by David Mack-Hardiman

Like a lonely European castle dropped into a busy urban neighborhood, the former Buffalo State Asylum is striking, majestic and mysterious. Architect Henry Hobson Richardson designed the massive structure in Victorian Gothic style with dramatic arches and curved connecting corridors. The center of the complex, constructed of mauve Medina sandstone, is framed by looming twin towers. To the north was a farm which provided both food and occupation for some of the patients. Others worked within the buildings, some creating burial shrouds for the dead.

An early view of the N.Y.S. Insane Asylum at Buffalo
Image courtesy of Museum of disABILITY History
According to the annual reports issued by the Board of Charities, more than 13,000 patients died at the asylum/state hospital from 1880 until 1959. Some died suddenly of acute conditions while others had chronic or contagious diseases. Some patients died of injuries and others committed suicide. The question often asked by descendants, historians and local advocates is, “where were they buried?” While the response of the hospital has typically been, “in local cemeteries”, there were no details. The curious poured through dusty books, old newspapers, microfilms and maps. Cemetery records yielded very little information. There were rumors that there may have been a cemetery on the grounds of the asylum, somewhere on the Northern edge. There is no evidence to support that legend.
In a unique collaboration, documentary filmmaker Julie Casper Roth of Albany, docent Geoff Gorsuch and staff at the Richardson Olmsted Complex (formerly the state hospital building), and this writer met recently with Michael Malyak, a Lackawanna historian. There is evidence in recently uncovered articles that the state hospital used the Howard Cemetery for the burial of some of the patients. Howard Cemetery was located on Ridge Road in what is now the city of Lackawanna. Many other people were buried there, including veterans of the Civil War, children of Polish immigrants, executed criminals and, persons who were unidentified indigents. Records were poorly kept at this graveyard but estimates in 1898 indicated that as many as 7,000 people had been buried there. According to other information at the Lackawanna Public Library, this number may have risen to 8,400. The last burial is said to have occurred there in October of 1919.

The Howard Cemetery

“A Glimpse of the Overpopulated and Neglected Potter’s Field”- Buffalo Courier- November 21, 1902

The Howard Cemetery had a shockingly notorious reputation. According to the Buffalo Courier of January 23, 1898, “because of the shallowness of some burials, a stench pervades, dogs scavenge among the graves, bones are spread about and the place was believed to be a health hazard to the community”. Local newspapers described improper burial techniques in detail.
While the cemetery was left in gruesome neglect, plans were being made to build a new Carnegie Public Library. In 1920, remains from the cemetery were disinterred and moved to what was described as a mobile crematorium. The ashes of thousands of people were placed in a mass grave, a fifteen by twenty foot vault under a concrete slab behind the current library. A memorial at the site contains this description:
The Lackawanna Public Library dedicates this stone in loving memory of the indigent, the forgotten, the unknown. May they rest in peace. Site of Howard’s {sic} Cemetery, a potter’s field, 1858- 1920.
There is evidence that some bodies were left behind in the mass exhumation. During further construction in the 1960’s and 1970’s, more human remains were unearthed at the site of the Howard Cemetery. It is not known where patients were buried after this cremation occurred. We will continue to search for more information about these thousands of Americans, anonymous in death.

The Howard Cemetery on Ridge Road

Photo Courtesy the Lackawanna Public Library
Looking closely, there are rounded cast iron grave markers visible. In the front center of the photograph, there appears to be an open grave.
Western New York Genealogical Journal, Vol. XXIX, No. 4, March 2013, “The Howard Cemetery” by Glenn R. P. Atwell
Buffalo Courier, May 13, 1902 and January 23, 1898
Buffalo Courier and Evening News, February 25, 1903
Buffalo News, August 30, 1902 and May 18, 1902
Buffalo Express, January 5, 1903
Buffalo Evening News, January 26, 1898, May 6, 1902, July 11, 1902
Forest Lawn Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes, May 20, 1902
The History of Lackawanna
Michael Malyak, Lackawanna Historian and the Lackawanna Public Library

The Old Poor House on Poor House Hill

Abandoned History
A Visit To The Old Poor House Cemetery

By James Boles,Ed.D.

J.Boles 2017

Here lie the residents of the Niagara County Almshouse who were laid to rest between 1929 and 1916an inscription on the poorhouse cemetery bench. Donated by Orleans Monument Company, Lockport NY.

J.Boles 2017

The only marked stone in the cemetery. Reconstructed and donated by Orleans Monument Company.

