At least 7,000 former patients of Mississippi’s first mental institution may be buried on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus, according to officials who used underground radar to discover that thousands of coffins are located throughout 20 acres where the school wants to develop.
School officials reported on Saturday that exhuming and re-burying the bodies could cost the school upwards of $21 million, so they’re looking for cheaper alternatives, including the creation of a memorial and a visitors center, which would include a lab so that the bodies could be studied.
“It would be a unique resource for Mississippi,” said Molly Zuckerman, an associate anthropology professor at the school. “It would make Mississippi a national center on historical records relating to health in the pre-modern period, particularly those being institutionalized.”
Completed in 1855, the purpose of the Insane Asylum was so that mentally ill individuals would not have to languish in jails. Living standards for the patients were supposed to be better, but it’s been reported that of the 1,376 patients who were admitted into the facility between 1855 and 1877, more than one in five patients died.
In 1935, the asylum was moved to its present location of the State Hospital at Whitfield.
More than 60 coffins were discovered in 2013 during road construction on the campus, and by 2014, more than 1,000 coffins were revealed underneath land earmarked for a parking garage. The number has swelled to an estimated 7,000 since then.
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