Its a cemetery without a sign. Only numbers are engraved on the stone and metal markers. There are no names indicating the final resting places of about 1,000 patients. Gowanda Psychiatric Center which opened as a homeopathic hospital in 1898 at its peak had 3,710 patients.
Operation Dignity is a national movement to restore old abandoned Psychiatric Hospital Cemeteries across the country, that were no more than Potters Fields, where patients were buried in unmarked or numbered graves; sometimes the numbers were reused. Our mission is to give these people back their dignity.
The project began when an unidentified cemetery was accidentally discovered on Wheater Road in Collins, NY. An investigation revealed that the cemetery contained the bodies of approximately 1,000 individuals who had been patients at the Gowanda Psychiatric Center, which had been closed in 1994.
Led by the late, much loved Sandra Hooten, a peer advocate at Housing Options Made Easy, Inc. decided to honor the deceased by organizing Operation Dignity. Sandy believed that this blatant disregard for the deceased patients contributed to the stigmatizing practice of concealing neurological illnesses. The Peer Networking group, a group comprised of Peers from all over western New York started and finished a project on Route 62 in Gowanda, NY.
At the Dedication Ceremony, the people from our organization were so moved, they wanted to do something to help. It was at that point, a small grant was written and the project began.
The Compeer program,and the Peer Networking Group, along with the Friendship Drop-In Center, and friends of the Mental Health Association in Cattaraugus County continue to clean and mark the Wheater Road Cemetery in Collins. Local agencies and organizations such as the Rehabilitation Center, St. Bonaventure University, Dickenson Mental Health Center, and Cattaraugus Community Action have also volunteered their time and effort toward the restoration process.
Please click on this link for more information:
To donate to this or other projects please contact Jennifer Falandys