MetFern Cemetery is the final resting place for 296 people who once lived at the Metropolitan State Hospital and Fernald State School. Almost all the grave markers do not have names, but only a letter and number to signify the individual who is laid to rest.
On Tuesday, November 22, several speakers including Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, Senator Mike Barrett, and Representative Sean Garballey shared remarks at the cemetery to honor former institutional residents and the passage of the Special Commission on State Institutions.
A major theme shared by speakers is the omission of persons with disabilities and their treatment in the history our country, as often happens with marginalized communities or individuals. Perhaps the strongest demonstration of that is the burial of hundreds of people without the dignity of including their names. A different time perhaps, but we can’t learn without recognizing fully what MetFern and institution life represented in America.
It struck me that where we stood on November 22 was but a small part of the 662 acres upon which three institutions housed over 3,000 people at one time: Fernald State School, Metropolitan State Hospital, and Middlesex County Hospital.
Secretary Sudders noted that she was the last Superintendent of Metropolitan State and provided leadership in its closure. Charlie Carr, former MRC Commissioner, helped found the Boston Center for Independent Living (the second one established in the country), with the goal of hurrying his departure from Middlesex County (see www.charliecarr.com).
Senator Barrett noted that the ceremony marked yet another stage of progress, but not the completion of our mission. Representative Garballey commented on the difficult conversations which need to take place if we truly are to recognize the truth of our history.
Families who seek answers about the past are seeking closure. Together, we work for a society where we don’t have to continually demand a level playing field through accommodations and support – and a time and place where recognition, acceptance, and inclusion is a given.