A secret from 1855 has been rediscovered by a road construction crew.
The 7,000 bodies are from Mississippi’s oldest mental institution, once called ”Asylum Hill.” The grounds are now the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus, via USA Today.
Though a construction crew originally found 66 graves while doing road work in 2013, later, the University used radar to discover at least thousand more.
Now, they are estimating up to 7,000 former patients may be buried below the university grounds. This is an amazing and truly jaw-dropping discovery.
Officials at the university are considering studying, re-burying, and memorializing the bodies. The plans include a laboratory and visitor’s center. “It would be a unique resource for Mississippi,” said Molly Zuckerman, one of the university’s anthropology professors. “It would make Mississippi a national center on historical records relating to health in the pre-modern period, particularly those being institutionalized.”
UMMC’s Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities’s oversight, Ralph Didlake, believes the research opportunities from this discovery are huge.
He’s also concerned with the ethics of the project, of course. He states, “We have inherited these patients…we want to show them care and respectful management.”
As the asylum was active in the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, the researchers could learn about how institutionalized patients lived and were treated in that time period. After all, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Unfortunately, more than a fifth of the patients admitted to the asylum died. Although, the goal had been to provide better treatment than these patients generally received in jail. Knowing exactly how this occurred could provide valuable insight, even now, about how NOT to run a mental health facility — and how good intentions can sometimes go awry.
After the Civil War, a community grew around the asylum, including two churches, a school, and several homes. At this point, the asylum reached its peak, serving roughly 6,000 patients. Then, in 1935, the state moved the asylum to Whitfield, in the state hospital. The asylum, now a mental institution with much higher standards of care, is still there.
There may even be the opportunity to do DNA analysis on the patients, which could connect living Americans to this historical site.
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