loss of her husband. The times differed from today regarding mental health. There was no medication for severe depression. Society would have no sympathy for someone who could not ‘shake it off’ within an acceptable time allowed for grieving. Emily was institutionalized and her children lost their mother soon after losing their father. It goes beyond words to think about what my ancestors endured in the span of five years.
EMILY’S LIFE AT WILLARD
In 1930, it could have been possible for Emily to arrive at Willard by boat, bus, or rail. The most likely would have been by the newly formed bus route.
Emily’s life at Willard is mostly a mystery because the records are all sealed and not considered genealogical information. What I know is that there were two women’s buildings and Emily would have been a resident of either the Grandview or the Pines. From the census, I know she worked in the kitchen. For forty-two years, ten months, and eight days, this is all we know of Emily and then her life story ends there at Willard.
EMILY’S FINAL RESTING PLACE
The day Emily died at Willard at ninety-two, two of her children had passed away and two others had moved to another state, changed their names, and seemly went on with different lives. There was no evidence that Emily’s family had any contact with her during her life at Willard.
Emily was laid to rest in the Willard State Hospital Cemetery. There is controversy surrounding the graveyard that I had followed prior to knowing my ancestor was buried there. Once I knew Emily was there, it further pulled at my heart to feel the injustice of it all. Emily’s life of sadness had come full circle. I wanted to walk those hallowed grounds but knew this would be a cemetery visit like no other.
THE WILLARD STATE HOSPITAL CEMETERY
The Willard State Hospital Cemetery sits high atop a hill overlooking Seneca Lake. The road dips down and just as it curves at the lake, there is a small sign showing we have arrived. The cemetery has no roads. It hardly resembles a cemetery at all, but more like an open piece of property with a footpath leading in as a makeshift entrance. We park at the water’s edge and take the footpath up a fairly steep hill. The property opens up to an amazing view.
Willard Psychiatric Center has buried nearly six thousand former patients in that Willard State Hospital Cemetery. The area hardly seems large enough for that many burials. The only headstones belong to veterans and are congregated into one corner of the graveyard.
It’s conflicting because the land itself is beautiful with a view of Seneca Lake, yet I feel a sense of what is missing. There are no headstones, no memorials, and no flowers. The grass is not mowed and there are no manicured lanes between the rows of graves.
I was given a map with a large circle showing where the burials were in 1968. There is no precise location for any of the burials. Emily has no marker, but my nature is to want that for her. I want to lay flowers at her grave and see her name etched on her headstone. Instead, I stand in an open field, turning around and around, hoping to find Emily’s resting place. The ground has perfect rectangles that are sunk in where each body lays. They are in straight rows and in one of those spaces are Emily’s remains. It’s an injustice to a life that already paid a price.
EMILY’S STORY GOES ON
Emily’s story will go on through me. I continue to search records, trying new angles, looking for anything that may be newly released. She won’t be forgotten. Her memory means strength because when it seemed as if she had nothing more to lose, Emily went on and lived a full life of ninety-two years.