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The Forgotten(?) Ones...

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

Well, there I was; standing in a grassy field littered with rows of small concrete blocks. In the middle I could see what appeared to be a small little structure, possibly a statue of some sort. However, from where I was standing it was hard to make out what exactly it was.

As I stood there, I thought it was certainly a surprise to come across this on my hike through Beaver Brook North Reservation. I had come across this area via the path from the south and didn't recall seeing any sign marking what this location was used for. Looking down, I saw what was written on one of the blocks near my feet.

"P23." That was all it said.

The layout of the blocks being in rows with enough space between them led me to believe I knew what their purpose was. However, it wasn't until exploring a little bit later that I had confirmed what I had originally thought.

“This is a cemetery.”

The concrete blocks were the crude makings of a tombstone that behind it holds the entire life of a person now erased from this Earth. To think; the entire life of a person; all the memories, all the experiences, all the lives touched now being reduced to a number stamped on a concrete block near my feet. That is quite a sobering thought.

This was far from what I had expected to find here. My original intent was to snag some photos from the abandoned administration building of the old Metropolitan State Hospital and enjoy a short hike through the reservation to capture some wildlife photos. It didn’t dawn on me at the time; the connection between the old state hospital and this ‘cemetery’ I was now standing in. That devastating connection would come later after I got home and had some proper time to research.

For the time being, I continued onward exploring the grassy field and came up next to the statue I had seen from further away. It turns out that it was more of an altar or shrine rather than a statue. Various toys and knick-knacks strewn about – evidently for the children buried here to play with – and a large Jesus’s head in the middle lay on the stone pedestal. This was yet another confirmation of what I was thinking.

Eventually I came across a sign that could be seen if you were coming from the north part of the trail. It read “Metfern Cemetery” officially confirming what I had thought. But what was more interesting to me was what read below that.

“Burials from 1947 to 1979 – c. 310 burials.”

It went on to elaborate that a “C on the tombstones indicates Catholic burials” and that a “P…indicates Protestant burials”.

Suddenly, a horrible thought came over me: that all these people buried here likely didn’t have any family and were deemed what we could call ‘mental ill’ or ‘insane’ doomed to forever be alone here forgotten by everyone. Here they lie, not even a name presented to reveal that these were actual people.

With some effort, I managed to shake that thought off and continue exploring coming across even more ‘tombstones’ at the other end. These were the catholic burials now. At this point, I was a bit taken aback and I slowly inched my way outwards back onto the trail. It was then I heard the running of footsteps behind me.

Now, I’ll mention here, that I have been watching a lot of ghost videos on YouTube lately. In particular, the videos from “Nuke’s Top 5” (and in more specificity the reactions by “LayedBakDFR” of the Nuke videos…for some reason I just find that guy hilarious). Anyway, it’s no wonder at that point my immediate thought turned to “this place has got to be haunted and maybe this is a ghost creeping up on me!”

To my – perhaps surprising - disappointment it happened to be some trail runners that barely even noticed the area I was standing in.

‘Did they know already?’ I thought.

However, it didn’t matter, because now I was getting stung by a relentless barrage of mosquitos looking for a feast. I found that this summer I tend to be an excellent delicacy for them. In an effort to stay the madness of the already 8 or so mosquito bites I had got so far on this hike, I decided it best to head back.

I took one last look at the cemetery as I hit the trail again to head back to the car.

When I got home, a nagging feeling came over me. The sign said that it was the cemetery for the ‘Metropolitan State Hospital AND the Fernald School.’

What was this ‘Fernald School?’ I had to start Googling…

…and this is when it gets even more twisted…

The Walter E. Fernald State School previously called the ‘Experimental School for Teaching and Training Idiotic Children’ (No…I am not making that up…) was renamed to the Watler E. Fernald School after its 3rd superintendent who was a “firm believer” in eugenics (which is a practice of selective breeding). At the time it was deemed one of the finest schools for mental health patients. This renowned prestige made it a “poster child for the eugenics movement in the 1920s” and a “model educational facility in the field of mental retardation”.

Imagine saying that now…

Well, despite these accolades it was estimated that half the people in this school were not ‘mentally retarded’ but basically poor or not wanted by their family.

The Metfern Cemetery I had stumbled across lay about halfway between this school and Metropolitan State Hospital so it made logistical sense why it was a shared burial site.

I haven’t gone to the Fernald State School yet, but rest assured, I plan to visit there and see what this place is like since it’s abandonment in 2014 (there were still a small amount of patients there but the large swath of them have vacated since the pushback on these types of facilities in the 1970’s). Looking online I was able to find pictures of some of the buildings and it looks like the school hasn’t been razed to the ground…yet.

The shocking part about this whole thing? Forget the fact that at it’s peak there were 2500 people crammed into these buildings and undoubtedly funds were sparse and conditions had to be borderline ‘third world’ (I know we don’t use that phrase anymore in favor of the more P.C. ‘developing countries’ but tough luck, if you get offended by that then you must not have many other problems to deal with in your life). Granted the location of the facility was quite sprawling giving it a good amount of acreage, something along the lines of nearly 200 acres, but when you are in the thrall of a Boston winter…you don’t go outside much making all that land nearly useless.

Oh, where was I? Illegal radiation experiments on children? Does that sound like a spot where we left off? Well, probably not, but it caught me off guard too!

Sounds like it is something out of a horror movie, right? But nope, that happened. It’s real...

...and it happened HERE.

Throughout the late 40’s and early 50’s certain children were fed RADIOACTIVE oatmeal. Keep in mind, I don’t believe any parents (if they had family at all) were notified of this. The experiment was sponsored by Quaker Oats Company. The most horrible part to me is the guise of it all. They enticed the children to join the ‘Science Club’ offering them up free activities like going to Redsox games, parties…etc.

I couldn’t imagine the fact that these kids were completely oblivious to this. In the end, a 1995 class action lawsuit was filed and Quaker Oats along with MIT (because they also were in on this) had to pay out $1.85 million in a settlement to the victims of these experiements. So I guess some justice was served.

But back to the Metfern Cemetery. Here, these people lie without a name.

Or do they?

Back in the pre-COVID era local historians/teachers, Yoni Kadden and Alex Green, made it a goal to find the names and histories of the people buried at Metfern. Searching through a ton of records and work that I wouldn’t even have a clue on where to start, they (along with their students) managed to ID the roughly 300 people buried at the Metfern Cemetery.

This database was maintained online but at some point within the past few years, the website has gone silent. I’m sure the database was kept somewhere, but alas, only those with inquiring minds will be able to find it and perhaps someday I will to.

For now though, I am glad that the people at Metfern, for at least a brief time online, had their names out there for the world to see.

Here are the links I have for some more information if you wish to dig further!

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