There are more than 50,000 people buried anonymously on the grounds of ten state hospitals in New York State. Most plots are in poor condition, reminders of the thousands of patients who spent much of their adult lives confined in state mental institutions. Until unpaid patient labor was banned in 1973, these same patients built the pine caskets, dug the graves, and made the numbered markers for these hospital cemeteries.

The cemetery at Willard was begun in 1870, one year after the institution opened. Most of the 5,776 graves bore only numbered, cast-iron markers. Over the years, many of these were removed and tossed in the bushes to make maintenance of the grounds easier.

A very few graves are marked with headstones bearing the full name of the deceased; these were financed by family members. One section was set aside specifically for Civil War veterans who died at Willard. Paid for by the United States Army, these stones identify the deceased and the units in which they fought.