A Day at Willard Asylum for the Insane

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Recently, the former Willard Asylum for the (chronically) Insane in Ovid, NY, and later known as the Willard State Hospital for the (acute and chronic) mentally ill, opened its doors for a guided tour.  This opportunity called out history buffs, ghost hunters, (yes, there have been reports of paranormal activity there) psychiatry professionals, and curious people like myself. The tour provided a rare glimpse of  one of New York State’s most historic psychiatric hospitals.

During the tour we were guided by former employees of the psychiatric hospital.  They took us through many of the old buildings that remain on the Willard Campus today.  Willard is no longer in operation, having closed it’s doors in 1995.  Currently, part of the campus serves as a drug treatment center; a specialized 90 day shock incarceration prison for drug addicted offenders. This part of the campus was off-limits during the tour for obvious reasons. Many of the buildings that we visited during the tour are no longer in use, and many appeared in a state of disrepair. 

As I walked up the sidewalk and stepped onto the porch of Grandview, a massive brick building at the former asylum for the insane, I tried to imagine what it might have felt like to have been involuntarily committed there as a patient when it opened it’s doors back in the late 1860’s. It was a time that merely being indigent could have landed you in such a place.  Willard was built to help reduce the census in poorhouses and almshouses. The treatment of many of the residents of poorhouses and almshouses was deplorable, asylums were suppose to create a better alternative.

As I entered Grandview I could imagine desperate, frightened, and helpless people begging for their freedom; and at the same time, I could envision the deformed, deranged, and violent patients screaming through the bars of their small rooms. I’m sure I was right on both accounts.

What really happened behind the thick walls of the Willard hospital during it’s 126 years of existence?  It is hard to speculate.  Locally, rumors have circulated that experimental psychiatric drugs, and procedures like lobotomies and electroshock therapy were exercised on patients there in the later years of operation.  A document that I located, authored by Dr. Robert E. Doran, suggests the treatments given during the early years at Willard were much less sinister.  The early years of treatment were labeled as “moral treatment” or “custodial care”, and as Dr. Doran explained, “Patients were treated with kindness, given good but not fancy food, given clothes, exercised, and protected from the outside world.”  He does however, concede that in 1942, there were 1443  treatments of electroshock therapy performed on patients at the hospital. 

The Willard asylum was in essence, a community within a community.  For many years it was self-sufficient. Capable patients were assigned work, many of which remained institutionalized for their entire lifetime.    Dr. Doran wrote that  “In 1883, there were 801 patients willing and able to work.”  In irony, the work itself, prevented many patients from ever being released back into society.  Once the asylum was up and running it became dependent on the patients free labor.  

The history and evolution of this asylum over the years it was open is amazing; but how people ended up there as patients is even more astonishing.  A mental illness diagnosis could have resulted from a person publicly displaying their emotions, flaunting their sexual preference, being subjected to trauma; for instance, domestic abuse, the loss of a loved one, partaking in the consumption of too much alcohol, or merely being unable to communicate in English.  Behaviors that are acceptable today, were not acceptable in the late 19th, and early 20th centuries.

These pictures depict some of the highlights of our tour.

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These are bunks in rooms at Elliot Hall; the former medical hospital on the campus.  This building is now used by NYS Dept. Of Corrections during trainings.

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The morgue, pictured above, has had very little work done to it as the picture reflects.

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This Ford Fire Truck was in excellent condition: definitely a great relic.

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Brookside was home to the institutions medical directors over the years.  Inside of the house boasts beautiful fireplaces, woodwork, and eleven bedrooms.  The house sits overlooking Seneca Lake.

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This building caught my eye from the second floor of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton School. It was not open for tour.

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My favorite place on the tour was Hadley Hall.  The hall housed a basket ball court, theater, cinema room, bowling alley, and snack bar in its day.  The patients were entertained there. The cinema room still has the old movie projectors in place, and scribed on the walls are the names and dates of some of the movies that were shown there over the years.

