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We are known as PaWingers or just The Wingers by our Geocaching friends. When we found our first cache we had to come up with a name to log the find. We came up with this name simply because of residing in Pa. and because one of our many passions is cruising this beautiful country on our Honda Goldwing. Aside from geocaching we are passionate about most anything outdoors including hiking, kayaking, snowmobiling and biking. We are blessed beyond words with a wonderful son and daughter in law. We're also blessed with some terriffic family and friends. We consider ourselves very fortunate due to the fact that after being married over 40 years we still enjoy these things together.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Silent Witnesses from the State Hospital for the Insane

Typically my entries to this Blog are light hearted and the subject matter is intended to be maybe surprising but not disturbing.  What we discovered today was rather disturbing and was quite an eye opener to us.  I will try to explain why we felt this deserved a spot in our “Whoda’ Thunk Blog”.  Quite simply, whoda’ thunk so many poor souls could depart this life without any loved ones bidding them farewell.

Okay, at this point you’re probably going insane wondering what the heck I’m talking about.  Oddly enough, insanity is what this entry is all about.  Let me tell you how this day unfolded and maybe put all this into perspective.

After checking out the new glass bottomed observation deck at Kinzua Bridge, we decided to stop at Lowe’s in Warren and pick up a few items.  As we approached Lowe’s, something caught my eye at the foot of the hill behind the building and we decided to investigate.  That something ended up being a small cemetery, but not just any cemetery.  We approached from the rear and immediately we could tell there was something very unusual about this cemetery.  We noticed that almost every stone was exactly the same.  They weren’t granite but actually molded concrete.  They were a very simple angled shape and each one had a small stainless steel plate with a name engraved on it.  Some of them had a date of death below the name.  Others had the name and the date of birth as well as date of death.  What we noticed right away is that there weren’t small groups of stones with the same last name which is typical of any other cemetery.  In fact, as we walked from monument to monument there were no two names alike.  The only common denominator seemed to be that the years of deaths seemed to be clustered together.

As we worked our way toward the entrance to the cemetery we finally noticed a small sign that cleared up the mystery for us.  This burial ground was the final resting place for those poor souls from the State Hospital for the Insane.  The name was eventually changed to Warren State Hospital. As we walked among the perfectly lined up rows of markers the feeling was very disturbing.  It is just so sad to think that these people left this earth and had nobody that cared enough to give them a decent burial in their hometown cemetery.  Their death was as sad as their life in the asylum.  It’s impossible to explain the emotions we felt as we walked through this place.  Please visit it sometime and maybe you will understand.

After leaving the cemetery we decided to visit the grounds of the Warren State Hospital which is within sight of this cemetery.  We went there to maybe get more of a feel for what went on within these walls.  Quite honestly, I don’t think we could even begin to imagine what life was like for those mental patients.  It did inspire me to do some research and maybe learn a bit more about this institution.  The first patient was admitted in December of 1880.  At one time there were as many as 1200 patients.  One bit of info stated 3000 patients but that doesn’t sound realistic. These estimates are by no means facts as it's difficult to get accurate numbers.

Construction on the center or main building began in 1874.  The building design is known as a Kirkbride Model named after Dr. Thomas Kirkbride.  The concept of this model is that every room must receive natural sunlight at some time during the day.  The building is designed to have a natural air conditioning.  This was accomplished by venting towers that pull fresh air through each room.  It was also designed with elaborate landscaping and fountains.

Back in those times there were no dozers and backhoes.  The cellars were all dug by hand.  Single horse driven carts were used to haul the stones from a quarry located a mile away.  Nineteen loads of stone and a load of sand was considered a good day at the building site.  Most of the sixteen million bricks were manufactured, shaped, and fired on the site, including rounded bricks and keystones.  Six men were hired to do nothing but sharpen the stonemason’s tools.  If you are ever in the vicinity of North Warren, go around to the front and drive in the main gates and check this place out.  I think you’ll be amazed.

Sadly, this entry isn’t about architecture and old buildings.  Sure I touched on that but it’s really about those that were held in this asylum and those thought to be insane.  Note that I said, “thought to be insane”.  I felt it was important to say that.  Without a doubt many patients of the State Hospital for the Insane were truly insane and had to be put in this place.  Sadly though, many actually were not insane.  Back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s  a person could be labeled insane just because they were eccentric or maybe they thought a bit differently that others or had some odd ideas.  A person could be labeled insane by some one in the law enforcement or a Dr. or anyone with a bit of influence.  They weren’t evaluated, they were simply removed from society and placed in an institution such as this.  I'm pretty confident had I lived back in the early 1900's my wife would have threatened to send me to an institution on a pretty regular basis.

A case in point might be that of a fella named Joe Root.  If you are ever in Erie and head to Presque Isle you will notice an eatery called Joe Root Bar and Grill on the right just before Waldemeer.  Joe Root was a legend in his own time.  He lived out on the peninsula and pretty much lived off the land.  He built several basic shelters and lived in them as the conditions varied.  It’s true that he had some crazy ideas but he was harmless.  One of his crazy ideas involved building a balloon factory and floating people to Buffalo taking advantage of the prevailing winds.  Joe Root ended up being labeled as insane and was sent to the Warren State Hospital where he died within a few years.  Truth be known, he was framed in a set up which involved a fight.  It seems that authorities were afraid Joe would claim squatters rights on Presque Isle so it was just convenient to have him put away.  Joe didn’t end up in the Warren State Hospital Cemetery.  When he died, his body was sent to Philadelphia for a scientific study.  He supposedly was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery.  This is another story in itself, but perhaps I’ll save that for another time.  If you managed to read all the way to this point, I certainly admire your patience and want to extend my heartfelt thanks.  Whoda' thunk something as simple as a small cemetery would have prompted such a long post on this Blog.


The first burial at this cemetery took place in 1881.  Prior to 2006 the condition of this burial ground was pretty much in ruins and was overgrown with weeds and brush.  There was only a very small handfull of proper monuments and these still are present and quite easy to pick out.  In 2006 a group of volunteers and state workers put a tremendous amount of effort forth and began a restoration project that took two years to complete.  They had concrete monuments formed with engraved stainless steel  identification attached.  Unfortunately there are no photos to be found from the old cemetery but I'm guessing it would just look like a hillside overgrown with weeds and brush.  These volunteers should be proud of what they accomplished here.

There are 954 poor souls resting here.  These are all patients from the Warren State Hospital.  There are two infants buried here and they were supposedly the babies of former patients. I still don't quite understand that. The most recent markers had a death date of 2009.  It's sad to think that this is where their life ended with nobody that cared about them and were simply left to live out their existence in an institution.  As we strolled through this cemetery our emotions were stirred in a very somber way.  So much in fact that I felt it more appropriate to have the images portrayed in black and white rather than vibrant colors.  I made an exception when it came to Old Glory.

Row after row of forgotten souls.


There were no names that were the same, no families and no spouses lying side by side.  They simply are arranged by the year of their death.  How sad!


Imagine the horror this man witnessed during the Civil War and then to live out the balance of his life in an institution.  And we complain because our steak was tough or the internet was down.

This badge show that he was a veteran of the Civil war and fought as a Union Soldier.  The GAR  stands for Grand Army of the Republic.


And this is where it all began with patient after patient conveniently tucked away out of sight and out of mind.  There are a series of tunnels leading to and from the Center Building.  Info leads me to believe that there is a tunnel leading over to the Lowe's Complex and perhaps beyond as far as the cemetery.  Some locals claim that in the winter you can see where the tunnels are because a fresh snowfall seems to melt away and exposes the warmer tunnels.
















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