A new report from USA Today reveals that could be as many as 7,000 bodies buried under the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi.
The bodies are believed to belong to patients of an old state mental institution, known only as the “Insane Asylum”. According to the university, the first of the graves were discovered in 2013 as the school prepared to begin construction on the 20-acre area where the bodies are buried.
Built in 1855, the Jackson institution was created as part of Civil War nurse-turned-mental health reformer Dorothea Dix’s drive to open facilities for the mentally ill who had until that point been jailed or otherwise shunned by society.
The discovery of even more bodies buried on the medical center’s grounds offers some the opportunity to learn whether their ancestors had been interred at the hospital — but it comes with a hefty price tag.
The initial cost of exhuming the bodies would have been $3,000 per grave, resulting in a whopping total of up to $21 million. Now, the exhumations have the somewhat-lowered cost of $400,000 per year for eight years. The university is working on creating a program that would include a memorial for the old asylum, as well as a lab and visitor’s center where people could learn about the excavation and exhumation of the bodies.
Ralph Didlake, who leads the medical school’s Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, told USA Today why the posthumous treatment of these bodies matters to him and his fellow members of the Asylum Hill Research Consortium.
“We have inherited these patients,” Didlake told the newspaper. “We want to show them care and respectful management.”