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article imageUp to 7,000 bodies could be buried on Medical school campus

By Karen Graham     May 7, 2017 in Science
Whitfield - At least 7,000 bodies could be buried across 20 acres of a plot of land the University of Mississippi Medical Center Campus (UMMC) wants to use for an expansion of their facilities.
The remains are former patients of Mississippi's first mental hospital, called the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum, built in 1855. Officials say that underground radar shows the coffins cover 20 acres where the school was planning to develop.
However, the university has run into a small problem in exhuming the bodies. It could cost up to $3,000 to exhume and rebury each body, and that could run up to $21 million, according to USA Today.
Now, UMMC is studying an alternative plan that would be cheaper. The alternative plan would preserve the remains in-house, at around $400,000 a year. And adding a memorial, including a visitors center and laboratory would allow for the study of the remains as well as the remnants of clothing and other artifacts found in the coffins.
Man using a ground penetrating radar.
Man using a ground penetrating radar.
The Charles Machine Works
Ralph Didlake, who oversees UMMC’s Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, thinks the innovative plan would create the first lab in the country devoted to studying life in an insane asylum in the 1800s and early 1900s.
“It would be a unique resource for Mississippi,” said Molly Zuckerman, associate professor in Mississippi State’s department of anthropology and Middle Eastern cultures. “It would make Mississippi a national center on historical records relating to health in the pre-modern period, particularly those being institutionalized.”
Zuckerman along with Didlake and others has formed the Asylum Hill Research Consortium. The have an assortment of researchers, from anthropologists to archaeologists, historians and an expert on woods who will be examining the coffins.
The consortium developed the plans for the visitors center, labs, and memorial. We have inherited these patients,” Didlake said. “We want to show them care and respectful management.”
The Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum became the sixth institution in the United States and first in ...
The Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum became the sixth institution in the United States and first in the South to be built utilizing the Kirkbride Plan. As shown in the photo, Bryce Hospital, which opened in 1861 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was built using the same Kirkbride plans. And like the asylum in Mississippi, patients built their own caskets.
Carol M. Highsmith
Mental illness in the mid-1800s
People with mental illness have not always been treated compassionately, nor were there the medications available that we have today. Before Mississippi built its asylum, people with mental illnesses were often thrown in jail, where they were likely to be chained.
It has also been suggested that during the period of time when Andrew Jackson was president, America was rapidly evolving into an industrial society and small-scale community care of the mentally disabled declined. During this period, asylums and similar facilities became the norm in handling society's unwanted and incurable people.
It sounds cruel and uncaring, but we must remember that as a society, we didn't know any better because we were still somewhat in the dark about mental illness. It hadn't been but one hundred years or so that we were still hanging people because we thought they were witches.
Ninth plate daguerreotype of Dorothea Lynde Dix created circa 1850 - 1855. Her activism and compassi...
Ninth plate daguerreotype of Dorothea Lynde Dix created circa 1850 - 1855. Her activism and compassion prompted many states to construct facilities for the mentally ill.
Samuel Broadbent - The Boston Antathaeum
The "angel of the madhouses" helps to get the hospital constructed
In 1846, Mississippi Governor A.G. Brown proposed that an institution for mentally disabled individuals be constructed in the state. That proposal was strenuously objected to and it took two years before Brown finally got an appropriation of $10,000 through the state legislature. But, it was a start.
Governor Brown was fortunate that "the angel of the madhouses," activist and social reformer, Dorothea Dix happened to visit Mississippi in 1848 while doing a survey of the care of mental patients in the state. In her survey, she found that intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals were living in squalor “in jails, or dungeons” or “chained in closets and attics."
Like her surveys in other states during this time, the facts had a profound effect on state legislators and an additional $50,000 was made available for the construction of Mississippi's first mental hospital. It took five years to construct the hospital because work was disrupted by a yellow fever epidemic. But eventually, in 1855, the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum was open for business.
The Mississippi State Insane Asylum was built using the Kirkbride Plan  an innovative way of constru...
The Mississippi State Insane Asylum was built using the Kirkbride Plan, an innovative way of constructing mental hospitals during that time.
Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views.
The Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum
Although the asylum provided better care than what most patients had experienced on the outside, life was still tough. Of the 1,376 patients admitted between 1855 and 1877, more than one in five died. And during the Civil War, the hospital was hard hit by General William T. Sherman and his Union Army.
Under Sherman's direction, soldiers ransacked the institution, plundering the storeroom and garden, and slaughtering numerous livestock. To make matters worse, seven of the institutions 10 employees ran off and joined the Union Army.
Up until 1935, when Mississippi moved the asylum to its new location in Whitfield, the old asylum had as many as 6,000 patients at its height. Through a good part of those years, the death rate remained at about 21 percent. Twenty years later, construction on the UMMC began on the site of the old asylum.
In 2013, UMCC discovered 66 coffins while constructing a road on the 164-acre site, and in 2014, while working on a parking garage for the dental school, underground radar found 1,000 coffins. Didlake estimates there could still be as many as 7,000 coffins in the area.
More about Mississippi, Medical Center campus, Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum, 7000 graves, History
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