Experts estimate 7,000 bodies buried on Mississippi campus

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Experts estimate that up to 7,000 bodies are buried on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus (UMMC).

The bodies constitute former patients of the state’s first mental institution, called the Insane Asylum, built in 1855.

Underground radar revealed that the coffins stretch 20 acres of the campus, originally where officials wanted to build.

With $3,000 to exhume and rebury each body, the officials faced a steep cost of as much as $21 million in total.

UMMC is now studying a cheaper alternative for handling those exhumations in-house, at a cost of $400,000 a year for at least eight years.

It would create a memorial that would preserve the remains with a visitors center and a lab that can be set for the purpose of studying the remains as well as the remnants of clothing and coffins.

According to Ralph Didlake, who overlooks UMMC’s Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, it is believed that the lab would be the first of its kind in the nation. Gaining insight into life in the asylum throughout the 1800s and early 1900s is an addition for the researchers, said Didlake.

“It would make Mississippi a national center on historical records relating to health in the pre-modern period, particularly those being institutionalized,” said Molly Zuckerman, an associate professor in Mississippi State’s department of anthropology and Middle Eastern cultures, in remarks quoted by USA TODAY.

Zuckerman, Didlake and others have formulated the Asylum Hill Research Consortium. It constitutes historians, anthropologists, archaeologists and an expert in dating the coffins’ wood.

The memorial/visitors center/lab plans was established by the consortium.

“We have inherited these patients,” Didlake said. “We want to show them care and respectful management.”

Establishing connection

Karen Clark of Clinton is hoping a grant would be given for the purpose of collecting DNA from the patients.

According to Clark, this can help identify the patients if family members come forth.

Going through old asylum records and reading about patients there, Clark noted that she sympathizes with the asylum because she had “… mental issues in the distant past.”