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History of Asylum Hill Project

Discovery of human remains

dig-2.jpgIn 2012 construction crews on the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) campus discovered human remains buried on the site where they were constructing a new road. Work on the road was halted while archaeologists from the Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State University, under the direction of Nicholas P. Herrmann, carefully excavated what turned out to be 66 sets of remains.  

While there was some institutional awareness that a “Potter’s Field” or small cemetery had once existed on the edges of University of Mississippi Medical Center campus in Jackson, Mississippi, the presence of so many graves in a relatively small area prompted UMMC to do further archaeological studies. 

Initial archaeological studies

asylum-hill-map-for-asylum-project-history.jpgOver the next year and a half, UMMC partnered with the Center for Archaeological Research at Ole Miss and the Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State University to conduct a survey of the area using state-of-the-art digital imaging and other techniques to help determine how many additional graves there might be in the area.

The surprising results showed that there were an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 graves in an area at the northeastern end of UMMC’s current campus.

The sheer number of graves buried in a specific pattern indicated they most, if not all, were likely graves of those who had died at the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum (renamed the Mississippi State Hospital for the Insane in 1901) which had been located on the site while it was in operation from 1855 to 1935. 

dig-map-2.jpgThroughout this process the Asylum Hill Research Consortium was formed to oversee and guide the project. The members immediately recognized the importance of finding out more about the lives of human beings interred on the site with these goals in mind:

  • to provide more information to their descendants where possible;
  • to create an appropriate memorial;
  • to make the remains available for researchers to learn more about mental illness and institutions like this one;
  • to inform current-day understanding nutrition, mental health diagnoses and treatment, dental hygiene, and other health-related issues.

dig-map-3.jpgStudies done by researchers since 2014 on the 66 sets of remains now stored at the Cobb Institute of Archaeology at MSU include:

  • Osteological analysis
  • Nutritional studies
  • Dental radiography
  • Coffin material analysis
  • Records transcription

1994 consecration ceremony

On July 15, 1992, human remains were uncovered by a contractor while excavating a ditch for the steam line to the laundry facility.

The gravesite discoveries were highlighted in two articles in the Clarion Ledger dated July 18 and 22, 1992. Ultimately, the decision was made to excavate the 44 gravesites, some of which had markers, and to set aside property belonging to UMMC as a cemetery plot to reinter the remains. On Nov. 8, 1994, a consecration ceremony was held at the site of the cemetery where the remains were reinterred. The burials include those with headstones.

Below is a list of headstone inscriptions from Asylum Hill Cemetery 

Cemetery & Bible RecordsLandin
Harrison, Eliza Jane1883Xxx
Singletary, T.1884XXXX
Littleton, Thomas1892XXX
Musick, Charles H.1893XXX
Readon, Timothy O.1893XX
Briggs, Carl C.1895X
Perkins, Mary Ann1898XX
Jones, Robbie W.1900XXX
Nichols, Mary G.1900XXX
Sweatman, Frank1900Xx
Cook, Elizabeth M.1902XXX
Howe, Mary E.1902X
Tolliver, H.1902X
Guyton, Martha G.1904XXX
McVeigh, Fred1904X
Reynolds, Capt. A.1904XXX
Warrington, Emma1904x
Wilson, Millie1904x
Wynn, Ada L.1906X
Coleman, Martha1907XXX
McDonald, Mabel1909XXXX
Barrigan, Ellen1910X
Carrigo, Ellen1910X
Wagemann, Sophia1913XXX
Hardesty, Sarah O.1917X
Andrews, William L.1918XXX
Barnes, Carrie M.1919XX
Jones, MartinL.1919XXX
Wilson, Bettie H.1919X
Bailey, T.J.ndX

What’s next

whats-next.jpgIn 2018, the Mississippi State Legislature passed laws to allow for the respectful exhumation of the estimated 7,000 bodies buried on campus. With an anticipated start date of January 2020, the Asylum Hill Research Consortium will oversee the removal of the remains which will then be temporarily stored at a UMMC temperature-controlled facility until plans for a memorial and research facility are finalized.

The temporary storage facility has:

  • 9,000 square feet of archival space
  • Precision HVAC system
  • Temperature and humidity centrally monitored
  • Natural gas back-up generator
  • Fire suppression system
  • Badge swipe entry control
  • 24-hour security
  • Can accommodate 4,000 sets of curated remains