Discovery of graves affects UMMC parking plan1,000 bodies may have been asylum patients
Future progress for the state’s longtime medical school has collided with the ghosts of Mississippi’s past — the discovery of a 1,000 bodies buried on its campus and the likelihood of more.Officials of the fast-growing University of Mississippi Medical Center had planned to build a parking garage east of the dental school, where a grove of trees now sits.But testing in the area revealed 1,000 bodies, believed to have been patients at the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum a century ago.“None have names,” said Dr. James Keeton, dean of the medical school.Paying for reburials elsewhere would cost about $3,000 apiece, or $3 million total, he said. “We can’t afford that.”New plans include building the parking garage next to the dental school, he said.Others plans may have to change, too. Medical center officials had hoped to use the property west of the dental school for future expansion, but Keeton said they might have to rethink that approach, because other bodies may lie beneath the earth — former slaves, TB victims and possibly even Civil War dead.The UMMC ground on which Keeton and Gov. Phil Bryant recently stood to announce construction of the $11 million American Cancer Society Hope Lodge is believed to contain yet more bodies.For that reason, UMMC officials said both the lodge and a new Children’s Justice Center would likely have to be relocated on the 164-acre campus, where both space and parking seem to be growing scarce.The State Lunatic Asylum opened on the site in 1855, housing 150 patients.Eight years later, the Union’s 46th Indiana Infantry Regiment arrived at the asylum. One soldier wrote that the patients “were terribly excited and were seen at the windows shouting to the soldiers.”Readying for the siege of Jackson, the soldiers set up camp, built fortifications and grew vegetables to sustain themselves, said Jim Woodrick, director of the Historic Preservation Division of the state Department of Archives and History.During the ensuing battle, Confederate soldiers fired back and hit the asylum, injuring at least one patient, he said.By the time the Union Army left, one soldier penned that Jackson is a “ruined town,” he said.After the Civil War ended, the mental facility expanded to house 300 patients, and the area became known as “Asylum Hill,” a neighborhood that included houses, a school and a church for former slaves, Cade Chapel M.B. Church.The area eventually saw construction of a fertilizer factory, a Baptist orphanage and a sanatorium for those suffering from tuberculosis.The hill had several cemeteries: one for asylum patients, one for M.B. church members and one for paupers. Some have suggested there may be Civil War graves there, too.In 1935, Mississippi moved the asylum to its present location at Whitfield.