The Ladd School

The Ladd School. Taken from [].

This morning the Providence Journal reported that Rhode Island’s Supreme Court upholds the state’s decision that it can’t be liable for injuries gained on Ladd School. [x]

Which is really interesting because Ladd School is a famous abandoned mental institute.  Built as an annex of the Templeton Colony and in association with the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded in 1908, it was suppose to be progressive. [The States newest institution”. The Providence Journal. 21 February 1909. pp. S4, 7.] It wasn’t. Originally known as the Rhode Island School for the Feeble-Minded. Dr. Joesph Ladd later changed the name in 1918 to the Exeter School due to the controversy with the term “feeble-minded”. [Ladd , M.D., Joseph H. (1916) Report of the Exeter School to the RI Board of Education, p.20] Whatever it’s intentions was, by the 1940s it served as a place to put people, usually women, who were unwanted. The mentally ill, women pregnant with illegitimate children, prostitutes, and so on. It was a eugenics program run by Dr. Ladd who was Fernald’s protege. (Ferald being Dr. Walter Fernald, a eugenicist who decided these schools were a good idea and compounded such ideology.)

Up until the 1940s or so it was a nightmare. Varying degrees of how terrible it was depends on your source but overcrowding, untrained staff (Dr. Ladd was the only trained staff, supposedly, but that’s just local legend. However, there was a great shortage of trained staff. That much has been historically confirmed.), with few releases, being sent to the Ladd School was a literal death sentence – you didn’t leave until you were dead or unable to reproduce. This, by the way, was encouraged by the state as the School had become something akin to a penal colony.

In ’47, Dr. Ladd released nearly a third of the school’s population (about 900 people!) and made changes to improve the school. This was not because a change of heart but financial troubles. [Ladd, M.D., Joseph H. (1945) Report of the Exeter School to the Department of Social Welfare, p.2] However, although the number of buildings and patients grew, the conditions did not overmuch. There was anew focus, however, in taking the severely disabled rather than just the criminal or shunned women. Because there were so few trained staff, the situation kept getting worse until 1955 when a 20 year old “defective delinquent” was implicated in the murder of a severely disabled child. [“3 Years In Exeter Death”. The Providence Journal Bulletin. 1 March 1956. p.1] Dr. Ladd quickly resigned.

In ’56 Dr. John Smith took over [Greenberg, Selig (3 July 1956). “New Exeter Head Spend Hours On Planning”. The Providence Journal Bulletin.] and in a renamed the school Dr. Joseph H. Ladd’s School in 1958. Dr. Smith was a breath of fresh air even if the air did have it’s own stench a bit. Dr. Smith came from Connecticut’s Training School for the Feeble-Minded and put in a few series of new buildings, state-of-the-art, including small cottages which would become the model for group homes. However, in the late 60s, employees began picketing the working condition and wages. [“Ladd Pickets for More Help”. The Providence Evening Bulletin. 21 March 1973.]

In November 1977 a state inspection at the hospital building found multiple health and human rights violations, including several deaths from negligence and medical malpractice. [Perl, Peter (28 September 1977). “‘Deplorable’ situation closes Ladd clinic”. The Providence Evening Bulletin. p.1.] Dr. Smith was fired by the governor who demanded changes. [Gariepy, Tom (25 January 1978). “Dr. Smith fired at Ladd; Garrahy orders changes”. The Providence Evening Bulletin. p.1.] George Gunther took over but made no waves. The 1980s arrived quietly but changes in policy and revision, plus denationalization movement had the governor order the closing of Ladd in 1986,  although the last patients wouldn’t leave the building until 1993. [Fitzparick, C. (1 March 1986). “Reaction to Ladd closing: cheers”. The Providence Journal Bulletin. p.1.; Miller, G.W. (31 July 1986). “Ladd Center shuts down”. The Providence Journal Bulletin. p.A3.] At the end, it compromised some 30 buildings and even had it’s own named roads. There’s even a map from the 1970s that shows how large the School was. []

You can read more about the Ladd School at The Ladd School Virtual Museum, although watch out for some misinformation and writer’s prose. I found at least one instance of inaccurate information and the writer has a tendency to backhandedly insult the state. This is a great little blurb on Ladd School, with a lot of detail but zip sources. Read the comments for personal stories. The facebook group  The Ladd School Museum has a TON of information, including documentation. There have been at least four books published on Ladd as well as a documentary. The Ladd School was the filming location for the movie Blackmask. []

Over the years, heading up to the Ladd School was something of a teenager’s right of passage, but it was not without risk as the state’s decision indicates. That was a lawsuit from ’05 when a 17 year old boy accidentally spilled sulfuric acid he found on site over himself. I personally knew a classmate of mine who was hit by a car on site but he survived with a broken arm and a new story to tell. (Ladd School was a popular place to drink and get high). Another friend of mine fell from the second floor but wasn’t injured outside of bruises. The buildings always felt cold, even in the bright heat of midsummer. Friends who frequented the site more than I (because Exeter is across the state from me), report phantom footsteps, shadow figures, voices, and singing when no one else was around. However, with the site being so very large, it would have been impossible to actually confirm that they were alone every time.

