Jon Crispin's Notebook

Ovid / Willard Cemetery / NAMI Waco

I had a great meeting at the Edith B. Ford Library in Ovid, NY to talk about the possibility of working on an oral history project with former Willard employees.  Peter Carroll and I drove up from Ithaca this morning and met with Shannon O’Connor and Monica Kelly who both are doing amazing things at the library.  Monica is building an archive of Willard materials, and if anyone who reads this has any records or photographs related to the asylum, you should really contact her.


Afterwards Pete and I drove to the Holy Cross Cemetery on Gilbert Road.


Recently, a local group raised funds and erected a monument to Willard folks who died at the institution and are buried at Holy Cross.  I am not exactly sure what the problem is, but some people have objected to it, and so the monument has been covered up since just after it was unveiled.  The issue of naming former patients and staff continues to come up, and is still a problem on many levels.  I’ll be eager to find out what really happened here.


After leaving Holy Cross, we drove over to the Willard Cemetery which is down the road and across the street from the asylum.  This is such an indescribably moving place for me. It was a really beautiful late Winter day and the idea that 5,776 former patients are buried here in unmarked graves always touches me deeply.


The site is very well looked after, and the area around some of the few remaining numbered cast iron markers has recently been cleared of brush.


And it is always nice to see the monument to Lawrence Mocha, who as a patient, dug by hand over 1500 of the graves.

I found out today that I have been invited to Waco, Texas to be the keynote speaker at the annual NAMI Waco dinner and gala.  The event is the evening of Thursday, 18th May and if you live anywhere nearby, I would love to meet you.

11 Responses

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  1. Dhyan Atkinson said, on 23/02/2017 at 7:27 pm

    I find it hard to understand the problem of acknowledging people who lived and died at the Willard. Has there been even ONE relative who has objected?

    • joncrispin said, on 24/02/2017 at 8:18 am

      Dhyan, it is so complicated, but no, I have never heard of a relative who objects. I wish the state would wake up to this.

  2. Photobooth Journal said, on 23/02/2017 at 8:25 pm

    Were the patients who were buried at the Holy Cross cemetery wealthier than those that were buried in unmarked graves? Or perhaps those in unmarked graves had been abandoned by their families? I can understand how upsetting the unmarked graves would be as you have come to know so many of the patients through your documentary work.

    • joncrispin said, on 24/02/2017 at 8:15 am

      Katherine, there is so much that I don’t know about the patients. My guess is that the unmarked graves were for the folks whose families did abandon them. And it is probably correct that the church cemetery folk’s families had enough funds to pay for a church burial. Thanks for a great question. Jon

      • Photobooth Journal said, on 24/02/2017 at 7:20 pm

        Perhaps it is true that you don’t know as much as you would like, but your project respects and cares for each individual in a way they may not have experienced very often in life. It feels like you emotionally know them. It is the most extraordinary photo documentary project that I know of. I love it!

      • joncrispin said, on 27/02/2017 at 9:27 am

        Thanks again Katherine for following and your kind comments. I hope you are well. I especially enjoy the French actor series. Beautiful.

      • Photobooth Journal said, on 01/03/2017 at 10:59 pm

        Thanks heaps Jon! 😃

  3. Carolyn Hill Rogers said, on 24/02/2017 at 9:28 am

    Hello, Jon–I’m moved by the fact that you are so faithful in working on this project. I told you some time ago of my brief experience at Willard some 57 years ago. I was a student at Cornell, and through the CURW there, did volunteer work with patients weekly, as I recall, as an Episcopal Church member on campus–Fr. Stott, I believe.
    I never forgot my first contact with the mentally ill, and they deserve to be memorialized with such compassion.

    • joncrispin said, on 27/02/2017 at 9:29 am

      Carolyn, thanks so much for the kind words. I constantly feel so fortunate to have access to this collection. I means a lot to me to hear from supporters of the project. All best, Jon

  4. BL said, on 24/03/2017 at 1:35 am

    Jon, you are a hero for some many of us! It really is remarkably insulting to family members of those who lived and died at the Willard and other NY state asylums that the NY Department of Health and Hygiene still refuses to release access to this rich archive of genealogical data. The thing that particularly pains me are the records stored at the state archives that include photographs, home visit notes and correspondence. It’s just a crime!

    • joncrispin said, on 24/03/2017 at 10:39 am

      BL, thanks so much for the kind words. I think it is important to continue to put pressure on OMH to start cooperating with families. John Allen’s contact information is in this link. And if you live in New York State it is important to put pressure on local legislators to enact a law allowing families to access all information, as other states already do. Also if you haven’t seen my post from the archives, you might find it of interest. The records are there. Thanks for being a part of this project. Jon

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