The poor house cemetery, which was not kept up for a number of years, is now nicely maintained by the county. There is a mowed right-of-way path back to the 300 x 300 foot burial ground. The story is that the land that contained the cemetery was accidently sold and after discovery of this, in 1993, the county did the right thing and mapped the approximate dimensions and purchased back the land. With graves dating to the 1820s, and not much maintenance over the last 100 years, it was rough. In 2011, I visited the overgrown site to explore the options for the Museum of disABILITY History’s planned clean-up. It was difficult to find. I made a sharp right turn into the field across from the jail. The right-of-way was faint and hard to follow. My truck rolled past the old silo and the stone barn foundation which was covered with vines and scrub brush. In the first visits to the cemetery you could not find it. There was one marked stone on its side, which was the only indicator that you might be in a graveyard. The land was wild with thorn bushes, rocks, and trees obscuring the area. After sometime, with a machete, and garden tools, the boundary stone walls and scattered crudely cut grave stones appeared. The project began in 2012, thanks to the help of Niagara County Legislature Chairman, Bill Ross who cleared the way for all the groups – it should be noted that it would not have happened if not for Bill Ross. With combined efforts of the Niagara County Department of Buildings and Grounds, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, the Niagara county Historians office, local historians, volunteers, People Inc., and Orleans Monument Company, the property was restored. A detailed description of the project can be found in David Mack-Hardiman’s book, “Of Grave Importance-the Restoration of Institutional Cemeteries”. Volunteers from People Inc. do an annual check and clean-up.

J. Boles 2017

This is one of the few original rectangle-shaped grave stones. They were cut from the poorhouse quarry, with no names or numbers.

This small cemetery contains over 1400 graves. A discovered book of records lists up to 3 burials in each grave. Catherine Emerson, the Niagara County Historian recently reported that she often receives genealogy questions from family members asking if a relative was in the poor house or buried in the cemetery. The Museum of disABILITY History receives similar requests. Records can be found at the Niagara County’s Historians Office, the Museum of disABILITY History, and the New York State Archives. However it is not clear that all burials were in the cemetery as graves were found on the south side of the street when the jail was built in 1960. Former Niagara County Historian, Clarence Lewis, speculated that the graves were from an earlier private cemetery or quick burials after an epidemic. The south side graves were also found near the quarantine house.
Over the years of its existence the early Niagara County Poor House served many helpless groups. Later outside specialized services such as orphanages, institutions for the mentally ill and the disabled were developed and used by the County. Burials after 1916 were at the Niagara County Infirmary on Davison Road.
Because of requests I am trying to occasionally write about Abandoned History locations that can be visited. This can be difficult because of concerns about destroying a historical site or disturbing the owner. Fortunately many of the properties are owned the local governments and or can be seen from the road. All issues are considered when identifying a historical site. Most of the Abandoned History finds are obscure and not well known so I am always cautious.

J. Boles 2017

Memorial stone at the entrance to the Almshouse Cemetery

An interested reader can visit the old Niagara County Poorhouse Cemetery. It is located across from the Niagara County Sherriff’s Office on Niagara Street Extension. There is a large boulder with a plaque and some history-and the right of way is to the left. I was down there last week and the area is well kept by the county. It was an easy drive back to the cemetery which is located at the end of the cut path, and the graveyard is to the left. On the path lined with purple and white Phlox wildflowers, you pass the silo and a stone ramp to the barn foundation from the farming days. This area has a unique feel to it and although small there is a draw to recognize those that reside, it is quiet but requires attention. As you view it- it demands and should receive respect. Many people and groups helped restore this unrecognized historical site let’s keep it peaceful. Thank you to the Niagara County’s Sherriff’s Office and the Niagara County Maintenance Department for keeping a watchful eye on the old poor house cemetery.
Jim Boles, Ed.D., is a Lockport native and retired CEO of People Inc., now working part-time at the Museum of disABILITY History, researching early care and healing. He has a strong interest in preserving the area’s local history and promoting cultural tourism. Jim can be contacted by calling the museum or via email:

Students with Disabilities in the Field of Medicine (by Farzana Ali)


Farzana Ali (left) and Daniel W. Sheehan, Associate Dean for Medical Curriculum at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.


How are you going to do the long hours of clinical rotation in this condition?