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Of the 54,000 patients that were admitted into Willard during its years of operation, 5776 patients were buried in the cemetery on the property.  Today, they rest (in what some refer to as an overgrown field) in unmarked graves.  This has become a bone of contention for advocates of the mentally ill, and in my opinion, should be rectified by the State of New York. 

There is so much more of the Willard story to tell. I can’t even begin to touch upon it in one post.  After the tour, I purchased the book The Lives They Left Behind.  The book is co-authored by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny and is a definite must read. It chronicles the lives of former Willard  patients, their treatments or lack thereof, and their demise. The book also gives readers a sense of how the mental health field has changed significantly over the last century. 

Willard will be displaying some of the former patient’s suitcases and their contents sometime next year.  The date for this exhibit is yet to be announced.  The suitcases were originally found in the attic of one of their buildings shortly after the hospital was closed.  The previously mentioned book and the New York State Museum in Albany, New York, were the first to publicly share the information about the suitcases and their contents.

I was fortunate enough to see the exhibit “Lost Cases, Recovered Lives” when it was on display in Albany, and it left a lasting impression on me.  I am looking forward to the suitcases returning to Willard next year.  My suggestion to New York State and Seneca County: Take advantage of this great historical piece of property by rehabilitating at least one building on the campus and opening it as a permanent museum. “If you build it, they will come.” 

For more on Willard see my update post.

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93 thoughts on “A Day at Willard Asylum for the Insane

  1. Pingback: Willard Tour Date 2014 and Buttery Iced Shortbread Melts | THE JOY OF CAKING

  2. Pingback: Our Mental Facilities 1800's project - Abandoned Suitcases

  3. I am in search of chairs that were used in willard, in Ovid NY. They had an auction back in the late 1980′s and my dad had purchased 4 Oak bentwood chairs. He said there were 100′s of them. He has passed the chairs on to me, and I am hoping to track down 8-10 more of these chairs. If anyone knows whom I could contact to see if there are still some chairs out there somewhere. please contact me. Thank you in advance! innovate@lightlink.com

    • Barrie, Have you tried running a (wanted) ad on Craigslist (Finger Lakes/Ithaca). Perhaps someone has a few of the chairs sitting around, or knows someone who does. Just a thought. Good luck!

      • Thank you, Thejoyofcaking! I am just now doing that. I also am adding photos to all my postings. Thank you, again!
        Barrie

  4. I grew up in the town of Willard
    . My mother went to nursing school there and then got a job there until they closed. My father also worked there and in the mental health field in our area. My parents still live there. We went to movies with the patients and played basketball in Hadley hall. The patients that were not in locked wards usually wandered into our yards and went to the j and r grocery store in town. We also played in the field not knowing that there were bodies underneath. We explored the old buildings and sewer that started by the lake and ran under the buildings of Willard. My brother and our friends many times got scared on these explorations, thinking there was someone following us. It was a very interesting child hood.

  5. I just found this , as my sister sent it to me. I lived in Ovid and then Willard from 1950 till 1964. I worked at the hospital in the early 60′s and lived across the street. my parents ran a restaurant in Willard. I went many movies at Hadley Hall and played basketball there many times. I moved to Auburn were I worked for 22 years for the city……but returned to that area yearly to visit friends. thank you for the article…………………Dan Colella

  6. I live about 45 miles from Willard, and after reading the book “The Lives They Left Behind”, I visited the grounds for the first time about 6 weeks. I want to go on a guided tour when they are offered. My cousin (first cousin twice Removed) Julia M. was placed into the Kings Park Psychiatric Center in 1910 at age 23 following very stressful time, death of family and a time of Depression. It was all very hush and secretive in the family. She remained in care for over 30 years, and was transferred to Willard in May 1939, appearing in the 1940 Census. We do not know when she died nor where she is buried, and want to know that. In our Family we have history of Depression and various mental illness hand some have not responded to treatment. I believe that I have not only a right to know, but also a need to know the mental history of our family members including Julia M.
    Thank you for your efforts which are encouraging.

