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0000017c-83f8-d4f8-a77d-b3fd0cf60000On August 9, 2018, the dedication and ribbon cutting were held for the Stone Family Center for Health Sciences in downtown Evansville. The facility will house numerous health professions programs for the University of Evansville, the University of Southern Indiana and the Indiana University Medical School Evansville campus. The programs will work side by side to create a transformational approach to health care and medical education.

New memorial marker remembers unidentified patients who died at State Hospital

Paola Marizan

Human remains from the Evansville State Hospital grounds have been reinterred to clear the way for a new pedestrian bridge connecting the grassy site to Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve.

Today, Rakestraw Monuments LLC is placing a memorial marker above ground to remember the patients of the Southern Indiana Hospital for the Insane, who died during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Six feet below the ground, in a shady corner of Oak Hill Cemetery, thirty one sets of remains are buried in five cement graves.

Above ground, a granite marker reads:

“Evansville State Hospital Cemetery

In fond memory of all persons who died while a patient or resident at the Evansville State Hospital since the founding of the facility in 1890.

Here lie 31 unknown persons disinterred from the Evansville State Hospital cemetery and reinterred here in June of 2014.”

Oak Hill Cemetery Director Chris Cooke said the remains are unidentified because the probability of finding their relatives is unlikely, if not impossible.

“You’re more likely to get struck by lighting or win the power ball than find out who these individuals were,” Cooke said.

The bones are what is left of patients of the Hospital, formerly known as Woodmere or Southern Indiana Hospital for the Insane.

When they were alive, mental healthcare was primitive. Patients were merely monitored, rather than treated. If family members didn’t claim them when they died, the hospital customarily buried them on the property, which was a patch of land next to a dairy barn.

“In the 19th century and well into the 20th century, treatment of mental illness was almost barbaric, almost not understood at all," Evansville Historic Preservation Officer Dennis Au said. "People were there with schizophrenia and other things, but the epileptics were thrown in there too. So, it was just a matter of, warehousing people.”

Thirty nine known sets of remains are still on the hospital grounds along the East Lloyd Expressway, near Vann Ave.

City Engineer Brent Schmitt says the City is leaving those bones undisturbed because they are not in the “footprint” of the planned pedestrian bridge.

The archeology firm contracted by the city ran a series of five ads in the Evansville Courier & Press in January asking the public to contact them if they believe they are descendants of the patients.

A fire at the State Hospital in 1943 destroyed records of the patients, but there may be other state documents that could help identify the people who died there.

Kathy Boyd is director of genealogy at the Browning Genealogy Database, which catalogues Evansville-area obituaries dating back to 1906.  She thinks there may be a living resident or former hospital employee who knows more information.

“I do think stories were told, it had to be the topic of conversation for some time,” Boyd said. "I think there are still people out there that might know something about it."

WNIN is looking further into this story.

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