From 1855 to 1935, the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum operated on land that is now the campus of the University of Mississippi. In that time period, the institution treated over 35,000 patients. In 2013, while digging into the earth for a new road and parking structure, the University of Mississippi unearthed 2,000 bodies. It stands to reason that plenty of the mental patients at the lunatic asylum would have died in their time there but, until recently, nobody knew just how many of those poor souls may have been laid to rest on the grounds. Now we know that number is closer to 7,000 patients, all of whom were buried in a massive cemetery that was lying unseen beneath the University of Mississippi's grounds.
The university is unsure what to do with the bodies but is attempting to create a database with the names and information of those buried underneath the campus. They imagine relatives of patients who disappeared after their time at Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum will be grateful for the update. As an educational institution, the school is also treating the strange discovery as a learning experience. Students have been studying the corpses in an attempt to understand the conditions they suffered from and how they died.
This horror film scenario is a frightening discovery and sheds a gruesome light on how the mentally ill were treated throughout history.
The University of Mississippi first became aware of the bodies in 1991 during construction of new laundry facilities. While workers were installing water pipes, they found 44 coffins underground. Then, in 2013, during construction on a road and a parking structure, another 2,000 coffins were found. This was the first indication that the school was dealing with far more graves than they imagined.
The Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum was the state's first mental institution, erected in 1855. The asylum remained in operation until 1935, when the hospital was moved to a new location. Two decades later, construction began on the University of Mississippi Medical Center in the same spot where the hospital once stood. Now that the school wants to build across its extensive grounds they find that this former cemetery extended over quite a bit of land.
The most ethical solution to the problem would be to exhume and relocate each individual body. However, this would cost a whopping $3,000 per body, costing $21 million in total. As it's unclear where the funds would come from, the University of Mississippi is looking into cheaper alternatives that would still pay respect to the dead.
The school has proposed exhuming the bodies but keeping them on campus. The university would store the patients' remains in a memorial center along with information about the history of the mental asylum and acknowledgement of the poor treatment of the patients.
Penny Stiles believes her grandmother was admitted to the asylum after her husband was convicted of murder in 1901. While she was listed as dead on census records shortly after her husband's release, Stiles believes her grandmother did not die until decades after this. She thinks she was committed to a mental institution after giving birth to her son, possibly due to post-partum depression.
Rhonda Richmond thinks her great-great-great grandmother may have been a patient at the hospital. Her grandmother used different names throughout her life and it's unclear when and how she died. These are just two of the many people who are hoping exhuming these dead bodies at the U of M campus will provide answers.