5/19/20. The Remember Garden in Highland Park. Photos by David Kramer, see also The Guardian, the Crime Victims Memorial and other tucked away gems in Highland Park
Last Sunday, on what would have been the last day of the Lilac Festival, I looked closely at the Remember Garden near the Highland Drive side in the lower park. The site — pergola, benches, plaques, brick pavers, memorial stone, surrounded by trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals — is dedicated to those who suffer and have suffered from mental illness, and those who help all survive and thrive. The plantings are predominantly purple, reflecting the official color of Mental Health Awareness. Pinks, blues and reds are also part of the color scheme.
(See Lilac Festivals past)
85 of the bricks are inscribed with messages of love, gratitude, honor and hope: REMEMBRANCE AND HOPE, DIGNITY, RESPECT AND BELONGING, “YOU’RE ABSOLUTELY NOT ALONE,” YOU MATTER, BLESSED AND NOT FORGOTTEN, FOR EVERYONE “GRACE,’ WE ARE A SANCTUARY FOR EACH OTHER,”COURAGE,” WITH HOPE COMES MIRACLES.
On Sunday, I met Joe and Tom at the bench where they often stop to enjoy the flowers and the tranquility. They knew some of the history of the Garden, including the 1984 discovery of an unmarked mass grave for inhabitants of Monroe County Insane Asylum, Almshouse and Penitentiary. The men told stories of a boyhood spent rambling in the park before its development over the recent decades. They recalled finding and playing in tunnels underneath the grounds of the Rochester Psychiatric Center.
Tom mentioned that his son has spent some time in the Psychiatric Center where the staff helped Tom’s son overcome his struggles.
When returning home, from the DePaul Community Services website, I learned of the history and meaning of the garden:
In 1984, an unmarked mass grave was discovered at Highland Park. Those buried there died over a century ago while institutionalized at the Monroe County Insane Asylum, Almshouse and Penitentiary. At that time, large institutions were created and populated by individuals who had discernable differences such as mental illness or mental retardation, along with people who had cerebral palsy and seizure disorders, among others. No records were kept of the individuals buried at the site. Approximately 700 unnamed graves are at the site in Highland Park.
Honoring Those Who Were Once Forgotten
Since 2004, the effort to create a living memorial garden, located at the original site in the park, has been coordinated by DePaul Community Services. DePaul Community Services coordinated development, building, planting and maintenance of the garden.
The Remember Garden appropriately marks the grave, lending dignity and respect to those buried there, while heightening community awareness to the site and the history of institutionalization. The plantings are predominantly purple, reflecting the official color of Mental Health Awareness. Pinks and blues are also part of the scheme that includes trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals.
Watch the May 2015 ceremony in honor of those buried in The Remember Garden:
1872 “Bone Yard” The Remember Garden – Rochester, NY, explains the history of the Penitentiary, Alms House, and Insane Asylum whose mission was to help sufferers, but all too often its protocols and policies were dehumanizing.
In Remember Garden Poem Dedication, we learn that at the May 19th, 2015 event, a plaque with a poem about the Remember Garden written by Mary Lee Pifer was installed and the piece recited by the poet.
I also saw the Maruggi Family bench and a brick paver in loving member of daughter and sister Therese Maruggi.
When I recalled a conversation with Therese’s brother Ed, the inclusion of bench and brick piece became clear.
On May 6th, 2012, Ed, myself, my father and Dean Tucker watched Andy Pettite’s rehap start for the Yankees’ Empire State farm team against the Red Wings at Frontier Field. We signed the back of the ticket stub to verify our attendance.
On the way home we passed the abandoned Terrence Building, the site of the old Rochester Psychiatric Center. Ed told us a little about Therese who had been a patient in the center.
Ed frequently visited Therese who suffered from schizophrenia. Ed said that sometimes her medicines worked, sometimes they didn’t, but he always greatly admired the mental health professionals who helped Therese in her struggles. Later I learned Ed’s father was responsible for donating the Maruggi Family bench and brick paver. The family attended a ceremony when both were installed.