    • I concur with you. Its so frustrating not knowing what happened to my two aunts. One was at Williard on the 1940 census. The other was in another that I can’t get any info from either. They were orphans sent there so I can’t believe there was a whole lot wrong with them.. It be comforting to know at least when they died and where they were buried.

    • Donald, I am not sure if you are familiar with L.S. Stuhler but she has been compiling census related records for Willard patients. Here is her blog link – http://inmatesofwillard.com/ On her site there is and update on a new (2013) ruling related to obtaining medical info on deceased family members. As for the public tour, it is offered every May. The Seneca Daily News http://senecadaily.com/#axzz2k0zz39iN usually publishes info related to the tours when May rolls around. And lastly, Craig Williams of the NYS Museum of History in Albany oversees the suitcases recovered from Willard. You may want to contact him and see if he has one with your cousins name on it. Good luck!

  7. I used to there. . . .in Grandview. It was a very sad place. . . .women locked up for years . . .some were very bizarre. At night I was “tapped” several times . . .turned around and nothing was there.
    By the way, there were no bars on small rooms. Patients slept in large dorm rooms. Womens ward was upstairs on the north side of the bldg. and the other 3 wards were men. . . .all locked wards.

  8. I’m thinking that my grandfather – Oscar Robert Kruger – was incarcerated at Willard in the late 20′s till about the mid 1940′s. How can I confirm this?

  9. Pingback: Willard Asylum for the Insane – Suitcases | THE JOY OF CAKING

  10. Just heard about the Suitcases from the photographer on NPR this afternoon. Came back to my office and started doing some research on Willard. Thanks for your blog on the subject and the photos.

  11. Fascinating article, and the comments make it even richer!! I grew up near Watkins Glen, so have always heard about Willard. My great-grandfather was there for a year or two in the 1920′s shortly before he died. My mother has said how hard it was for Grandpa to decide to have his father admitted, but they could no longer keep him at home. She thought it was something like Alzheimers. When he died, they took him home to New Jersey for burial.

  12. Pingback: Abandoned suitcases of insane asylum patients | The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

  13. id like to do a tour, my class in college is Regional History of the fingerlakes. can u steer me in the right direction to do so. contact my email.
    Thank You,
    Karen

    • Very cool! So much history there. It’s a shame the State doesn’t realize they are sitting on a historical gold mine. My post on Willard has received the most traffic of all the posts that I’ve written to date.

      • Hi Pam,

        I have the same question. I know my mother was committed several times to Binghamton State Hospital during the 1950s, but I no longer recall just when. Did you ever find out how to get records on a specific person? Would the county clerk’s office be able to direct us to records of involuntary commitment hearings or adjudications of those days?

  14. I’m looking for imformation regarding employee’s.
    my grandmother mildred jager (milly) and mom joyce altha hayes both worked at willard as nurses.
    thanks dee

  15. Pingback: The FLX Files | THE JOY OF CAKING

  16. I’m intrigued by Willard mainly because my mother spent a very brief period of time there in the 1960s. I was about 8 years old and I remember sitting in a car in the visitors parking lot. I wasn’t allowed to go in and see her. She suffered from debilitating migraine headaches for years and there were no medications available back then to treat them. When she couldn’t handle the pain, she’d go to the ER or her doctor’s office and get shots of Demerol. That was a ‘last resort’ option since the shots made her pretty much comatose for days. She admitted herself to Willard with the encouragement of her doctor and my father. She has never said much about her stay there other than “I didn’t belong there.” She had a heck of a time convincing THEM that she didn’t belong there. When she was released she was so sick that she could barely stand up. I guess having her home again (sick) still beat not having her home at all. It’s odd that it’s always been such a hush-hush subject. I’m guessing we just wanted to pretend it didn’t happen and move on with our lives.

  17. I just found out this evening while on ancestry.com that my father was in fact an “inmate” at a place in Rockland county called Letchworth in 1940, and was there as early as 1935…..
    Needless to say I am freaking out, as two of my brothers are lifelong residents of NYS’s mental health system. – God, how lucky am I???
    I am on a new mission to find out more…. Who are his parents? Who are his brothers and sisters? Do I have cousins?
    It’s great (as well as disturbing) to know that others are on the same mission for information.
    Thanks to everyone for sharing their leads and experiences.

