In a little corner of the mountains of western Carolina, lies a field of the forgotten. These were once mothers, daughters, sisters, and sons. They were somebody’s friend, somebody’s family member, somebody’s…somebody. Today, they are just numbers along a rusted chain. Tags along a line that are nearly completely faded into history. Once in a while, a stone leaves a more lasting impression. This stone, in particular, broke me. Beneath the words of names and dates, it remembers the person as an artist.
Here lies an artist.
It has not always been cool, especially in the place this stone lies, to be an artist. Cast down, abused, medicated, they were often treated like the rejects of society because they saw the world a little differently. When I see this stone, I think about how many things have changed and how many things have stayed the same.
This final resting place is part of a much older and sadder story.
Mountain people are particularly gifted in textile trades. Wood carvings, furniture making, basket weaving, and loom tapestry weaving were marketable skills passed down amongst them for generations. In the early 1900s, western North Carolina was a booming place for furniture and upholstery. The generations of talent in making housewares by hand now turned to factories and annual market sales. The trade continues to thrive for generations there and bring in buyers from around the world.
But one other thing set up roots in Morganton, NC: Broughton Hospital. In the early days of mental health, a series of brick buildings connected into a beautiful castle. It was one of the largest hospitals for the mentally ill and people were sent there from all over. I imagine people were amazed by the beauty of the place and left their loved ones there easily. But not everything that happened in mental health medicine at that time was good, kind, or ethical. In fact, it was quite common for families to be so embarrassed by mentally ill family members that they would either hide them away in “disappointment rooms” in their homes or send them to places like this.
Over time, parts of the hospital closed down, and only a small section of it remains in use today. The old castle bits have wasted away almost completely. All that remains are a few condemned buildings across from the forgotten field like this one. Windows broken by ivy vines and basement boiler rooms full of shoes and old tin cans are the only signs of life here now.
I wonder what stories this place could tell.
What lessons would we learn from their mistakes? What acts of kindness would warm our hearts and inspire us? What horrors would make us sleepless at night?
We can learn from the past–and I hope we all do–to be better people today. Enjoy your life and strive to understand the people in your world, especially family. Forgive them, love them, and make the most of your time with them.