Specialists believe there may be as many as 7000 bodies buried on the grounds of the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus. The current UMMC grounds were once the site of an insane asylum. They also seem to be the resting place of the patients who had died there.
In 2013, UMMC workers found 66 coffins while building a road on the campus. A year later, underground radar tests detected 1,000 more coffins as the university was getting ready to build a parking garage. Researchers eventually found 2,000 more coffins and believe there are thousands more.
The Insane Asylum, which was built in 1855, was the first mental health institution in Mississippi. While the asylum was a better place for such patients than jails or attics, its conditions were still poor. Of the nearly 1400 patients admitted during the asylum’s first 22 years, over 20 percent died.
After the Civil War, the facility started expanding over the years until it could 6,000 patients at its peak. In 1935, the Mississippi government moved the asylum to the State Hospital at Whitfield, where it remains to this day. In the 1950s, construction began on what would become the UMMC grounds.
Future Fate of the 7000 Bodies
Now the UMMC faces the question of what to do with these probable 7,000 bodies. Exhuming and reburying them would cost $21 million in total or $3000 per body. Keeping the bodies in-house, by contrast, would cost $400,000 per year over an eight-year period.
The Asylum Hill Research Consortium recommends creating a memorial, visitors’ center, and laboratory to study the remains. Some researchers have already begun analyzing several dozen bodies to learn what their health was like.
Karen Clark of Clinton has proposed establishing a grant for collecting the patients’ DNA. This would help identify them, after which their descendants could be contacted. Clark believes that one of the patients was her great-great-grandfather, Isham Earnest, who is thought to have died at the asylum in the late 1850s.
Given the construction on the UMMC grounds, this is no longer a viable resting place for the 7000 bodies. Implementing both ideas sounds best. The memorial would pay respect to the deceased, and the DNA tests could identify peoples’ ancestors. Both the esearchers and any other interested parties could learn a lot from the laboratory and visitors’ center.
Image Source: Wikimedia
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