This morning I went to visit one of my favorite places that will soon be gone. The boards are back on the doors, locks are being replaced, and the trees being cut down. I left my mark on the stairs to the theater- the lyrics to Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah, a fitting tribute I feel to the many people who passed through these buildings thinking this was their Hallelujah.
Belchertown State School opened in 1922 as a state school for the feeble minded. Children from all over the state of Massachusetts were brought here by the parents who loved them but could no longer care for them at home. In 1922 we had little understanding of diseases such as cerebral palsy and epilepsy, so many of these children were institutionalized, a great number of them locked away and forgotten. Belchertown operated for over 60 years but it was discovered in the 1970’s that the children of BSS lived in squalor. They spent their days in bed, alone, in the same position for hours with no human contact. They had no way to communicate their pain, fear, or sadness and so there was no one to listen.
In 1974 a parent named Ben Ricci filed a lawsuit on behalf of his son Robert, and the children of so many other families, charging the state of Massachusetts with mistreating the children they were supposed to be caring for. The court case eventually led to the school’s closure and the campus still stands abandoned, much like the individuals who once lived there.
(**As a side note, the lyrics to this piece were originally written by Leonard Cohen and the song has since been covered by many prominent musicians and has lately been featured on quite a few mainstream TV shows such as “Without a Trace”, “One Tree Hill”, and “The O.C.”)