As a premedical student, the strong emotion invoked by that question left me speechless. Especially since it was posed by the Associate Dean of medical education from my beloved undergraduate institution, Stony Brook University, a community where I developed my values of inclusion and service for the betterment of humanity. I just wished he could see how much effort went into the long hours of research and volunteer work I did in that community, alongside my hectic premedical curriculum. Then he would realize that dedication and hard work can make a student achieve their goals, regardless of their disability. But he was so preoccupied with my wheelchair-bound paralyzed appearance, that my years of academic and extracurricular accomplishments were reduced to meager scribbles on paper.

The question was an explicit expression of the bias against students with disabilities held by an individual with the highest authority to decide who can pursue medical education in his institution. But even more unfortunate are the cases where such bias is held implicitly, barring a dedicated student from pursuing their lifelong dream. Despite the enactment of several acts to ensure equal access to education in the United States, many students still face discrimination due to the ambiguity of those acts and the reluctance of authorities to provide necessary accommodation. A recent article published in the Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges addresses the lack of support from most medical schools in providing accommodation for students with disabilities, despite the evidence that physicians with disabilities are more empathetic towards patients, and are actually preferred by patients.

A 1987 study reported only 0.25% of US medical students had disabilities, and still today, less than 1% of medical students have any disability, compared to 20% of our general population. Even though individuals with disabilities constitute the largest minority group in the US, their representation in the medical field is well below the percentage of other minority groups. One major component of medical admission that may work against students with disabilities is the technical standards (TS) set by medical schools in the US and Canada. The medical schools need to delineate these standards before receiving accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), a voluntary organization that ensures the quality of medical education based on established standards. Majority of US medical schools state in their TS the need for full participation of the student in every aspect of medical training with or without accommodation. Even though a third of US medical schools explicitly express their openness to the provision of reasonable accommodations to otherwise qualified students with disabilities, more than half of the medical schools remain vague in their statements regarding reasonable accommodations. Moreover, it is up to the institution to decide what type of accommodation is considered “reasonable”.

Schools are required to provide reasonable accommodation, and are prohibited to discriminate against students with disabilities, in accordance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and its Section 504. The nondiscrimination concepts of Section 504 were further reinforced by the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, and its amendment in 2008. Yet, the variation in applicability of these acts depending on individual’s condition adds more ambiguity to the notion of reasonable accommodation. This contributes to the uncertainty of a student’s eligibility for being considered for medical education in a particular institution. As a result, applicants with disabilities to medical programs have to rely on the knowledge and open-mindedness of a medical school regarding their disability. Even after the admission of a medical student with disability, the Institution needs to implement a team-oriented approach including the student and knowledgeable individuals to ensure proper training that meets established standards.

Despite these stated complications, there have been many medical students in the US who have not only completed their medical education, but also flourished in their practice. Dr. Shane VerVoort was the first quadriplegic to enter medical school in 1979, who currently practices in physical medicine and rehabilitation, a specialty dedicated to patients with conditions similar to his own. In 1992, James Post was rejected by all the medical schools he applied to, because of his disability, despite his outstanding academic performance. But his perseverance led to his acceptance into the Albert Einstein College of medicine, where he graduated in the top 10% of the class, and is now practicing as a kidney specialist. Meghan Wilson is one of the recent success stories for medical students with disabilities, even though she had to initially struggle to get into a medical program due to her disability. She became quadriplegic from a skiing accident at the age of 17, but later went on to finish her M.D./ Ph.D. degree, and is currently doing residency in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine.

The presence of students with disabilities adds a unique dimension to diversity in medical education by enlightening students without disabilities about disability issues through personal interaction with their fellow students with disabilities, as indicated by the lead physician author of the aforementioned article. The proactive measures taken by the Association of American Medical Colleges have been useful for educating faculty and administrative staff members of medical colleges in the US about reasonable accommodations for medical students, and broadening their viewpoint on accepting students with disabilities. The LCME can play a vital role in this process by reinforcing ADA compliance in TS evaluation of medical schools in the US and Canada. Such efforts will not only improve diversity in the medical field, but also enable patients to receive care from physicians who can connect through personal experience and unique insights.

Farzana Z Ali

Class of 2020

Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Dr. Skinner’s Childhood Home for Sale (by James Boles, Ed.D.)


