MetFern Cemetery Data Manipulation Library

February 2019

Fernald Record Cover Image
Fernald Record Cover Image

I fully expected my junior-year history class would involve memorizing stories of hundred-year-old events and regurgitating details. I could not have been more wrong.

The first day, our teacher recounted a story of mistreatment and injustice at the Walter E. Fernald State School, an institution for people with mental disabilities. He then pointed to the woods, and informed us that the school was several hundred feet behind us.

After touring the school days later, we visited the nearby MetFern Cemetery. There were hundreds of Fernald residents’ "tombstones" without names, only numbers. We were each given a name and asked to write a biography for each individual.

We compiled information from burial records. The teacher planned to write the details on hundreds of sheets of paper. I had a different idea: to capture the data electronically, which would enable us to slice the information in myriad ways.

I created an interactive and extensible app with over 2000 lines of code to interpret, generate, and display the data as graphs and charts. My code provided insights into the patients' lives in ways that would be impossible otherwise. For example, 93.4% of the patients were first-generation Americans and only 75.2% were born in the U.S.

Data analysis script run preview

The app features a command line interface with a number of built-in functions, such as reading and interpreting excel spreadsheets, running external analysis functions, and automatic exporting of the results in the form of graphs and spreadsheets. You can view the code on the GitHub page.