Barhite: Cemetery project takes spotlight during NAMIWalkWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
Finding the grave markers at the Toledo State Hospital cemeteries is a tedious process that has taken years – and will continue to take many more.
The index-sized bricks are pushed deep into the ground after more than a century of neglect. They are overrun with debris and bushes; some of the bricks are damaged with the numbers barely visible.
Since 2005, the cemetery committee has met every two weeks to comb through the burial sites looking for markers to raise, said Susan Conda, member of the Toledo State Hospital Cemetery Reclamation Committee.
“These patients were not claimed by families, and we wanted to make sure that the people who died in the state hospital were not forgotten,” Conda said.
On May 11, the patients will also be remembered at the NAMIWalk. NAMI is the National Alliance of Mental Illness, and every year the walk raises money for the mentally ill community. Many of the patients at the Toledo State Hospital suffered from mental illness, although there were people with general disabilities as well, Conda said.
For the second year, NAMI walkers will place flags at the cemetery on the University of Toledo Medical Center campus.
“The walk goes by the cemetery,” Conda said, who is co-chair of the walk. “As the walkers go by the cemetery, they are going to be asked to place flags on grave sites.”
Each flag says, “I am” and under that it says, “Forgotten no more.”
“It is a truly moving site, said Jane Weber, cemetery committee member and retired state hospital employee. “There will be 1,000 flags waving on the property of UT. Most people don’t know [the cemetery] is there.”
Weber said the UT cemetery holds about 1,100 patients; the other cemetery behind the new Bowsher High School on Arlington Avenue has about 900 people buried there.
Between the two cemeteries, the committee has exposed 1,250 of the 2,000 grave markers. The cemeteries were used 1888-1973.
Weber said the cemetery committee has been involved with the NAMIWalk for years, but the cemetery component was missing from the walk until 2012.
“You have hundreds of people who are interested in mental health and they still didn’t have an understanding that one of the cemeteries was right on the walk,” she said.
Weber had a great-grandfather and brother who were patients at the state hospital for a short time. Weber said the state hospital wasn’t just for the mentally ill, though. State hospital existed when there were no other resources in the community for addiction, dementia or a sudden change in behavior.
If a family member didn’t claim a patient after death, he or she was buried at the cemetery marked by a number only.
Back in the 1880s, Conda said there were fewer ways of communicating so the hospital staff couldn’t reach family members; other times the families wouldn’t claim the bodies.
“Many people who grew up in this area had family sent out there because we didn’t have other services,” Weber said. “The more we connect with families, the more reasons we hear. It is a fascinating look at the past.”
The committee received the list of who is buried at the cemeteries from the State of Ohio Library, Weber said. Eventually the committee hopes to have a memorial built that includes everyone buried there.
“We want to raise awareness that there were people forgotten in life and then death and we want to remember them now,” Conda said.
The cemetery committee accepts donations, as well as help from service groups like the Boy Scouts or organizations willing to help locate grave markers in the cemeteries. For more information, go to toledostatehospitalcemetery.org.