  18. I have been searching for my fathers 2 half-sisters for years. He has no living relatives. Finally found them Evelyn Rice patient 1940 in Newark Hospital for the Mentally defective and Grace Rice patient 1940 in Rochester State Hospital. They apparently had been their for 5 years. I don’t think there was a whole lot wrong with them. Just that they were in an orpanage and had no place else to go. Makes me sick to know I can’t find out anymore about them. Like, what happened to them!!!

  19. This is interesting to me, especially regarding the NYS HIPPA and mental health laws. my parents were both patients at a NYS Psychiatric Hospital, in 1968, the year of my birth. I have tried for 20 years to get more information,but have had little luck, because of the fact that I’ve never shown any signs of mental illness of any kind, and neither have my kids. My mom (adopted mother) says she was told that my biological parents were long term patients, my mother having been admitted on her 18th birthday, and my father around the age of 25. They were both, supposedly, “back- ward” patients, meaning they were more severely disabled and not expected to recover. For those seeking information, I can tell you it’s very difficult. I was born in a psych hospital, and my biological parents are my only link to my true identity, and I cant even get any information, not even my ethnic origin, etc.. loved reading the posts here…

    • Doug, I can only begin to imagine the frustration you must feel concerning your personal search for information regarding your parents. I think under the circumstances, that information should be available to you, and to other families that face similiar situations. Good luck in your quest to find more information on your parents.

    • Doug, Please write a personal letter explaining your situation to:
      New York State Office of Mental Health
      Michael F. Hogan, Ph.D., Commissioner
      44 Holland Avenue
      Albany, NY 12229

      • LS,
        Thanks for the tip, I will start there. it has been, literally, years, since I have tried any new avenues in this quest, and our family’s attorney, who helped me with this process before, is no longer practicing.
        Joy of Caking,
        Thanks for the encouragement. Sometimes I am afraid of what I will find, other times I think I want to know no matter what

    • Doug, knowledge is power. New York OMH can be officious to an inane degree. Any luck? What worked? What didn’t?

      Here is a possible end run around OMH: Run, don’t walk to get your DNA tested for your ancestry and the chance of finding cousins that might be able to fill you in. Use Ancestry DNA, 23 and Me, or Family Tree DNA. Better yet, get tested by all of them.

      Back in the 60s people were detained on the psych wards for all manner of difficulties that resulted in behavioral disturbances: birth defects, developmental delays, drug and alcohol issues, antisocial behaviors (not likely inherited – i.e. “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”), epilepsy, brain injuries from trauma, infections, tumors, strokes, aneurisms, metabolic and autoimmune disorders – the list is practically endless.

  20. I’ve found your blog this morning, I suppose, quite on purpose. On Wednesday this past week, I drove a college buddy / good friend to Ovid. He has been referred to, or requested to go to, (not quite sure of the “real” story) the Van Dyke treatment facility there at Willard.

    He had been there for alcohol issues about six years ago. As he described it, Van Dyke would be a sort of “rest and relaxation” post before, hopefully, getting back into a more normal life.

    As I drove him to the building, and then myself back out again, I could imagine a thousand and one OTHER places I’d choose for “rest and relaxation.” I felt the past and want to explore this place more closely. Why, I do not know, but my 10 minutes on the grounds there were compelling. I want to return and explore, but reluctant to do so.

    Would like to go on a tour sometime…. Thanks for the information and getting me started on this little research project!

    Rick

    • Rick, There certainly is something profound about Willard. You just missed the open house last weekend. It’s usually held in May each year – so keep an eye out for it next year. I suspect the place is heavily guarded and the curious are escorted off of the property since there is a shock incarceration camp on the premises. I attended an event at the Ovid library last winter that was very interesting. Craig Williams of the NYS Museum of History gave a presentation on Willard in the late 1800′s. Lot’s of neat photo’s and info shared there. Best of luck researching, and thanks for stopping by my blog!

