MEMORIES OF GRAFTON STATE HOSPITAL The following accounts have been collected from various sources over several years by Each one is a valuable contribution to the growing archive of stories and memories of Grafton State Hospital. This year, 2003, is the 30-year anniversary of the closing of this institution, an anniversary that evokes diverse responses from those who knew this institution, all of which are appreciated in their own right. We invite you to participate in the sharing of these memories, and to feel free to contribute your own by contacting via email: The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of and its volunteers. A diversity of views, naturally including those of former patients in equal parts, would be most desirable and helpful to our retrospective understanding.

Honored Memories, Grateful Lives
by Joel Keith, 2003

Many eyes await the vision, watchful eyes both far and near, some on this plane some on another, are lending you their ear. Watching ever wondering when, folks will see their names again, speak them, seek them, blare them, share them, announce to all they're home again. Numbers, never, people they, lives and loves cannot decay. Find them, mind them, and reassign them, their rightful place in present day. Honored memories, grateful lives, those who've gone before, tell their stories to young and old ones, they shall live forever more.

My father started to tell me some stories about his years at GSH. He was present for some of the burials in the cemetery there, as he helped to dig the graves. The local funeral homes used to take turns donating their services for the deceased patients funerals and interment, if there were no family affiliations.
There were tunnels which existed under the grounds of the hospital, for use when the weather was poor, especially snow. Sometimes, a patient would find his way down there, and then the staff would be called to "sweep" the tunnels and find the patient. My Grandmother Mary Keith, was a nurse there and was responsible for checking the tunnels under her building during her shift. The nurses took turns I guess. Grandma said she had a patient who was very high functioning and stong, that she would allow to accompany her, to help in case she came across any other patients down there.
The employees all had to find other jobs when the hospital closed. My grandfather and grandmother Keith retired, but my grandma worked 15 additional years at Edgewood Nursing Home in Grafton, now the Brigham Hill Nursing Home. My father went to drive a van for the Valley Adult Day Center, a vocational day training center, in Whitinsville (Northbridge), MA. My uncle Lyman Keith, Bert's brother, went to work for the Glavin Center in Shrewsbury, as a custodian. He died taking down the flag one day, struck by a heart attack or stroke. He died instantly.
Some of the employees went to work for the State Hospital in Worcester or in neighboring Westborough, MA. My mother worked in Westborough, although she married into the family after the GSH had closed. All my Dad's family told her that it was very good to work for the State. Good pay, steady work. I think that's why so many worked there.
Incidentally, before the hospital closed, the AFL-CIO American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which was the Union at the Hospital, went on strike to get the pay raises that then Governor Dukakis had promised the workers. My father, and others, marched on Boston with signs saying "665 says 'Cut the Jive!'". 665 being the Local number of the Union.

Employees at 'Oaks Service', before 1930
courtesy of Joel Keith

Standing Row (L-R): Unknown; Clayton I. Keith (GSH: c1920-1930); 3 Unknowns; Ralph C. Keith (GSH: 1930-1970); Unknown; Lowell C. Crouse (Best Friend & Contemporary of:); Bert R. Keith (GSH: 1930-1972); Unknown to end of row. Seated Row (L-R): Unknown to 5th person; 6th is Hilkie Conrad, 7th is Mrs. Conrad; Unknown to end.

The Clayton I. Keith Family at the Grafton State Hospital
Clayton I. Keith (b. 1861- d. 1954) and family lived at 121 Westboro Road, No. Grafton, just a short distance from the Grafton State Hospital. Clayton was involved in farming his own land, and in raising chickens and pigs. He went to work for the GSH probably about 1919, when his family included himself, his wife Eva, and six of his eight children. At the GSH he was involved with the chickens and egg-laying operations, as well as the piggery. He was skilled in the currying trade, so he likely was also involved with the horse teams and in the stables. He worked for the GSH about 8 years, being about 67 in 1927 when he retired to his own farm work. He had two boys at that time who were ready to go to work at the GSH, Ralph C. Keith (1905-1992) & Bert R. Keith (1908-1986). Both young men went to work about 1927 in the Oaks Colony, with Bert taking over the duties of his father Clayton, including the Horse Teams and later the Motor Trucks. After a few years, another Keith son would follow the family tradition of working at the GSH, Lyman W. Keith, Sr. (1912-1974), who was an Oaks Colony employee as well. Some Keith wives also worked for the GSH. Sadie H. (1900-1996), wife of Ralph C. Keith, worked as a secretary to one of the Doctors, and Mary L. (1916-1999), wife of Bert R. Keith, graduated from the GSH School of Nursing in 1958, and was an LPN in the Pines and Willows Colonies. There were several of the third generation Keiths who worked there as well, including Barry, son of Bert R. & Mary L. Keith, who took over his father's duties as a Truck Driver in the Oaks Colony. All the Keiths either retired or found other employment when the Grafton State Hospital closed in 1973. Many of them worked there long enough to receive Service Pins, which were given to full-time employees after 5 years of service, and in five year increments. They were awarded at an Annual Service Pin Awards Banquet. Notably, Bert Keith received a 45-years-of-service pin, in 1972.

