The Willard Asylum for the Chronically Insane
Located just a stone’s throw from Seneca Lake in Upstate New York is a worn set of buildings once known as the ‘Willard Asylum for the Chronically Insane. If one searches, there is more than enough official information on the facility as it stood years ago and as it is today. Some historians have studied Willard and its rich history and can give a more in-depth account than I can. My connection to the asylum is the pilgrimage I embarked on to make my story unique.
Meeting Emily Through her Footprint in History
My story starts with a forgotten ancestor by the name of Emily. Everything that I know about her I learned through public documents. I have not seen any photographs of Emily or spoken to anyone who knew her. While adoption took me from knowing her as a family, it wouldn’t have changed a thing because her great-grandson, my father, denied Emily. I did get the chance to ask him about her, and like me, it seems she is another family secret that the family has kept buried.
My interest in Emily’s life started when I searched for my great-great-grandmother and found her in the 1930 census as a resident of Willard. Ironically, I became interested in Willard years before when I read the stories behind the Willard Suitcases. It made the perfect prequel to Emily’s story. It was there that I set out to learn about my great-great-grandmother through her footprint left behind in public documents.
Emily and Boguslaw Come to America From Poland
Emily was born in Poland, and she married Boguslaw and had four children there. In the early 1900s, she boarded a ship and came to America. Emily had another child in 1914, who was born in America. Boguslaw and Emily appeared to be living the American dream. From documents, I found the family lived in a multi-family home within a reasonably large city not far from where I live today. The public records show Boguslaw working in the steel industry as many polish immigrants did then.
Life Changing Tragedy Leads Emily to Willard
This wasn’t happily ever after for Emily. Tragedy struck in 1924 when Boguslaw died of cancer. Emily’s world changed, and just one year later, the 1925 census shows that Emily was no longer in her home but instead was listed as an ‘inmate’ of Willard Asylum for the Chronically Insane. These census reports were the only information I could find in public documents regarding Emily’s life. They reflected the forty-two years, ten months, and eight days that she remained in Willard.
Thousands have passed through Willard’s doors, and their stories seem to stop there, Emily’s included. My heart ached at the thought of closing her book there. It doesn’t seem right to have a person’s life so easily forgotten. For years I searched church records, family histories, newspapers, and genealogy websites. I have spoken to descendants who should have known her name but didn’t. Her life was just a whisper in time.
Emily has a Story
Our life stories get carried through the years and are told from generation to generation. Its the legacy we leave behind. The photographs and videos are all documentation of that life story. Emily did not have the opportunity, yet she lived and had a story that should be told and remembered.