JACKSON, Mississippi (NBC News) — As many as 7,000 bodies could be buried on the campus of the University of Mississippi Medical Center according to a recent survey of the grounds.
The site was home to the Mississippi Asylum for the Insane from 1855 until 1935, and the bodies of patients were routinely buried there. It was previously believed that up to 2,000 bodies were buried on the campus.
UMMC wanted to construct a parking garage, and during the routine assessment of the area, they found 66 new burial sites of patients.
Additional cultural surveys led them to find many, many more grave sites – possibly up to 7,000.
“We will exhume as many as we can, and we will archive or curate the remains as scientific specimens, and then our plan is to place them in a functional memorial structure,” says Dr. Ralph Didlake, the Director of UMMC’s Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities.
Estimates to relocate each of the bodies run at a minimum of $21 million dollars.
So instead, UMMC wants to build a memorial to honor the patients’ legacies and make them available for research.
Archeologists, anthropologists, and historians would be able to study the remnants of the bodies, clothing, and coffins of patients in a 19th-century mental institution.
“What was the experience of these individuals? What can their remains tell us about their experience in a 19th-century mental health institution?” said Dr. Didlake, explaining what lessons might be learned from the former patients.
The Center for Bioethics says right now they have no plans to identify the patients, but they would be open to allowing that sort of research.
“These individuals represent all 82 counties in Mississippi, and we want to be respectful, and we want to be deeply engaged in the descendant community,” said Dr. Didlake.
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