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skinner home pic 1

Skinner House For Sale – J. Boles 2016

A large 1828 house on the Prattsburg, NY Town Square Park will be soon listed for sale. This house, known locally as the ‘Blood House’, was named for the Fred and Ada Blood family who lived there in the early 1900s. Recent interest in the house stems from its first owners, the Erastus Skinner family. The Skinner family had the house built in 1828 by Asa Hopkins. A famous member of the family, Dr. Platt H. Skinner, lived in the house as a child from 1828 to the 1840s. Dr. Skinner was a graduate of Franklin Academy and Oberlin College in Ohio and trained as a dentist. He and his wife Jerusha (Hills) opened three schools for disabled African-American children during a racially troubled time in America’s history (1858 – 1866). The Skinner family briefly lived on Mechanic St., before building this house.

Skinner home pic 2

Skinner House on Mchanic St. 1824-1828, J. Boles 2016

Assisted by Prattsburg, NY Town Historian Lenora Applebee, the two Skinner homes were discovered in a trip to the Historian’s Office in May. With help from Historian Applebee, contact was made possible with the homeowner, Connie Dickerson. On Friday June 3rd, Lenora and I dropped in on Connie as she started to clean out the historic home and she graciously invited us in for a tour.

Skinner home pic 3Connie Dickerson-Homeowner, Jim Boles-Researcher, and Lenora Applebee-town Historian

Although re-modeled many times over its 188 years, the house has many beautiful features such as the wide plank floors and woodwork.

Skinner home pic 4Staircase in Skinner House-J.Boles 2016

As the Museum of disABILITY History in Buffalo prepares for an updated book about Dr. Platt H. Skinner, we thank the Prattsburg Historical Society, Director Lenora Applebee and the homeowner, Connie Dickerson for showing us his boyhood home.

Skinner home pic 5

Museum Publication


Dr. BW Dean, “The Sweat Doctor”


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Alternative Medicine in Lockport New York

While researching early human service agencies in Niagara County New York, I came across a number of commercial ventures that were often based upon an alternative view of health care that differed from the traditional care available during 1830s – 1920s. This resulted in health products ranging from medicinal mineral waters, medicines, and foods that were produced locally and were sold widely. At this time, there were also many doctors with unique treatments who practiced in the Lockport area.

With good marketing and common wisdom, these enterprises used a variety of colorful remedies, often harmless, to help their customers. Mainstream medicine at the time could be far more dangerous. The next series of columns will be focused on Lockport’s alternative medicine.

Dr. BW Dean “The Sweat Doctor” Thompsonian Botanic System Practitioner. Lockport, NY 1841

Benjamin W. Dean was born in 1794 at Philipsburg Manor, Westchester County, NY. For his medical training, Dr. Dean studied under a traditional physician. In 1825 he is listed as the physician for Macedon Center, New York, a canal town just east of Rochester. In 1841, Dr. Dean, his wife Sophia, and son Herman, were living in Lockport, NY where he practiced this “sweat doctor” medicine.

The new method Dr. Dean was using in Lockport was invented by Dr. Thompson of Ohio. It was a system and book that sold for $20.00 and included a stock of available medicines that could be purchased by the practitioner and recipes to make homemade cures, extracts from Native American vegetables were favored. This was a non-traditional medicine that was advertised as an alternative to medicine practiced at the time. Dr. Thompson believed that disease was caused by a clogged system. This would be helped by purging and sweating, doctors that used this method were sometimes called “Sweat Doctors”.


dr dean

                 Museum of disABILITY History

Local flyer from Dr. Dean with a summary of the Thompsonian Botanic Medicine System


Shortly after publishing his flyer, Dr. Dean passed away, September 10, 1841, at the age of 47. Dr. Benjamin W. Dean is buried at Cold Spring Cemetery, town of Lockport in the Price family section. Dr. Dean’s sister married into the Price family.

dean stone

     Jim Boles 2015

Dr. Dean has two headstones. The worn original stone was replaced by a new stone but the original one still remains. Cold Spring Cemetery, Lockport New York

I want to thank the officials at the Cold Springs Cemetery, Lockport New York for their assistance in locating the grave.

Jim Boles, Ed.D. is a senior researcher with the Museum of disABILITY History, 3826 Main Street , Amherst NY. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history of people with disabilities. James Boles can be contacted by calling the museum or via email:

Our next museum event is a film screening of Capturing Grace by David Iverson, featuring dance studio ‘Danceability’, which focuses on the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. The screening is scheduled for Saturday, March 12, 2016 with 3PM and 7PM showings – reception at 5PM. Please RSVP for ticket reservations by calling 716-629-3626. This is a FREE event.

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