Jon Crispin's Notebook

A Tale of Two Cemeteries / New School Talk Announcement


Last week when Peter and I were driving back from Cleveland/Meadville we decided to take back roads up to the Thruway.  I had especially wanted to go through North Warren,   PA to see the  Warren State Hospital.  It is only about an hour from Meadville and is a really amazing facility.


It is still an active psychiatric hospital so I wasn’t allowed to photograph, but I was actually more interested in the cemetery.


I have written often about the issue of names in relation to my suitcases project.  Especially how the State of New York prohibits the use of full names of the patients in respect to my work and in regards to the hospital cemeteries.


Here in Pennsylvania patient’s names are on the grave stones.


If you were to drive north about 60 miles into New York State and go to the cemetery at the Gowanda Psychiatric Center, you will find an entirely different story.


While there are a few graves marked with names, the vast majority only have numbers.  This is mostly due to New York State’s primitive privacy laws, which supposedly protect families from the “shame” of having a relative who was institutionalized.


There are groups throughout New York that are working very hard to memorialize patients who are buried in hospital cemeteries.  There is a lovely Helen Keller quote on the memorial stone above, and this cemetery is very well maintained.


It just seems so wrong to me that New York State continues to stigmatize folks who were patients at state hospitals by basically denying anyone (including families) the knowledge that they existed.  Here is a link to another post I did that gives a bit more background on the issue of names.  Just don’t try to contact John B. Allen at NYS OMH.  He no longer works there.

Thanks for following.  I’ll be presenting the suitcases project at the New School on Thursday the 12th of September at 6:00 PM.  Here is a link to the announcement, but as of today, the time listed is off.  I start speaking at 6:00 and it ends at 8:00.  I really hope to see some of you there.  It will be interesting.


6 Responses

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  1. rooseveltislandlady said, on 26/08/2019 at 4:17 pm

    Is there still the original building?

    Judith Berdy, President The Roosevelt Island Historical Society531 Main St., #1704NY, NY 10044 212-688-4836 917-744-3721 cell

    • joncrispin said, on 27/08/2019 at 9:06 am

      Yes, Warren is still there in all its glory. Gowanda is now a prison. Will I see you on the 12th at the New School?

  2. Carolyn Rogers said, on 26/08/2019 at 4:54 pm

    Your work is so kind and compassionate, Jon.

    • joncrispin said, on 27/08/2019 at 9:05 am

      Carolyn, thank you so much for the kind words. It means so much to me to have your support. Jon

  3. Ann Forster said, on 26/08/2019 at 5:14 pm

    I applaud the amazing efforts, you and others, have made in supporting, family access rights, to NY State medical records. Applying modern privacy constraints like the HIPAA, to a record collection created 120-150 years ago is just ridiculous. These records were gathered without such iron clad privacy constraints applied to them. They represent a vastly rich collection of genealogical and health data, and that should be available per FOIA request.

    • joncrispin said, on 27/08/2019 at 9:04 am

      Ann, Your point about modern privacy constraints is the best argument I have ever heard in regards to this situation. The law must be changed. At the very least, New York should follow HIPAA guidelines which say records can be released 50 years after the death of a patient.

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