On Call Hollow Road, in the Pomona/Stony Point area about 25 miles north of the city, there is a trail that leads off into the woods.
Follow the trail in, and you’ll quickly find yourself surrounded on all sides by towering trees.
A few minutes up the trail, just after you cross over a small brook, the trees will suddenly open into a clearing…
…and you’ll come to a cemetery.
There’s something particularly unusual about this cemetery…
There are almost no gravestones. Instead, the cemetery is filled with small, gray, t-shaped markers:
There are literally hundreds and hundreds of these markers, each with its own unique number…
…and they seem to stretch on…
Why bury people with numbers instead of names? Because they were never meant to be remembered. This is the graveyard of a mental asylum.
I came across the Old Letchworth Village Cemetery completely by accident last week when I happened to spot this sign at the north end of Call Hollow Road and followed the trail in.
Letchworth Village was founded in 1911 as a “state institution for the segregation of the epileptic and feeble-minded” – essentially, a place for those with any number of what were considered mental disorders at the time.
A progressive form of treatment for the era, patients essentially lived and worked on a 2,362-acre working farm, tending crops and livestock. Unfortunately, significant overcrowding and widespread mistreatment made this a less than ideal community, and things only worsened as the years passed on.
Today, the entire complex sits in a state of abandonment.
The institution’s cemetery is located about a half mile away in the woods, and contains around 900 burials dating from 1917 to 1967.
There are a few actual headstones, all sharing a frighteningly common trait: a very early death.
In fact, from the headstones that exist, dying in your early 20s seemed to have been quite common at Letchworth:
In recent years, a serious effort has been made to dig through old hospital records to determine who was buried here…
…and a large bronze plaque can now be found at the front of the cemetery identifying about 900 or so, although not by plot number.
Sadly, many entries are denoted simply as “Baby Boy” or “Baby Girl” followed by a surname. A large percentage of Letchworth’s patient intake were children, many abandoned by families not willing to care for them. Presumably, others were born at Letchworth but didn’t survive.
Today, only a handful of graves show signs of active remembrance.
I noticed a few old holiday decorations placed about the grounds…
…but otherwise, the cemetery feels completely cut-off from the outside world.
The Old Letchworth Village Cemetery is one of the most haunting graveyards I’ve ever been to. Beyond its feeling of isolation, the cold anonymity of the endless rows of numbered markers serves as a perpetual reminder that, in death as in life, these were people considered not even worthy of a name or date of birth. They were problems, to be numbered and hidden away beyond the trees where no one could be bothered by them.
And here they’ll remain forever.
PS – I’m long overdue for a full post on Letchworth. Keep an eye out for it soon…
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