  21. Thank you for the post. My family moved to Willard, NY when I was 5 years old. I’m still rather young, being in my early 20′s, but I have always found the old asylums curious. I visited the cemetery grounds frequently as a young girl – kind of an introvert -. It was not until the past few years did I discover just how many patients were buried there, and the full history behind Willard. I attended the 2011 tour. I plan on attending 2012′s Willard tour as well on May 19th.
    I am fascinated with the history behind the little hamlet of Willard, and Seneca County as a whole.
    Thank you again!

    • Thank you for visiting my blog! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post. Like you, I’m facingated with the history of Willard. I could almost feel myself step back in time when I took the tour. Have fun on the tour and please let me know how it went!

      Eileen

  22. How can I get info on an inmate there? Elizabeth Wylie died at that place I believe it was in 1958. I’m writing a book about her life and it would be great to get some info about that place in that time frame. Thanks, P Wylie

    • Hi Pam,

      I am referring folks to the Town of Ovid and Town of Romulus Historians, along with the Seneca County Historian. They can probably fill you in on what Willard was like in 1958. As far as patients, information on individuals is highly protected by the State of New York. Even families looking for information on their relatives have a difficult time obtaining it. The New York State Museum of History in Albany, maintains some records related to the patients suitcases found in the attics of Willard. This post has prompted so much attention on my blog that I’ve actually thought about writing a book about Willard. Best wishes in your endeavor!

      Eileen

    • Dear Pam, I did write a book about the first thirty years of the Willard Asylum for the Insane. Located at the bottom of the first page of my blog are the forms needed to get information on your ancestors who were incarcerated at Willard. I doubt you be able to get the medical records but you can drive the Office of Mental Health crazy asking for them. Good Luck! http://www.inmatesofwillard.com

  23. My parents retired as staff attendants at WPC. Can you tell me where I could purchase copies of the books I have heard about recently: Willard’s Lost Souls – written by Darcy Penny and ???
    and The Ghost’s of Willard (if it has been published yet?). Thank you!
    S.E. Ricci

  24. John, I am looking for info about Charlotte M. Waters/Pierce, who was admitted to Willard in 1949 and died there in 1976 at the age of 78. She was a pale-skinned African American woman who was born in New Jersey, married a man from Maryland, John L. Waters, who became a physician. They lived in Buffalo for a time, but after his death in 1934, she was eventually institutionalized at Gowanda, and transferred to Willard. Any memories of her? Thanks! saylordana@gmail.com

    • Sorry I dont recall the name. There was over 2,000 clients there when I started in 1970. We were unitized by county. I worked the Yates count unit. But that didnt mean we didnt have clients from all over the state. They had to move clients where they had beds. We had clients fron NYC and long Lsland due the strikes in the 60′s

  25. During my family history research I learned my great Grandfather was at Willard. He is shown in the 1920 census as being a resident. You responded by email to a comment by Mary Haupt in how one can obtain information of former residents. Can you advise how I can research information on my relative? Thanks in advance.

    • The problem is that descendants of patients who lived and died in these long closed state hospitals are not entitled to any information on their ancestors because of the HIPAA and NYS Mental Health Laws. If you would like to help change the law, visit my blog at: https://inmatesofwillard.com, go to the “Letters to NY Senators” page; print, sign and mail the pre-written letter. At the bottom of my home page, there is a link to the form you will need in order to get the medical record of your great-grandfather, but as it stands right now, they will only give you the information if it will help with a current diagnoses. I tried to get my great-grandmother’s medical record and photographs in 2008 and I was denied. It’s a sad situation considering that many of these people have been dead for one hundred years. Good Luck! Sincerely, Lin

      • Lin,

        You make a very good point. What is even more amazing is the fact that 100 years ago a person could have been institutionalized for something that isn’t even considered a “mental illness” today. For example, menopause, poverty, or pregnacy under certain conditions.