Employees at 'Pines'
courtesy of Joel Keith

"My grandfather, Joseph J. Miller, Sr. (1909-1983), is seated in the middle row, second from the left, and he worked with the violent women as an attendant. He also lived in staff housing on the GSH property.
His Social Security Application lists his home address as 211 Westboro Road, North Grafton, which I believe was the address of GSH. He says he received room & board as payment for "hospital work." My mother supplied the statement about the violent women's ward, as he told her this. His SS Appl. is dated June 1941.
Unfortunately, I have no State Hospital photos of either of my grandmothers, Mrs. Mary L. Keith, LPN; and Mrs. Gladys J. Miller, Switchboard Operator. But I am thankful that I had the privilege of knowing all of my grandparents. More to come. Thanks for your hard work in research, and for giving me a place to contribute these historical items which have been left in my charge. Otherwise, this page of my family history may have been forgotten."

Thelonius Monk: "Pretty Butterfly"
by TIME magazine, 1964

"...In Boston Thelonius Monk once wandered around the airport until the police picked him up and took him to Grafton State Hospital for a week's observation. He was quickly released without strings, and though the experience persuaded him never to go out on the road alone again, he now tells it as a certification of his sanity. "I can't be crazy," he says with conviction. "'cause they had me in one of those places and they let me go."
Much of the confusion about the state of Monk's mind is simply the effect of Monkish humor. He has a great reputation in the jazz world as a master of the "put-on," a mildly cruel art invented by hipsters as a means of toying with squares. Monk is proud of his skill. "When anybody says something that's a drag," he says, "I just say something that's a bigger drag. Ain't nobody can beat me at it either. I've had plenty of practice.""

On closing the hospital

In her book "Out of Bedlam: The Truth about Deinstitutionalization" (Basic Books, 1990) the author Ann Johnson cites a 1973 report by Grafton State Hospital: "Of a total of 641, some 497 patients - 78 percent - wound up in institutional settings. If we leave out those patients who died (8 percent), we find that only the remaining 14 percent can conceivably be said to have been deinstitutionalized."
Note by Many of the discharges were transfers to other state institutions (Westborough and Worcester) and to nursing or rest homes, which had begun to be able to collect Medicaid payments in 1965.

Another account of the closing of Grafton State Hospital is found in "State Mental Hospitals: What happens when they close", chapter 10, by Milton Greenblatt and Elizabeth Glazier: "The phaseout of Grafton State Hospital in Massachusetts was accomplished by placing Central Office personnel in charge of the overall operation, instead of delegating the closing to local hands. Local management was finding it difficult to make hard decisions that might prove distressing to indidviduals they had employed for many years. Often they were friends, or even neighbors, of the director. Therefore, all major planning and decisions regarding day-to-day activities were delegated to Central Offic psychiatric staff.
During the action part of the phaseout, Drs. Kahn and Kaplan from the Department of Mental Health held daily meetings over a nine-month period with the staff at Grafton. Thereafter they met twice or thee times weekly. All findings were reported back to the Department of Mental Health through the deputy commissioner. Thus, a strong link was forged between Central Office and the activities and daily work carried on at the local level. In addition, there were open meetings monthly for discussion and exchange of information concerning the process of closing. This newsletter explained all decisions or changes in administrative policy and announced which patients would be transferred on any given date. Patients and kin both were canvassed for their wishes as to which of a number of options they would like to elect. They were asked to indicate their preference for hospital or community -- which hospital and what type of facility in the community. The hospital newspaper, in announcing who was leaving each week gave the staff and patients an opportunity to throw parties where volunteers, nursing personnel, and family memebers, as well as nurses and other staff from the wards of the new hospital, could attend and say both farewells and welcomes at the same time. The patients got new clothes and personal kits, plus at least $20 from the patient's trust fund, or at least $30 if they were over 65 and were receiving funds from Medicaid. Nurses from Grafton, who knew the patients, accompanied them on their first day of transfer. They informed the new hospital staff of the patient's behavior, and at a later date returned to visit them. It should be noted that personnel had previously taken bus tours to visit the ew hospital, and that oftentimes this was the first visit they had ever made to those institutions. With such preparation they could better answer the patient's questions about that hospital, as well as make relationships with the new staff that was to look after their patients.
Personnel also received lectures on the stresses of moving and the importance of preparation to alleviate tension and strain. Patients were moved in groups of six to ten, together with staff that knew them. The staff that elected to go with patients volunteered for this function. In several hospitals a "Grafton Ward" was established where both the patients and their former staff could continue to be together as a group. The above is quote from personal experience." (Kahn, N.A. and Kaplan, R.M.: 'personal communication from follow-up of Grafton patients')

Another, quite different account of the closing of the institution comes from a former staff member June Horton, who was interviewed by Anna Schuleit in November of 1995. "Suddenly one day we received a phone call from Boston and were told that we had to close. Most of the employees lost their jobs right then and there, and except for the difficult patients that were transferred to other state hospitals, many patients lost their home. You have to imagine, all of these were elderly patients who had been in the state hospital for years and years. We were told to put them in cabs and pay the drivers to take them wherever the patients wanted to go in a 50-mile radius. Most of them had no family, they didn't know where to go." June Horton had worked at Grafton State Hospital her entire life. When she lost her job at Grafton, she went on to work for the Lyman School in Westborough, which closed soon thereafter, and ultimately became a trustee of Westborough State Hospital. June Horton has since passed away. Her stories and insight were an inspiration to the memorial at Northampton State Hospital in 2000 and still are to the continuing documentation work of


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