End of an institution ‘Going to Waterbury’ cites hospital’s stigmas, triumphs
By Eric Blaisdell
STAFF WRITER | October 29,2012
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
A detail from the art installation “Going to Waterbury: An Elegy” at the former Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury.
WATERBURY — A two-part closing ceremony was held during the weekend for the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury, offering those who worked there or were patients there a chance to remember the facility before it is torn down.
The 120-year-old mental hospital was flooded during Tropical Storm Irene last year. Instead of repairing and rebuilding the hospital where it stands, the state decided that a new hospital will be built in Berlin next to Central Vermont Medical Center.
Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, took the opportunity to present “Going to Waterbury: An Elegy” as a way of honoring the facility and its people.
The event included an open forum Saturday for those who worked at or who were admitted to the hospital to speak about their experiences. A formal closing ceremony was held Sunday at St. Andrew’s Church on Main Street.
“This is an opportunity to put a period at the end of a very long sentence that was the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury, and what it meant for tens of thousands of people,” Stevens said. “Not only patients, but staff doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, family members and community members.”
Stevens said he felt an elegy was a more appropriate form of remembrance as it is more contemplative and meditative, as opposed to a eulogy, which is more public.
The weekend event also featured an artistic exhibit of pictures of the facility, as well as pillows set on pedestals and shoes on the floor to represent where patients had slept for over a century.
There were two rolls of brown paper attached to the wall on which visitors could write their thoughts about the hospital. One message read, “Nice to be back and not locked up!” Another said, “VSH — Always a place to receive acceptance and help.”
Stevens said he has a brother with Down syndrome, so he feels a connection to the mentally disabled who were patients at the facility. He said everyone in the state needs to take responsibility for the stigma associated with patients of the hospital. Even those who joked, “Hey, if you don’t behave, you’re going to Waterbury,” helped contribute to the stigma of mental disability, according to Stevens.
Stevens said the response to the ceremonies from the public has been positive.
“I’ve heard the most amazing tidbits in the last couple days that people felt that they needed to share,” he said. “(The presentation) is meant to evoke memories, evoke emotions and try to start a positive dialogue about what this place was.”
Stevens heard from many people, from family members of patients who died at the hospital to the grandchild of one of the men who built the facility in 1890, as well as the son of Doctor George Brooks, after whom one of the hospital buildings was named.
Margarate Luce, a member of the Waterbury Historical Society and volunteer at the weekend ceremonies, said those she talked to who were visiting the exhibit were touched by it, and she was surprised at how upbeat people were about the hospital.
“For the people that worked here, there is a very positive sense of, ‘We gave good care.’ They miss the facility,” she said. “For people who came as patients, a lot of them were very positive about this being a safe place.”
Stevens said he does not know when the hospital will be demolished, but is happy the phrase “Going to Waterbury” can be a positive statement again.