7,000 Bodies Buried Under Campus: Who Were in the Asylums of the 19th Century?
In the mid-19th century “insane asylums also called lunatic asylums” housed for sure the worst of the worst schizophrenic and subgroup catatonic persons. However, there was a huge slippery slope of a population who either had no mental illness or very mild mental illness who were considered a nuisance to their family or the penal system. For example, mentally challenged or physically disabled people could end up there such as people with Down’s Syndrome, neurosyphilis (Randolph Churchill, father of Winston), heavy metal poisonings, cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorders, phenylketonuria (King George III), Fragile X syndrome, etc.
A particularly disastrous example of the slippery slope was the marriage of Zelda to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Although both brilliant in literature they were so self-destructive that in Zelda’s thirties from 1930 to her death in 1940 she was diagnosed as schizophrenic and spent those years of her life in and out of sanitariums as they called there. My reading of her biography was that her mental illness was easily due to jealousies and drunkenness between the two and in the end perpetrated on Zelda. After his death she was released from the Alabama sanitarium and finished his last work The Last Tycoon. She voluntarily spent the last year of her life back in the facility where she died in a fire.
Summarizing an article published in May of this year in the Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi’s largest newspaper, titled: “7000 Bodies from Mental Institution believed Buried in Mississippi Campus”. Using underground sonar at the latest addition to the University’s medical center expansion into a field there are as many as 7000 bodies from the state’s first mental institution in a stretch of 23 acres. The original asylum was built on 3500 acres of rolling farm land.
To exhume and bury each body would cost the university an estimated 21 million dollars. An alternative would be to create a visitors center/memorial/anthropology lab the combination being a record of “mental health care” (or lack of it in my words) of the time.
The insane asylum was completed in 1855 “to move the mentally ill from chains in jails to a better living condition although life in the institution remained harsh.” Of the 1,376 patients admitted between 1855 and 1877 more than twenty per cent died.
The facility moved in 1935 to its present location as the State Hospital at Whitfield where it now remains on a site of 350 acres. The University of Mississippi Medical Center was built on the site of the original State Hospital from 1855. In 2013 while starting construction of a road to the medical school campus 65 coffins were found buried beneath. In 2014 while constructing a parking garage 1000 more coffins were uncovered. As mentioned using ground radar an estimated 7000 including the above are felt to be buried below the entire 23 acre addition to the medical center.
I just looked up a site at the State Hospital nearest to me in Northern California. Napa State Hospital as well as the other five in California all built around 1875. Before I got into the history I was struck by an article by the Daily Beast about a book published in 2014, “A Year with the Criminally Insane –Behind the Gates of Gomorrah” by Stephen Seager. He is one of the staff psychiatrists who worked there for three years.
In the book he describes the problem of violence of patient on staff since the facility began taking on forensic patients meaning people judged criminally insane by the courts for the most heinous of crimes. Since the large increase of these people starting in the nineties attacks of inmate on inmate and inmate on nurses and doctors have become a daily occurrence. He describes two murders of staff by inmates and describes the facility as similar to prisoner of war camps of WWII.
Because of legal constraints protecting involuntary commissions there are no police walking the corridors. Since these murders the only protection for staff is wireless panic alarms the nurses and docs wear on their wrists!