      • And don’t forget Depression, Epilepsy, and Homosexuality. How many of us, or maybe friends or relatives, suffer from Bi-Polar Disorder, Clinical Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Eating Disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? In the 1800s, they were all considered forms of insanity worthy of admission into an insane asylum.

  26. Pingback: Willard Asylum for the Insane – Updates «

  27. My grandmother was at this institution. It was very hush hush in our broken and scattered family. I only learned of this within the last 3 years (I am 58). How can I get info on names of patients after all this time? I have no idea if grandmother was there until she died, or even when she died.

    I would greatly appreciate any information!
    Thanks

  28. My older brother was at Willard in the early 70′s, having been moved from Rochester State Hospital. It was actually much better for him there. The “treatment” for mental illness was really becoming treatmentby then. Even in the early 60′s, people were locked up like crimminals, even if harmelss. The first time I saw “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” I cried because it brought back memories of his abuse at RSH. I am grateful that he lived long enough to finally be de-institutionalized and placed in private care. I’d like to know more about the history of Willard and RSH.

  29. Will tours be offered in the future? Can you see the outside grounds during the day? I would love to visit and take pictures of the outside. Would security let me visit just the outside? I live in Buffalo and would hate to take a drive out here only to be sent home. Any help would be great!
    I just saw the J.N Adams memorial hospital in Perrysburg NY. What a site!

    • Dennis, I’m pretty sure Willard will offer more tours in the future. They have offered them for 3 years now. They garner quite a bit of interest. As far as visiting the grounds, that’s a good question. The property is closely guarded by the Department of Corrections. On the day of the tour they allowed us quite a bit of freedom but we couldn’t take pictures of inmates, secured areas, etc. I would suggest you contact the Seneca County Historian – Walt Gable. He is very knowlegeable and probably has the answers to all of your questions. Here is the link to their website http://www.co.seneca.ny.us/dpt-genserv-historian.php. Seneca County has a lot of history. You could probably find enough to keep you busy for a couple days. Good luck! If I can be of more help let me know.

  30. while touring the willard mental health facity I had a chilling experience in the hadley hall theatre . I was pulled to the back part of the theater for some odd reason . when standing back in behind the curtains my hair on my arms stould straight up . I had a full spectrum camera so i snapped pictures i the bacony area . I caught a picture of a woman standing the bacony looking down at me . she was in a old victorian white dress . the picture can be seen on my website . ghost hunters of the finger lakes check it out i will never forget the chiling experience and even caught it on my camera .
    Peter

    • Peter, I took a look at your site. It’s very interesting. I didn’t have any strange feelings while at Willard other than I felt as if I was being watched. I’m not sure if it was by ghosts or the Dept of Corrections – lol… Thanks for sharing your story!

  31. I really enjoyed your article. I visited Willard on May 14, 2011 and was very disappointed in the way they have let one of the original 4 “cottage style” buildings fall into such a state of disrepair. It should be a museum filled with historical artifacts. I have written a book on the early history of Willard that will be published at the end of this month. If anyone is interested, I have listed the names of the inmates on my blog from the U.S. Federal Censuses for the years 1870, 1880, and 1900 to help people find their ancestors. I also visited the cemetery which made me sick. I have been trying for two years to get their names released. Thanks so much for letting me post. Sincerely, Linda S. Stuhler (The Inmates of Willard 1870 to 1900 / A genealogy Resource)

    • Linda,

      I too am intrigued by the history of Willard. I agree – at least one building should be a museum filled with historical artifacts. I’m sure there are many families interested in tracking down their relatives so all of your hard work should certainly help them. I just saw in the news that the cemetery has finally received a new sign. I wil watch for your book. Thanks! Eileen

  32. In researching my husband’s family, we discovered that a “run a way” member spent his final days at Willard. Although it doesn’t sound promising, we will attempt to obtain any death information, including his DOD from OMH. Thank you for the informative write up.

