In 2005, archaeologists were called in following the discovery of human remains during the excavation of a trench for a new waterline behind the main building at Eastern State Hospital in Kentucky. Prior to this discovery the known cemetery had grass that was almost as high as the fence and very little was known about its history.
It turns out this was not the original cemetery. For some of the souls buried here, they had been moved & reinterred at least three times. The last time was in 1984 when they were moved to grounds behind the Hope Center. Records concerning where they were originally buried or even who is buried there, are long gone.
The state acknowledges about 4,400 remains in the cemetery but the number might be higher, and the location of these graves are unknown as well.
This was the second oldest psychiatric hospital in the United States.
During June of 2005, archaeologists from the Kentucky Archaeological Survey excavated 11 graves at Eastern State Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. Ten of the individuals documented at the Eastern State Hospital site were buried in one large grave shaft. The eleventh was buried in a single grave shaft that predates the mass burial pit. The burials date from ca. 1839 to 1861. The mass grave could represent individuals who died within a few days of each other, perhaps from an outbreak of cholera or another infectious disease. It is also possible that they died over the course of a couple of months during the winter and were not buried until the ground thawed out in the spring. Analysis of the human skeletal remains indicated that the inmates of Eastern State Hospital led lives that involved a great deal of physical labor. Dental analysis revealed a population that suffered from a high number of cavities due to ingesting sticky, starchy foods and experienced a great deal of nutritional stress as young children.
In the spring of 2011, 170 more graves were found in the same area under a road. These burials were found as the hospital underwent it’s transition from a psychiatric hospital to a community college. This was third time in 25 years that discoveries like this one were made.
Patients that were unknown, that had families unable to pay to have their relative brought home, or patients that went unclaimed were buried on the hospital property from 1824 until 1954.
In 2011, Lois and Cindy Shelton, a mother and daughter in Lexington, were trying to solve a family mystery that is buried along with the thousands of patients who were interred on the Eastern State Hospital grounds for more than 100 years.
The Sheltons want to know what led to the death of Lois Shelton's grandfather, a man named James Harrison Cannon, at the psychiatric hospital on Nov. 27, 1928, when he was 74. They want to know where they can find Cannon's remains among those buried on the hospital grounds between 1824 and the 1950s.
His death certificate, which confirms that he died and was buried at Eastern State, raises only more questions. It lists as the cause of death a streptococcus infection found in abrasions on his hand and forearm.
The Sheltons are hoping that the renewed attention to burials at Eastern State will lead them to more information about the Casey County farmer affectionately called "Pap" by his 10 children.
However they and members of a cemetery preservation project have been unable to get any information about the patients buried at Eastern State.
Cannon was born in Tennessee in 1854. He traveled in a covered wagon with his parents to Casey County when he was 12. He married a woman named Polly Anne Young in the 1880s, and they had 10 children.
Cannon's problems began years before his death when a mule kicked him in the head and he started having seizures. At the time, there were many misconceptions about epilepsy, and many people diagnosed with the condition were mistakenly sent to mental institutions or isolated.
As Cannon grew older, he required more care than his family could provide. Some family members speculated that he could have exhibited some sort of behavior or symptom that led one of his sons to take him to Eastern State.
Hospital officials told family members that Cannon contracted scarlet fever once he was admitted to the hospital and that he was quarantined. The hospital did not allow anyone to see him or allow them to go to his funeral.
Cannon died one year and 10 months after being admitted to the facility with a diagnosis of "epileptic psychosis," according to his death certificate. Cannon was buried in a mass grave.
A request was made under the state Open Records Act asking for a list of patients in the Eastern State cemetery. A hospital records custodian responded that the hospital had no such list.
The descendants of these unfortunate souls long to know the truth and piece together their stories.
Source - Kentucky.com
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by Marlene Pardo Pellicer