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Cemetery Reclamation
Many who died at the hospital(s) were claimed by friends and family and buried privately…those who stayed and died at the hospital were interred in cemeteries on hospital grounds. Their graves are marked only by rows of depressions in the ground and small, brick-sized stones carved with numbers, many of which have sunken into the ground and are no longer visible. The cemeteries themselves are not marked. While it is fitting that these individuals remain at rest on former state hospital ground, the fact that their graves are not marked and their burial places are not memorialized is also a commentary on the lives that society forgot.

--“From Institutions to Independence: A History of People with Disabilities in Northwest Ohio” (2009)

Just 50 years ago, there were over a half million individuals hospitalized in state psychiatric facilities across the United States. Today the numbers are but a mere fraction. Psychiatric hospitals used to focus on long-term institutionalization but today's facilities support short-term intensive treatment that lead to a personal journey of healing and transformation for people with severe and persistent mental illness.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, patients who died during their hospitalization in a state psychiatric facility were often buried in cemeteries on hospital grounds. Many of these patients had become isolated having lost contact with family members and friends. As a result, there was no one to pay for burial expenses. In these cases, the deceased were given stone grave markers that only contained a number. Records were maintained that linked these numbers with identifiable information including names and birthdates but in some instances, burial records were lost. As a result, the final resting places of many patients are not known. Over time, hospital cemeteries fell into disrepair and their neglect perpetuated the stigmatization of mental illness. It was a visual representation of how many people were left in hospitals and forgotten by society; nameless and faceless.

In Ohio and nationwide, projects have been initiated to reverse these indignities by rehabilitating the cemeteries into places that provide welcoming environments where families and other visitors can pay their respects. Hospital cemetery grounds are becoming a part of the community where nature can be enjoyed, history can be remembered, and hope can spring forth. Cemetery reclamation projects have since been spreaheaded by or involved state hospital employees, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) -- Ohio chapters, community organizations and volunteers.

OhioMHAS currently owns and maintains cemeteries in Athens, Cincinnati, and Columbus. Previously, state hospital cemeteries in Dayton, Lima, Tiffin and Toledo were owned by OhioMHAS but were transferred to new owners during land sales. In celebration of Mental Health Month 2009, OhioMHAS provided NAMI groups in Athens, Franklin, Hamilton and Lucas Counties with $5,000 each to repair and restore the cemeteries. Since that time, work has continued in each of the different projects.

Today, each state-run regional psychiatric hospital has a burial fund pursuant to the Ohio Revised Code section 5121.53. In the rare event that a person dies during hospitalization, this fund would pay for burial or cremation expenses in cases of indigency. If the deceased is to be buried, their name, age, birthdate and date of death will be engraved on their headstone. When possible, OhioMHAS takes into account the wishes of the patient, family or guardian. 

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To Learn More
  • To learn more about today’s hospitals, visit our Regional Psychiatric Hospitals pages.
  • Paulson, G.W. & Sherman, M.E. (2008). Hilltop: A hospital and a sanctuary for healing, its past and its future. Freemont, Ohio: Lesher Printers, Inc.
  • Floyd, B., Brownlee, K., Jones, T., Free, J., Chelminski, D. (2009). From institutions to independence: A history of people with disabilities in northwest ohio. Toledo, Ohio: University of Toledo.
  • Psychiatric Hospital - From Asylums to Centers for Mind-Body Wellness. Full Text Available / PSIHIJATRIJSKA BOLNICA - OD UMOBOLNICA DO CENTARA ZA DOBROBIT DUŠE I TIJELA. By: Šendula-Jengić, Vesna; Juretić, Ivan; Hodak, Jelena. Collegium Antropologicum, Dec2011, Vol. 35 Issue 4, p979-988, 10p
  • The Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections serves as a repository for some records formerly held by the Athens Asylum on behalf of the Ohio Historical Society. Please contact: Douglas E. McCabe Curator of Manuscripts, Mahn Center, Alden Library, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701, Phone: (740) 593-2715

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

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