- Associated Press - Friday, May 30, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - When John E. Cathcart got sick in 1927, his wife committed him to Indiana Hospital for the Insane, near Washington Street and Tibbs Avenue.

Three years later, Cathcart, 59, was buried in a small cemetery on the hospital grounds, along with hundreds of other mentally ill patients who went unclaimed by family members.

But over the years, the cemetery stopped accepting new interments, the hospital closed and the burial grounds went largely untended. Its modest, nameless grave markers were faded and broken, covered in mud and silt, or hidden under brush.

It got so bad that City-County Councilor Marilyn Pfisterer recruited 80 volunteers in 2010 to clean the cemetery. They collected bottles, cans, plastic bags and “all sorts of garbage that had accumulated over the years,” Pfisterer told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/1pE54Wi ).

On Monday, city officials will commemorate the ongoing rehabilitation of the cemetery by unveiling a marble monument bearing the names of 575 patients buried there. For the last several years, the lawn has been mowed regularly and the grounds kept relatively tidy.

“This is to preserve the history of patients who have been overlooked and forgotten,” Pfisterer said. “Where they lived is where they died which is unfortunate and unfair.”

The hospital opened in the 1848 as the Indiana Hospital for the Insane, changed its name to the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane before finally becoming, Central State Hospital. It closed in 1994.

The first burial at the cemetery was in 1905 and the last was in 1947.

After Pfisterer’s cleanup, Cathcart’s grandson, Roy M. Johnson, 82, Fishers, decided to check on his grandfather’s grave. All he found was a rundown monument that served as a cemetery directory with inaccurate or missing information.

“You could hardly find the gravestone, and there was no name on it or any of the other ones, just a strip of plastic with its location,” said Johnson, 82, Fishers. So Johnson bought his grandfather a new grave marker for $400. It’s now the only one in the cemetery with the deceased’s name on it.

Johnson said his grandfather, a laborer, had six children, but when he got sick in 1927 his wife “couldn’t take care of all the children” and had him admitted to the hospital.

Indiana State Archives show Cathcart died of complications from syphilis, as a third of the patients there did, and was likely admitted because he showed some of the advanced mental or physical symptoms of the disease.

In fact, said Indiana Medical History Museum Executive Mary Ellen Hennessy Nottage, many of the people admitted to the asylum were suffering from dementia caused by latter stage syphilis.

“In its later stages it causes sores, attacks the heart and central nervous system, causing dementia and paralysis,” said Indiana State Archives Assistant Patron Services Director Alan January. “This was before the invention of penicillin.”

But others were admitted for more ambiguous reasons, though they were evaluated by a panel that included a law enforcement officials, a judge and a family member.

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