Well! That was unexpected

I was visiting Tufts today (more on that later) when, on a whim, I decided to track down the old Grafton State Hospital cemetery. I had a rough idea of where it was, and the leaves are off the trees, so I was able to spot this memorial through the woods.


I had to ditch the minivan on the side of Centech Boulevard and trek up a hill and through some woods before I came to a giant clearing. This is Hillcrest Cemetery, where 1,041 former residents of Grafton State Hospital are buried, most in graves marked with just a number.

Hillside Cemetery

This is a memorial for the veterans who were buried here. Let’s take a closer look.

Hillcrest Cemetery

Now, up until this point, my sole focus has been this memorial. This is what I spotted from the road, this is what I kept in sight as I walked up from my car. I have paid attention to nothing but this memorial and the uncomfortable feeling you get when you walk through a cemetery full of barely marked graves when your foot slips, perhaps a little more than is proper, into the soft ground.

So you can imagine my surprise when I turned to the right and found this.

Hillcrest stone tower



I’d completely forgotten that there was supposed to be a creepy old stone tower here as well! How in the world did I miss seeing that?

Hillcrest stone tower

I’m told that it’s an old Civil War lookout tower but, right now, it looks like a place where kids go to drink beer (or something stronger, judging by all the mini glass bottles sparkling in the leaves surrounding the place).

Hillcrest stone tower

Yeah, this place must be fantastic at night. Nothing quite like spending your time in a crumbling stone fortress surrounded by the unmarked graves of people who died in the local mental hospital.

My middle schooler learned about Grafton State Hospital at a history club meeting and was freaked out for days. I think the teacher overplayed the spooky factor. We had a long talk about treatments for the mentally ill and mental illness in general and I told him all about interviewing Kitty Dukakis about her electroshock therapy and, really, I think I bored him right to sleep with the overexplaining. Isn’t that what parenting is all about?

Hillcrest Cemetery

Most of the grave markers were impossible to find in all the leaves, but a few were more obvious.

Hillcrest Cemetery

The cemetery is about 3 acres, has no public access and you really need to know it’s there to find it. It’s a very lonely place.

Also, my son just came home and his comment about the tower is this: “Well, people say it’s an old Civil War tower, but no one really knows what went on there.”

God, I LOVE middle school students!


19 thoughts on “Well! That was unexpected

  1. Have you ever seen this website?


    The pictures of the state hospital under construction amaze me the most since I work at Tufts now and see some of those same buildings in restored form or in disrepair. Also I looked online for a clip from Jorge Quiroga’s story on channel 5 about the cemetery from a few years ago but could only find pictures from his report.

    Is History club even still going on these days??

  2. Thank you Becky! I knew that was reminding me of something and I’d half thought that it was one of the windmills on Cape Cod. But Norumbega Tower is exactly what I had in mind.

    Was there a farmer with a Viking fetish, I wonder?

  3. I bounced the tower queston over to John Stephens, the highly esteemed town historian & curator of the Willard Clock Museum, and he said: “It’s the water tower for the old Grafton State Hospital.”

  4. But there are windows! And a door! My first thought (after “eek! How did I miss that?”) was “water tower,” until I saw all the windows.

    My latest theory is the inmates built an exceptionally good prop for a Grafton State Hospital production of “Rapunzel.”

  5. I have to agree with Nat Bocking, that this is very unlikely to be a water tower. It has no features indicating that it is a water tower, other than its a tower.

    Looking at Asylums, Hospitals and Workhouses in the UK, many changing status through time, the water tower is normally incorporated into the building, rather than a free standing building some distance away – there are plenty of exceptions.

  6. I am wondering if my paternal grandmother and uncle are buried there. I can’t find out because my dad was adopted out when they took his mom off to Grafton. She had 6 kids, a cheating husband and no money to feed her kids or heat the house – leading to a psycotic break from what I have been able to gather. I have heard stories from my Uncle that she was unresponsive when they went to visit(wonder what type of treatment they recieved). He hated going, but his adoptive mother insisted he go. Their names are Mary Lamb Oliver and Donald (Oliver) Weiler if anybody has access to the records and wants to share the info you have my email. I would love to give them proper burials if they are in that unmarked field.

  7. Pingback: Rob's Rants » The Old Grafton State Hospital Cemetery

  8. I am writing about Towers at the moment… (go to website and my BLOG for June) can I use your picture? I don’t want to infringe any copyright and would love to acknowledge it… I can’t find an email to send this to….

  9. Sure! Just pop in a link to Greater Grafton! I love my spooky graveyard tower — there are other photos on the blog as well, with a bit more greenery, after the graveyard was cleaned up.

  10. I have found something very similar near where my grandparents live. Only it looks like no one has been around it in a very long time

  11. cool stuff .. i live close by there and have always wondered what the deal with that tower was .. Before they built centech connecting 30 and 20, I stumbeled apon that place with some friends when I was maybe 12 .. needless to say, we were quite surprised finding this cemetary seemingly in the middle of the woods

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