  33. At Various times in the mid 70′s I was in charge of the burial detail at willard. My responisbilty was to 1st go to the main office and get a time capsule to place in the casket. Then my self and 3 other employess would place the body in the casket. We would then take the casket to building 136 for services. This was done with the willard ambulance. Then it was off to the burial at the cementary. I was asked to assist with morgue work but didnt for some reason. I worked from July 1970 to march of 79 where I transfered to Albany to continue my work at CDPC. My first 2 years of work I was a the last 2 years of my high school . I worked full time 3 to 11 shift. Thanks for the picture of the bowling alley! One of my clients use to be the pin setter there and would always holler at the other clints throwing the ball too soon!

    • John, Thanks so much for sharing your story. I could sit for hours and listen to former employees talk about their days at Willard. I imagine it was a little problem if the person setting the pins wasn’t quite ready for the ball to come barreling down the alley – lol… If you’ve kept in touch with other former Willard employess, please encourage them to share their stories too. Thanks, Eileen

      • I remember going bowling at Willard when I was very young. I think I remember it was 25 cents per game. I lived in Lodi for my formative years, and a lot of my family members worked there, and at Sampson State hospital. This has been very interesting reading.

  34. Wow that was powerful. Your pictures are fantastic. Thankfully and hopefully treatment for psychiatric patients is more compassionate today. I know first hand how the mere mention of anything mentally or emotionally troubling can cause people to cringe. It can be very frightening.

  35. This was so great! I’m glad you had the fore-site to take photos.
    My great-grandmother was in and out of insane asylums in the 20′s and 30′s. She suffered from depression and ‘nervousness’.

  36. Oh my goodness…this was so interesting. My great grandmother was a committed to an insane asylum when she was in her 30s…I want to learn more. Thanks for sharing with me tonight. I’ve missed visiting you and your blog. I’m glad that I’m back :-) I hope you have a wonderful end to your week. Hugs from Austin!

  37. Does anyone know if a documentary has ever been made of Willard’s past? (not referring to the exhibit).

  38. Elliot Hall – what memories – haha of how I was one of the few people in my class who went to the Sat movies – BUT – they had a yearly talent show and I played piano for some people who competed and so this room has special meaning.

    I also saw “Lost Cases, Recovered Lives” at the NYS Museum in Albany. It was powerfully moving on many levels. The stories of the patients being one level, someone who helped to savage some of the items on display but also a personal story. Most people form the area left HS and went to work at Willard. My mother moved to the area when she married my father and opened a beauty shop in town. Mid life – in order to get employment with better benefits she went to work at Willard first on the ward and finally as a beautician. I did not know it at the time but my grandmother had died at Binghamton State Hospital. My mother surely knew it. Her employment at Willard was a difficult time for her and she went out of her way to do nice things for the patients I believe. I know now that it was a personal mission for her. Not going to Willard but once there – helping to make the patients feel what ever sense of dignity and pride they could feel in their condition was part of her for in the patients she saw someone who could have been her grandmother forty years earlier in Binghamton. When I saw the exhibit – this hit me and I was moved beyond words.

    • Mark, It’s so nice to hear your personal story – thanks for sharing. I can only imagine how fun the talent contests were. I’m sure your mother was very much appreciated for the kind treatment she displayed to the patients. You are also so right -”Lost Cases, Recoverd Lives” was one of the most thought provoking exhibits I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t read the book I mentioned, and your interested, you should read it. I can’t put it down!

    • We should be all alerting the media to this crap. OMH is always saying family its all about family! Well Hello! Family should have access to records no mateer what. Mark Brown when were you at WPC. I was in the Pines-John L

  39. Wow. My mom’s uncle-by-marriage was in an asylum near Rochester from the 1940s until his death in the 60s or 70s. I always imagine that it must have been a pretty awful place.

    • It could very well have been Willard. Ovid isn’t too far from Rochester. I find it sad that people were instituionalized for things that seemed so trivial today. If you are a reader, I really suggest the book The Lives They Left Behind.

    • Dear Kristen, The Monroe County Asylum became The Rochester (Monroe County) State Hospital in 1891 as part of the state system. If he lived in the Rochester, NY, area, he may have been an inmate there. L.S. Stuhler

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