MYSTERY MONDAY: 1,000 Bodies Beneath the MS Lunatic Asylum - WHLT 22 Connecting the Pine Belt

A spokesperson for the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMC) said administrators have known for a long time that there were graves beneath their grounds.

MYSTERY MONDAY: 1,000 Bodies Beneath the MS Lunatic Asylum

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But it seems no one expected this many - most suspected of having origins at what was known as the Mississippi Lunatic Asylum which operated from 1885-1935, Janis Quinn said. But it seems no one expected this many - most suspected of having origins at what was known as the Mississippi Lunatic Asylum which operated from 1885-1935, Janis Quinn said.
"People have always had mental illnesses," Quinn said. "People have always had mental illnesses," Quinn said.
Ground penetrating radar identified more than 1,000 graves beneath areas planned for UMC developments. Those construction projects have since been halted as archaeologists study the find. Ground penetrating radar identified more than 1,000 graves beneath areas planned for UMC developments. Those construction projects have since been halted as archaeologists study the find.
But Woodrick does say this: even though no one knows their names and even though some may have been forgotten before the end of their lives - these people - not "lunatics" - won't be treated without dignity in death. But Woodrick does say this: even though no one knows their names and even though some may have been forgotten before the end of their lives - these people - not "lunatics" - won't be treated without dignity in death.
To move all of the graves discovered so far it could cost upwards of $3 million, a hospital spokesperson said. To move all of the graves discovered so far it could cost upwards of $3 million, a hospital spokesperson said.
At least one thousand caskets. At least one thousand bodies.

A spokesperson for the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMC) said administrators have known for a long time that there were graves beneath their grounds.

Click here to watch last week's MYSTERY MONDAY: Spirits & Spirits at the King's Tavern in Natchez

But it seems no one expected this many - most suspected of having origins at what was known as the Mississippi Lunatic Asylum which operated from 1885-1935, Janis Quinn, former public relations employee and author of "Promise Kept" (a history of UMC), said.

"People have always had mental illnesses and they even knew what they were but there were not very many treatments available. Of course there were no drugs. All they knew to do was keep them in an asylum for their own safety and sometimes for the safety of others," Quinn said.

Lunatic is an antiquated term (it's also no longer politically correct). It's definitions include 1) an insane person 2) a person whose actions are marked by extreme eccentricity or recklessness and 3) a person legally declared to be of unsound mind. 

The Mississippi Lunatic Asylum would have served an role similar to what the Mississippi State Hospital serves now. Historic mental health rights advocate Dorothea Dix actually campaigned in the Magnolia State for the facility.

The asylum accepted its first patients in 1855 - taking in people with mental disabilities instead of sending them to jail.

But now, in 2014, no one has found surviving records of who those patients were.

"I'm sure there was paper at one time but it's just been lost to history," Quinn said.

"The only documentation that I could find from the asylum itself was - I think what it was called was a biennial report to the legislature for 1900 and 1901," Quinn said.

"It recorded that there were 54 wooden caskets ordered in 1900 and 56 in 1901. And you could assume from that that they anticipated maybe in average number of deaths in that year. Because there were many inmates who did not have families or they had outlived their families or their families had just forgotten them," Quinn said.

In fact, almost everyone had forgotten them.

Until now.

Ground penetrating radar identified more than 1,000 graves beneath areas planned for UMC developments. Those construction projects have since been halted as archaeologists study the find.

And more bodies could still be found, historians said.

The asylum and its surrounding property used to cover 1,500 acres - almost ten times as much spaces as UMC now. A pauper's cemetery and an African American church's cemetery might add to the body count.

Jim Woodrick, with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, said before and during the Civil War the asylum held up to 150 patients at a time.

After the war it doubled capacity, Woodrick said.

"If 50 or 60 died during a year's time, that's not out of the realm of possibility, over that many years you're going to have a fairly large cemetery. I think the fact is we just hadn't found it until now," Woodrick said.

"It's not a surprise...but it's the number," Woodrick said.

But even he cannot explain why - at this point in time - the burials appear unceremonial.

But Woodrick does say this: even though no one knows their names and even though some may have been forgotten before the end of their lives - these people - not "lunatics" - won't be treated without dignity in death.

"It has worth to us as a society to know who these people were and how they came to be there. But on the level of human decency, of course they're important. That would be like saying you or I are not important and that is clearly not the case," Woodrick said.

"It may seem morbid but it's an opportunity to learn about our shared history," Woodrick said.

To move all of the graves discovered so far it could cost upwards of $3 million, a hospital spokesperson said.

UMC is also reconsidering the planned placement of a number of building locations including a children's justice center and a parking garage.

If you have an idea for a MYSTERY MONDAY story contact Jacob Kittilstad at jkittilstad@wjtv.com or 601-664-8839.
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