Thursday, May 21, 2015

Stepping Into The Past

Abandoned building at Willard

     Almost a year ago, I wrote a blog that mentioned the Willard Asylum, located on Seneca Lake in New York.  When Willard Asylum for the Insane opened it's doors in October of 1869, it's goal was to provide humane care for the mentally ill who heretofore had been warehoused in jails and poorhouses.  Like many other state hospitals in New York it was closed in the 1990's, but not before the original brick buildings had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.  Which sort of implies you can stroll the grounds and view the old can't.  With the exception of one day a year when tours are offered.

My son and I in the cold spot
     When my son and daughter-in-law told me they were going, and asked if I would like to join them, I jumped at the chance.  I love anything historic or spooky and Willard, which is reputed to be haunted, offered both!  I don't know of any ancestors who were confined there, though a person who murdered an ancestor was, and the neighbor of another was likewise committed (see first link).  Saturday dawned hazy, hot and humid, and we were on our way before noon.  The closer we got to our destination, the thicker the traffic became, the result being we were forced to park on a hill almost a mile from the site.  The tour didn't exactly come off as planned, a much larger crowd than expected showed up this year, there weren't enough we made our own tour via a conveniently low window missing it's glass.  We stayed only a short time inside the crumbling brick building, but there was a heaviness about the room we stood in, and in a hallway so long we couldn't see it's end stood a rusted gurney at an odd angle. Tres creepy.  As temperatures outside soared into the mid 80's, an extremely cold spot near the window chilled us in more ways than one--even my eminently practical son agreed something was up with this building. 

     After returning home, my thoughts drifted to a long ago cousin who was employed as a cook at the King's Park Asylum on Long Island, NY.  I've never understood why a young woman from Shortsville, NY would travel all the way to Long Island, 358 miles away, to be a cook in an asylum?  But that's what Anna O'Neil did.  She can be found in the 1900 census of that institution's employees, living in one of the cottages or dorms on the property.  Several years ago I read about Anna's death in 1901 from an unspecified illness.  The article said her family had received word that Anna was quite ill and they should come at once, that would have been Monday the 12th.  Her mother left on the first train, but on Wednesday the 14th, a telegram arrived in Shortsville conveying the sad news of Anna's passing.  I want to believe her mother, Mary O'Hora, made it to Anna's bedside before death took her, but I'm not sure.

     I've also always wondered what Anna's cause of death was.  At first I thought something like typhoid, but then Sunday night I found a death notice in the Brooklyn Eagle that claimed she had died "under an operation".  Now I wonder if Anna's appendix had become infected, or even ruptured, that could account for such a rapid outcome.  I know I could just order her death certificate from New York State, but the budget here at Ellie's Ancestor's doesn't allow for orders of distant cousin's death certs at $22 a crack.  Closer ancestors are first in line, so for now Anna's death will remain one of life's little mysteries.

ps-- I took the photo at the top of the blog using my "smart" phone, that damnable phone does one thing well...


  1. Fancy work using your smart phone! Like the Willard blog too!