Unlike today, back in its days, it was known for quite a few things that made it stand out from the other institutions. It was a place where mentally challenged children in need of professional care could get the much needed help for their mental state.
Constructed in a Colonial Revival style by Kendall, Taylor, and Co, the institution opened its doors for the first time in 1922. In its beginnings the school had it all, including gymnastic classes, a grammar school and there was even a kindergarten and a music teacher.
Belchertown State School for the Feeble Minded was built as part of the movement across the United States at that time to confine mentally deficient patients in state run institutions. With the prevailing social attitude towards mental illness at that time, there was no alternative care provision so families had no choice but to send their “mentally retarded” children away.
At first, the school performed as expected, but pretty soon things started to take a different turn and not for the better. With time the school became overcrowded and its conditions according to many parents of that time were nothing short of “barbaric”. The population at the school jumped from the initial 430 to almost 730 just four years after it was opened. Pretty soon something had to be done.
It was suggested that additional buildings were to be built to ease the overcrowding and not to mention the risk of fire. But it appeared that the conditions at the school went from bad to worse despite different measures taken.
The school superintendent had no choice but to quit his job. The rest of the employees had a tough time too, for they were a lot less than the number of patients. This resulted with insufficient care for many of the patients. There is even evidence of patients being left almost completely naked and vulnerable to lie in their own faeces for hours.
To aid the horror and the bad reputation, even more, the handicapped patients had their strong teeth taken out so that the whole process of feeding them would be easier.
And if this wasn’t enough, the handicapped patients were often considered to be nothing short of “morons and idiots” and were placed in their beds for days on end without any form of care or anyone to turn them from one side to the other or to provide some form of amusement.
And when some of the employees decided to do so, they did it in such a manner that often caused bruises and left the patients with the even worse condition than before. Given the fact that the patients were feeble minded they had no other choice to express their revolt and anger but to bang their heads against the walls in the hallways.
Furthermore, they cried and moaned and screamed from the inside. Some of them, angrier than ever, reached down their pants, pulled out a handful of faeces and made sure that it was spread all over the hallway.
It looked like that awfulness was far from over for the school was infested with hundreds of rats, adding even more fuel to the already blazing fire. Many of the parents were not aware of this whole situation and they were convinced by the doctors that their child was better off at Belchertown than at home.
Years down the road and the understanding about the patients slowly increased. In part had to do with the African Americans and their movement for human rights. The end of this school and its internal dreadfulness was nearing for the “The Tragedy of Belchertown” newspaper article exposed it all. It was a piece of writing that helped the parents in their pursuit of justice.
And then after years of travelling in and out of the court rooms, the school was finally closed in 1992. After it was closed it was time for the karma to step in. Today the school is severely damaged and destroyed beyond recognition, left to lie in its own ruins.