History

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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 with bone fragments from two other burials. 

While there was institutional awareness that a 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.jpgBetween 2013 and 2014, 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 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 a new laundry facility on campus. 

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.  

NameDeath
Harrison, Eliza Jane1883
Singletary, W.T.b. June 3, 1861 to d. Nov. 17, 1884
Littleton, Thomas1892
Musick, Charles H.1893
Reardon, Timothy O.1893
Briggs, Carl C.1895
Perkins, Mary Annb. Nov. 15, 1838 to d. Oct 5, 1898
Jones, Robbie W.b. Mar. 15, 1875 to d. Mar. 29, 1900
Nichols, Mary C.1900
Sweatman, FrankAug. 4, 1900
Cook, Elizabeth M.1839 to 1902
Howe, Mary E.1902
Tolliver, H.1902
Guyton, Martha G.1904
McVeigh, Fred1904
Reynolds, Capt. A.1904
Warrington, Emmab. August 30, 1873 to d. June 10, 1903
Wilson, Millie1904
Wynn, Ada L.1906
Keeton, Jerry Sonettb. March 16, 1876 to d. July 24, 1906
Coleman, Martha1907
McDonald, Mabel1909
Barrigan, Ellen1910
Carrigo, Ellen1910
Wagemann, Mrs. SophiaNov. 1, 1913
Hardesty, Sarah O.1917
Andrews, William L.d. Oct. 19, 1918 Age 31 years Woodman of the World Memorial
Barnes, Carrie M.1919
Jones, MartinL.1919
Wilson, Bettie H. b. March 25, 1841 to d. Sept 16, 1919
Bailey, T.J.nd

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