- Associated Press - Friday, September 25, 2015

GRAND CHUTE, Wis. (AP) - The once forgotten graves of more than 130 people who died after being confined at an Outagamie County psychiatric hospital decades ago have been transformed with stone markers and tributes.

About 200 people gathered Thursday evening at the former site of the Outagamie County Asylum for the Chronic Insane for a dedication of a memorial. It’s the culmination of two years of planning and work to recognize the people who were buried there from 1889 until 1943 and to bring attention to mental illness.

The Rev. Steve Savides, of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Appleton, said the dedication involved more than a physical transformation. It represented the transformation of a community that today pays respect and offers dignity to those who decades ago were put aside, he said at the dedication.

The interred were “nameless, anonymous, abandoned, and that’s how this place looked a year ago - abandoned,” he said.

The unmarked barren land now has a granite memorial stone listing the 133 people buried there and smaller stones marking the five rows of burial plots. A trail winding around the property ends at a pergola with a black granite bench etched with a poem, according to the Post-Crescent Media (https://post.cr/1MtNX5F ).

The transformation process got a significant boost last year when Lawrence University anthropology professor Peter Peregrine and his students conducted a geomagnetic survey of the grounds to determine the location of the graves.

A committee overseeing the project put together a land survey and site plan to gain approval from the Wisconsin Historical Society. A separate committee, Friends of Outagamie County Cemetery, worked on fundraising.

Committee member Fran Henry said it was worth all the time and effort “just to know the dignity was restored.”

Tens of thousands of people were buried in unmarked graves around the nation during the 20th century after dying at state- or county-run psychiatric hospitals, then called insane asylums or sanitariums. Families were either too poor for a headstone, couldn’t be reached or had forgotten about their relatives.


Information from: Post-Crescent Media, https://www.postcrescent.com

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