Yesterday, when I went back to the Garden to take pictures, something was amiss. The name plates on the benches, including the Maruggi Family, were missing. So too was a plaque on the wooden stand.
In the afternoon, I returned to the garden. Tom was back. The first thing he asked was what the hell happened to the name plates. The vandalism and theft disappointed Tom. He respected the Remember Garden. When he smoked, he always threw away his cigarette butts, and since he has quit smoking, Tom does the same when he finds leftover debris. We both could not recall if the wooden stand held Mary Lee Pifer’s poem, “The Remember Garden.”
In all the years, I’ve enjoyed the park, I’ve never once heard anything about missing name plates among the many thousands that adorn the park. If anything, the weird incident attests to the spirit of the park where vandalism rarely occurs. Tom and I couldn’t understand why someone had taken the plaques. They are made of brass but certainly have virtually zero street value. This theft was not like when, five years ago, the bust of Goethe was stolen from the Highland Park Bowl and most likely melted down for sale.
Another tragedy in Highland Park discussed the deaths of Charlotte Lahr in her business on South Avenue across from the park and Eric Markham whose body was found in the snow near the Day Care Center playground between St. Johns and the flowering trees. The removal of the plaques is not a tragedy nor the loss of cultural icon. Name plates can be replaced. This weekend, Ed will tell his father of the event, and the family will consider a replacement. The Remember Garden is essentially undiminished, still the same wonderful place, one of so many treasures in Highland Park.
When pondering the seemingly pointless gesture of the vandal, I couldn’t help thinking that quite possibly the person suffers from some kind of mental illness. How ironic then to take aim at a place dedicated to mental health treatment. When thinking of all the professionals, friends and family who devote their hearts to helping such sufferers, I imagine if the person came forward and asked for help, the treatment community would embrace him or her with open arms. The Remember Garden is — and will always be — a place of healing and hope.
VERY GOOD NEWS UPDATE
After discovering the missing plaques, I went directly to the Highland Park office. The office was closed, but the attendant advised me to contact the main office via email and/or phone. I did both, but have not heard back. I have now with reassuring news. I also sent the published article to Gillian Conde; VP of DePaul and founder of The Remember Garden. Here’s what Gillian wrote on Thursday 5/21.¹
I am Gillian Conde; VP of DePaul and founder of The Remember Garden. We were recently copied into your article on the Talker of the Town about the Garden.
Fortunately, the garden has not been destroyed or vandalized, in fact The Remember Garden is currently undergoing a complete makeover and is the reason why the signs are down. The pergola’s and the benches will be totally rebuilt as a full remodeling being down as a gift to the Garden by Christa Construction.
I just had not had a chance yet to put this up on our Facebook page as the Christa team started the demo before I could post. I met them at the site last week and they were already moving forward to save our signs and then dismantle the existing structures and benches.
We will be replacing the old signs with new and replacing the plantings as some have gotten very large and woody. Thank you for your interest in this special place. We are expecting for it be all new for an exciting 2021 Lilac festival and beyond.
You can find us on Facebook and you can support The Remember Garden thru a gift to DePaul for the garden, or to help us maintain it during the United Way Day of Caring 2021.
I also looked closely at the nearby Peace Pole and plaque describing the gift from the people of Tibet to the people of Monroe County, another place of hope.
As seen in A garden for peaceful contemplation on the corner of South and Elmwood the peace pole is similar to the one nearby next to the Al Siegel parking lot. Both are constructed in the spirit of the Remember Garden.Also, in late April, I discovered in nearby Mt. Hope Cemetery a plaque on a small boulder dedicated To the men, women and children whose unmarked graves were discovered in Highland Park. NOTE¹ On the 26th, I received this reassuring answer from Mark Quinn, Superintendent of Horticulture:
Hi David, thank you for the inquiry about the plaques at the remember garden. The garden is presently being renovated, the benches and the structures included. It will be put back to it’s original condition by the conclusion of the renovation.Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the project.
All’s well that end.