In 2006, heavy rains revealed more than 70 human remains out on route 37  were discovered. Archaeological research discovered that exits 2 and 3 were built over the State Farm Cemetery which is the name of the Ladd School’s cemetery back in the ’60s. Later the bodies were re-interred in the State Institute Cemetery in Warwick later that year. In 2009 there was a memorial service for those re-interred. [“RIDOT Hosts Memorial Service for 71 Men, Women and Children Re-interred at State Institution Cemetery” Rhode Island Department of Transportation. 2009-07-14.] The building of the highway occurred because the wooden grave markers had been worn away over time and no environmental studies were done before the building occurred. [ Retreieved 12/21/2013.] The whole building over graveyards and not checking the environment isn’t even surprising. There’s no law in Rhode Island that says they can’t, so long as it isn’t a Native American graveyard. This is from personal experience working with the Historical Cemetery Commission of Rhode Island. Trust me. No one bats an eye at building over graveyards in this state. In fact, according to the state registry, there’s something like 3100 cemeteries in Rhode Island. And at least a third of them are missing. We either had no data to find them outside of comparing family cemetery names to landowners of the period or we have information from 40-60 years ago telling you how to find the cemetery – often using landmarks that no longer exist. There is a current movement to place each cemetery on GPS so they can be added to maps and claimed as historical landmarks. Ladd School and State Farm Cemetery, at this point in time, have not been declared a historical landmark.

Most of the buildings of the Ladd School were demolished August, 2012. [I can’t find the original post but here’s some photos of the demolition:] Located in Exeter, Rhode Island on state property, it is famously known by locals as a haunted place with hundreds if not thousands of reporting sightings. For those looking to wandered through Ladd, know that police do routinely stop there, there’s cameras on the grounds of nearby office parks (a popular route to get there), and to watch your step as the grounds can be tricky. In fact, seven people were arrested for trespassing in August 2012 so you might want to give it a pass. []If you’re in Exeter, don’t forget to check out the gravesite of Mercy Brown, an accused vampire.

Most importantly, don’t damage anything in Ladd or Mercy Brown’s cemetery. Not only is it beyond fucking rude, it’s a crime. Also, I’m watching and I consider all graveyards and cemeteries in Rhode Island under my protection. Fuck with one and I’ll curse you. Friendly warning.


7 thoughts on “The Ladd School

  1. Jason Carpenter says:

    Thanks for the thorough blog post; I enjoyed reading it. As the author of the four books and website in question, I should say that any insults I have allegedly leveled against the State have been unintentional. Moreover, I am curious to know what misinformation you are referring to? If I am mistaken about some fact, I would be glad to correct it.

    • thiscrookedcrown says:

      I believe the number of bodies reported found during the rain storm a few years back was off by a few as one of my resources said 71 and not the 60 something you wrote which is a common mistake.
      As for insulting Rhode Island. *shrugs* It wasn’t intentional and means little to me.
      Thank you so much for offering such wonderful information. It was lovely to read.

      • Jason Carpenter says:

        According to my information, 69 boxes of skeletal remains were buried at the potter’s field. This comes from the June 25, 2008 Providence Journal article, “Recovered remains of former State Farm residents re-interred in peace,” written by Barbara Polchetti.

        Please note that the State farm cemetery is not the same as the Exeter School cemetery. The State farm, or almshouse, cemetery was located in Cranston, and served the State Hospital at Howard. The Exeter School cemetery is in Exeter, and served the State School.

    • thiscrookedcrown says:

      Thank you. For some reason I tend to swap the names (I think it’s because she has a cousin named Mary who is buried in a cemetery local to me) and spell check doesn’t catch such mistakes as that.

  2. Jocelyn Dubois says:

    My sister was in Ladd School. She was older than me. She went in 1963, she was 6 years old. All I remember is that she had severe down syndrome and she never learned to walk or talk. We visited her almost every Sunday, but she never recognized us. She died at 15 yrs old in 1972. They told us she had pneumonia and She was too weak and died. Then years later the school closed because of neglect and abuse. I just hope that she never was abused because if she was, she could never tell us. I remember the staff always being friendly and positive, we never suspected any abuse but we were only there about once a week.

Comments are closed.