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7,000 asylum graves could get UMMC memorial

photo courtesy of UMMC

Officials with the University of Mississippi Medical center are exploring options to exhume and relocate the graves of around 7,000 patients who died between the mid-1850s and the early 1920s, while in the care of the state’s first mental hospital.

The Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum was built on the site where UMMC now stands.

According to UMC, officials have known about some burials on the grounds since before the Medical Center opened in 1955, though not to this extent.

From the UMC press release: “Dr. Ralph Didlake, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and director of UMMC’s Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, said plans also call for the creation of a first-in-the-nation laboratory to study the remains. The research would shed light on lost history surrounding life at the asylum constructed in 1855 and home to upward of 35,000 patients before it was shuttered in 1935.”

This would offer an incredibly unique opportunity for research, while also allowing for a respectful memorial to those patients who passed so many years ago.

“If we exhume the remains and rebury them off site, what we would have at the end of that process is a cemetery,” Didlake said. “But with the project we’re proposing, we will have not only a respectful memorial for these individuals, but we will have an education platform and a research resource.”

The memorial plans include a research center as well as a visitor’s center where people will be able to view the artifacts and pay their respects.

“Community engagement is a very important part of the project,” Didlake said. “These individuals represent all 82 counties in Mississippi. We want to be respectful, and we want to be deeply engaged with the descendant community in how we honor and take care of these people.”

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