Advocacy News

OPPOSE Waltham Light Show at Fernald

Disability Advocates Oppose Waltham Light Show at Abandoned Institution

We are calling on the City of Waltham and the Waltham Lions to move a proposed holiday light show that they plan to hold at a former state institution, Fernald Developmental Center, where thousands of disabled people lived and died.

“In a letter to Waltham Mayor Jeannette A. McCarthy, the advocates—including The Arc of Massachusetts, the Disability Law Center, the Boston Center for Independent Living, and the MetroWest Center for Independent Living—said the use of the site was disturbing and inappropriate, given its history of human rights abuses and experimentation on children.” Download the press release from Alex Green from November 9.

We are asking people to please sign this petition, get educated, and call the Mayor of Waltham at (781) 314-3102 to make your voice heard.”

Statement from Zachary Sherman

My name is Zachary Sherman, and I was a student in one of Gann Academy’s disability history classes during the 2017-2018 school year. Our class built a museum exhibit about disability history that could be used as the foundation for a larger museum, to be located here at the Fernald School.
At the opening gala for our exhibit, Mayor McCarthy promised the use of Fernald for the exhibit. Three years later, no formal plan for a museum has been established. However, after a request from the Lions Club, new power lines have been added here and roads are being re-paved. The light show was swiftly approved, and despite over 2000 objections, Mayor McCarthy has not even responded to our protest outside City Hall.

This light show literally covers Fernald’s challenging and difficult past, allowing viewers to enjoy the exhibit while naively assuming this place’s history has been “taken care of” adequately. This could not be farther from the truth. Until Fernald is used appropriately, the mere thought of using it for a light show is unconscionable.

While it’s too late to move the show at this point, by remembering Fernald’s history and reusing the site to benefit both people with disabilities and the whole Waltham community, we can ensure nobody is mistreated again the way so many people at Fernald were.


Educate the Community on Fernald

Beginning Friday, November 27 at 5 p.m. – Advocates will be at 200 Trapelo Road, Waltham, most evenings as they distribute educational flyers.

Visit Facebook for more information.

Protest Against Desecration by Decoration: Human Rights Not Holiday Lights – Nov. 20

Waltham, Friday, November 20: At Waltham City Hall, and at Fernald, approximately 50 people protested the planned Lion’s Club Holiday Lights display. Speakers were eloquent in their opposition. You can see photos from the event at

  • Zachary: The Mayor promised a memorial and a Disability Rights Museum
  • Gann Academy Students: talked about why there should be a museum
  • Rania: She is the parent of a child who could have been imprisoned at Fernald. That should never have happened, it brought her to tears, and vowed to fight to protect our children.
  • Ruthie: Compelling story about the Science Club at Fernald where members were fed radioactive Quaker Oats.
  • Bill: Spoke about Sybil’s (disability advocate who has passed away) experiences being locked up there for many years.
  • Alex: Spoke about the sordid history, the problems with institutions, and the drive to make the site a lesson in institutions and an honoring of those who suffered there.
Protesters at Waltham City Hall on November 20
Protesters at Waltham City Hall on November 20

Sign the Petition

Please sign the petition!

Call Waltham City Council Vice President Kathy McMenimen

Tell her the Mayor needs to meet with us, and the city must move the light show. Don’t take no for an answer 781- 894-1247. If you can’t call, e-mail her here.

Letters and News


For background on the Fernald School and the creation of a museum, here is a link to an April 9, 2020 Boston Globe IDEAS article written by Alex Green, who is leading this effort, about the Fernald School and the way that the 1918 flu pandemic decimated the inmates of the institution. Alex also contributed an opinion to the Waltham Patch on September 29, 2020: At the Fernald, First Responders and Kids Come Last.

CBS and 60 Minutes ran a story in 2004: America’s Deep, Dark Secret: Bob Simon Reports On Hundreds Of Thousands Of Warehoused Kids.

Metfern Cemetary Project

296 forgotten inmates from two Massachusetts state institutions are buried in the woods of Waltham, Massachusetts. This site, a collaborative project of Gann Academy, tells their stories for the first time. Explore their biographies and the story of the cemetery below.

Visit and for more information.

Danvers State Hospital Cemetary

Visit for more information.

Sign at drive - The Commonwealth of Massachusetts - The Fernald Center
The Fernald Center Sign