Movement To Identify Institution Graves Gains Momentum
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
July 14, 2003
AUSTIN, TEXAS--The bodies of an estimated 2,700 former patients of Austin State Hospital and residents of the Austin State School have been buried in the Austin State Hospital Cemetery since 1884. Only about 60 or 70 of the graves appear to have been marked.
The California Memorial Project estimates that more than 25,000 patients were buried on the grounds of that state's mental hospitals.
In the cemetery at Georgia's Milledgeville Central State Hospital as many as 25,000 people were buried in segregated, black and white sections, with rows upon rows of small rusty markers bearing only numbers, no names.
Across North America, there are movements to identify, mark and honor the final resting places of people who had, for the most part, been forgotten by their families and by society. New laws are making it easier for facilities to give information about deceased residents to family members. Tens of thousands of dollars are being donated or allocated to research and match names to grave numbers. A group in Minnesota is pushing for a formal government apology for those who were housed in the state's institutions.
One reason for the increased attention is that there now is less of a stigma attached with having a mental illness or developmental disability. At the time most of these people entered these institutions families were not eager to admit that a relative had such a disability.
Another reason is the growing interest in genealogy. Many family historians are following the branches of their family trees to institution graveyards.
"People had been stigmatized their whole lives, and now this was even worse. They had become outcasts for eternity," said Jerry McLain, spokesperson for Wichita Falls State Hospital, where 1,060 patients are buried.
"New help for nameless graves of mentally ill" (Austin American-Statesman via Houston Chronicle)
"Mental hospitals trying to ID graves of long-dead patients" (Associated Press via Arizona Daily Sun)
California Memorial Project
Massachusetts Campaign to Restore State Hospital Cemeteries (Consumer/Survivor History Project)
Minnesota Remembering With Dignity Project (Advocating Change Together)