Along Call Hollow Road in Rockland County, New York, about an hour north of New York City, there’s a small turn-off on the side of the road. If not for the recently erected sign marking the entrance to Old Letchworth Village Cemetery, you’d never know that a path through the woods here leads to the final resting place of those who died at a now-abandoned psychiatric hospital nearby.
When Letchworth Village opened in 1911, it was hailed as a progressive new model for the care of the mentally ill. Rather than being confined to a single building, patients lived in their own “village,” complete with farms, shops, and even places of worship. While the concept itself was promising, overcrowding and a lack of funding ultimately led to horrific reports of neglect and abuse.
After decades of growing criticism, including accusations that the hospital used patients as guinea pigs for testing new experimental medicines, Letchworth Village was finally closed in 1996 and today sits abandoned, its decaying buildings slowly crumbling to ruin.
Wandering through the lonely cemetery, which was used by Letchworth Village from 1914 until 1967, several questions come to mind. Why did Letchworth, comprised of 2,000 sprawling acres and with seemingly plenty of space to spare, choose to locate its cemetery over a mile away from campus? Why did it place the cemetery in the woods, far away from view? Why did it bury its patients, many of them children, with anonymous numbers instead of the simple dignity of a name? Was it trying to hide something?
In 2007, a grassroots campaign led to the installment of a memorial plaque at the cemetery. The names of over 900 patients, culled from decades-old records and logs, are listed under an inscription that reads “Those Who Shall Not Be Forgotten.” Although we may never know for certain which grave numbers correspond to which names, the often tragic and almost forgotten lives of those who lived and died at Letchworth Village have finally been remembered.
Know Before You Go
The cemetery entrance is clearly marked and easily found near the northern end of Call Hollow Road.