Naming the Forgotten - The Eastern State Hospital Project, began in December 2006 as a special project within the KyGenWeb.  Working with various records, our goal is to identify those who lived and died at the hospital before 1956.  Prior to the state mandated registration of deaths in 1911, records pertaining to these individuals are scarce.  Contributions of additional data are invited and may be made by contacting Jane Colmenares.
The Eastern State Hospital in Lexington, Fayette Co., KY was established by a legislative act of Dec. 4, 1822 and is the 2nd oldest mental hospital in the United States. On May 1, 1824 the hospital, known then as the Lunatic Asylum, welcomed it's first patient. Over the years, the name changed several times, until 1912 when the General Assembly officially renamed it Eastern State Hospital.
The Eastern State Hospital Cemetery, located on the hospital grounds, in use from the first quarter of the 19th century until the early 1950s, is no longer intact. Local industrial development resulted in a relocation of many cemetery graves to a small common area of land near the hospital grounds. It is unknown how many individuals are buried in the cemetery, but is believed to consist of 10,000 or more.  These persons came from all over the state of Kentucky, as well as from other states. 
Eastern State Hospital Cemetery Club was formed in the spring of 2006.  Their goal, to give dignity to those buried in the hospital cemetery by erecting a monument in their honor.  They are currently working on gathering as many names as possible of those buried in the cemetery.
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     Naming the Forgotten - The Eastern State Hospital Project is assisting the club by sharing information found regarding persons interred at the hospital cemetery.
Tomb Of The Unknowns
Eastern State Hospital and Kentucky State Archives blocking access to death and burial records for ESH cemetery
By Bruce Burris
Founder, Eastern State Hospital Cemetery Preservation Project
8 Dec 2010
Eight summers ago, directly behind the Hope Center, on Eastern State Hospital (ESH) property, I blundered onto a small wildly overgrown space surrounded by a broken chain link fence. I knew it to be a cemetery only because a man mowing grass on a property nearby allowed that it was when I asked. He also mentioned that he thought there were over 2,000 people buried there, a number that was beyond my ability to really grasp. Somewhat ironically, I was only there in the first place because I was searching for an appropriate space to start a community garden.
Since that day, it has been established that this tiny spot, not much larger than a typical middle class backyard, contains the remains of between 4,000 and 7,000 people — mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, politicians, shopkeepers, farmers … humans. Further, these numbers do not include the remains of the many thousands more we believe to be scattered throughout the original ESH property.
A Mass Grave
Local leaders and many others have referred to this as a “mass grave,” and they are entirely correct. Of the remains in the cemetery area, only three have been positively identified. Unfortunately, due to neglect and mishandling, it is unlikely many more will be identified. Many remains have been dug up and reburied at least three times; other remains have been entirely destroyed or further blended together by blasting. Recently Phil Tkacz, ESH Cemetery Preservation Project President, was planting tulip bulbs and came across what we believe to be a human vertebra within about six inches of ground level. This contradicts what we, the ESH Cemetery Preservation Project, have always been told: that the reburials were five to eight feet deep.
Tkacz and genealogist Mary Hatton, along with a handful of others, have worked tirelessly to provide relatives with information about those presumed buried on the grounds. Hatton alone has recovered records, often from ancient newspaper obituaries and similar unofficial records, identifying over 1,000 people who died while at ESH. They have also worked towards creating a more dignified landscape within the cemetery area.
With Bluegrass Community and Technical College transitioning to this property, there is optimism that, at the very least, the cemetery area will be improved. In fact, progress along these lines can be seen. Recently $61,000 was earmarked for cemetery landscape improvements which should be completed late this autumn.
But a larger problem remains: the total lack of access to death and burial records which are housed in the archives of Bluegrass Regional Mental Health and Mental Retardation and in the State Archives. Though the ESH Preservation Project is considering a civil suit as requests for records and information have been continually denied, it would be much healthier for all, especially relatives who are still coming to terms with the degrading circumstances of their loved ones’ burials, if all could agree to work through this together. Many other state hospitals have done just that.
Q & A with Bruce Burris, founder and member of the ESH Cemetery Preservation Project
Q: Essentially, as you tell it , you stumbled upon a mass grave. What has this experience been like for you?
BB: There is an air of unreality – we get used to the idea of mass graves through the media, but I really only thought of a mass grave in terms of other: other continents, other people. Initially, I was very apprehensive and a little scared. The scale of the site was daunting – a relatively small space in which thousands were recently reburied and already forgotten.
For the first year or so, I kept the information about the cemetery pretty much to myself. This was mostly for selfish reasons: I wasn’t sure what, if anything, I should or could do about it. I’m an atheist, but I admit to feeling a kind of responsibility to, and love for, those souls. I can only imagine the kind of suffering many experienced during their lifetimes.
Over time, I did a bit of research and found that state hospital cemeteries were being researched by organizations in other states. That information was comforting. Also, another thing happened that I could not have predicted; it turned out that those buried at ESH had relatives who were alive and wanted information about their loved ones.
These factors convinced me to advertise a general meeting for all those who might be interested in researching and restoring the cemetery. Thankfully Phil, our ESH Preservation Project president and Mary Hatton, our genealogist, were at the first meeting.
Q: The ESH Cemetery Preservation Project keeps asserting that there are most likely many more thousands buried throughout ESH’s current and former property. Why?
BB: Of course we cannot answer definitely as we have not been allowed access to records. Initially we were told that there were about 2,000 buried in the current cemetery. We now can account for about 4,000 and believe there may be as many as 7,000.
Our estimate of tens of thousands still buried throughout the original grounds is based on numbers which are shared by other state hospitals of similar size, etc. In these instances, numbers ranging from 20,000 to 60,000 are not uncommon – and remember ESH is the second oldest mental hospital in the country.
The “current” cemetery (the one I stumbled upon) was created in the 1970s and consists of graves moved in the 1950s from what was IBM (and is currently Lexmark) and from the Loudon Street extension which was constructed in the 1970s. It was during the construction of this road that a significant number of remains were found. These included at least some of the remains which were recovered at the IBM site just a few years before, reburied, and eventually forgotten in an area in which the Loudon Street Extension was planned and constructed.
In a span of just a few years, those graves were completely forgotten and shamefully only came to light during blasting for the road, during which bystanders were showered with bits of bone and fabric. These remains were then moved to the current cemetery which was created to hold bodies found elsewhere, in effect mixing many remains. Some bodies have been buried at least three times.
                                                                                                                 ~ read more at North of Center
Dr. Thomas T. Wendell
Photo by Waller Overton Bullock, 1898, KY Virtual Library
Naming the Forgotten - The Eastern State Hospital Project
is proud to be a Special Collection Project in the KyGenWeb

