In a turn of events that sounds like it came straight out of a horror movie, 7,000 bodies were found buried beneath the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The bodies hailed from the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum which was in business from 1855 until 1935. Having institutionalized nearly 35,000 people, death was not uncommon among the patients and many died from tuberculosis, strokes, heart attacks, influenza, nutritional deficiencies and yellow fever only 13 months after they were first admitted.
The reason that so many bodies were found beneath the building was due to the fact that many of the patients didn’t have family members that could claim them and they weren’t notified of their deaths in time, so they buried the bodies in the asylum’s cemetery, which turned out to be below the Mississippi Medical Center years later.
In order to uncover the caskets, researchers used ground-penetrating radar to detect the patients’ remains
If you look closely at the image below, you can see outlines of the wooden graves, which were marked by pink flags…
The excavation provided closure for some of the patients family members who were still alive.
“People consistently want to know, can you find my ancestors in the records?” said Dr. Molly Zuckerman, who is an associate Anthropology professor at Mississippi State. “Overall, it’s just tremendous sadness and curiosity.”
While several years have passed, the family members of the asylum patients are still curious about the whereabouts of their long-lost relatives and Zuckerman says that she receives two to three emails a week from the descendants of the patients who know about the unveiling of the bodies.
“Sometimes it’s a straightforward exchange, other times we talk on the phone and I get to learn about the story that surrounds this ancestor, this lost ancestry,” said Zuckerman. “It’s never a happy story. It’s always tragic.”
People are so curious about their ancestor’s whereabouts that some have even taken it a step further and are in the process of using DNA to uncover a relative. Clinton, Mississippi resident, Karen Clark is one of those family members who is hoping to track down her great-great-great grandfather, Isham Earnest, who fought in a war between the United Kingdom and the U.S. in 1812. Clark believes that he died at the asylum between 1857 and 1859 and he was said to be diagnosed as “insane.”
“Hundreds, if not thousands, of descendants, are here today because of Isham Earnest,” Clark said. “Many are teachers, nurses, educators, and ministers.”
While it will be a long and grueling process, Zuckerman said that the research team is hoping to exhume every coffin and identify every body found, however; the project comes with a price of nearly $21 million if they use an outside contracting firm. Another option would be to use an in-house team of excavators which would cost $400,000 a year over the course of eight years. Mississippi will most likely be left responsible for the bill since the graves are on state land, however; there may be some options to request private and federal grants. After this major project is complete, they hope to have a memorial honoring all those who died in the asylum. The memorial, which will be the first of its kind worldwide will also have a visitors center and a genealogy research facility.
After this major project is complete, they hope to have a memorial honoring all those who died in the asylum. The memorial, which will be the first of its kind worldwide will also have a visitors center and a genealogy research facility.