By: Amy Cavalier, Communications/Development Coordinator
They were buried without a word; without a proper grave or headstone.
The land which Highland Park in Rochester, New York is now situated on was once home to the Monroe County Insane Asylum, Almshouse and Penitentiary. Some 700 of the former prisoners and patients were buried in unmarked graves on the surrounding properties.
Unearthed in 1984, DePaul’s Remember Garden now marks the spot where unmarked graves once stood.
Mary Lee Pifer of Dansville is hoping the words she has written will ensure those individual who are buried in the cemetery are not forgotten.
“I attended the dedication of the garden and I read what was on the plaque,” she said. “It seemed to me like the commemorative stones dedicated to those who were buried there were talking to me. I felt their stories needed to be told. They deserve the respect they were denied in the state hospitals.”
Pifer, who’s suffered from depression herself, has been writing poetry for many years. She was a consumer at Hilltop Industries for 18 years where she performed various assembly line jobs, and she is now a member of Compeer, Inc. in Livingston County.
Pifer has had several poems published in anthologies and in publications produced by Eber and Wein Publishers. She said she wrote “The Remember Garden” to help break some of the stereotypes associated with living with a mental illness.
“I feel some people don’t know what the Remember Garden is all about,” she said. “I hope that my poem leads to a deeper understanding and great acceptance of people with mental illness.”