This site is lovingly dedicated to Mary Hatton who wanted
no one to be forgotten.
1948 - 2014

© 2007 - present  Naming the Forgotten - The Eastern State Hospital Project
Restoring Dignity

Karen Edwards

Genealogists spearhead efforts to identify deaths at a historic state hospital.

In 2006, Bruce Burris stepped behind a homeless shelter in Lexington, Ky., in search of suitable space for a community garden. The patch of land he found was covered in tall grass and weeds; three old headstones were fallen and crumbling with age. What he’d stumbled onto was a burial ground created in the 1970s for Eastern State Hospital. Opened in 1817 as Fayette Hospital and still in operation, it’s the second-oldest US institution devoted to the treatment of mental disorders.

As parts of the hospital’s original 400 acres were sold off and developed over the years, remains of long-dead patients were dug up (some for a second or third time) and re-interred at the cemetery Burris found. Their names are a mystery. “Between 4,000 to 7,000 people are buried in a space about the size of a middle-class backyard,” he says.

                                                                                                                     read more . . .

This website has obtained permission from the editor of Family Tree Magazine to place the article on the website. We thank the editor of the Family Tree Magazine.
Eastern State Hospital Project Featured in Family Tree Magazine
Naming the Forgotten . . .
               The Eastern State Hospital Project
Obtaining hospital records - It is possible for a direct descendant of an Eastern State Hospital patient to be appointed administrator of that person's estate for purposes of accessing existing records. There is a court cost of $53.50.

Historic Asylums provides some background information on Eastern State Hospital, including a timeline, 1822 enabling legislation, images and a brief history. It also provides an interesting 1861 drawing showing the Eastern State Hospital Cemetery as part of the Pleasure Grounds and Farm at that time.

Yvonne Giles has donated an 1834 image of the grounds. The largest picture (665022 bytes) is the most legible, but can be slow to load. Also available: 220556 bytes(med) and 158062 bytes (small).

An overview of the current grounds from Google maps.
The Old Kentucky State Hospital located in Danville, Ky. was closed about 1977. All patient records were transferred to Eastern State Hospital and were archived. It is possible for a direct descendant of the Old Kentucky State Hospital patient to be appointed administrator of that person's estate for purposes of accessing existing records. There is a court cost of $53.50.
See Images From Reinterrement
Part of the KYGenWeb Project