Take care deciding fate of Eastern State
April 16, 2007
By Bruce Burris (posted
with permission by same)
One morning five years ago, I stumbled
upon an almost forgotten piece of
While exploring the grounds of the Hope
Center on Loudon Avenue to assess its
potential for a community garden, I came
upon a broken chain-link fence
surrounding an overgrown plot, perhaps
an acre in size.
The space seemed appropriate for
gardening, so I asked a man cutting
grass nearby whether he knew anything
about the enclosure. He told me the lot
contained the unmarked remains of some
4,400 people who had died while residing
at Eastern State Hospital.
Appalled, I wondered how so many bodies
could fit into a space not much larger
than the average suburban yard.
I have since found out.
The makeshift cemetery may include most
of the hospital's original tract of
land, from Newtown Pike and Fourth
Street to what is now Lexmark.
Blasting during the construction of the
Loudon Avenue extension in the 1980s
blew bone and clothing fragments into
the air. Some of the remains are thought
to belong to bodies that had been
disinterred and reburied during the
construction of the IBM (now Lexmark)
facility in the 1950s.
If this is so, their reburial in the
makeshift cemetery behind the Hope
Center is at least the third time those
remains have been moved, and it may
account for why some are mixed together.
In 2005, the remains of 11 people were
discovered during construction near the
Newtown Pike entrance. I am told that so
far, the state has spent at least
$30,000 attempting to identify them. The
11 where reburied last week.
One respected community historian has
suggested that there may be more than
our current estimate of 10,000 bodies.
This seems possible considering that the
institution, which opened in 1822, is
the second-oldest state hospital in the
country and, at times, housed up to
Most state hospital cemeteries in the
United States have a system for
accounting for those buried on their
grounds. But records for Eastern State
apparently do not exist. Burials stopped
in the 1950s, and there are only three
name-bearing markers along with one
relatively small memorial marker.
Even people who worked at the hospital
for more than 20 years had no idea where
the cemetery was.
Since last June, Mary Hatton and other
members of the Eastern State Hospital
Cemetery Club have searched public
records and managed to find the names of
more than 1,500 people buried somewhere
on the hospital grounds.
Examinations of cemeteries on hospital
grounds in other parts of Kentucky have
found, as we did at Eastern State, that
many of the people buried in those plots
have living relatives.
It is unconscionable that we have
permitted the remains of their loved
ones to be treated in this manner, and
every effort must now be made to create
dignified resting places for them.
The state plans to relocate the hospital
and eventually transfer ownership of the
land, a parcel of 70-plus acres almost
in the center of Lexington.
Disposition of the property is all the
more significant when one considers
Lexington's moratorium on development.
At least one group, including some
elected state and city officials, has
been meeting for some time to discuss
This property also contains significant
historical links to the African-American
community, as well as structures on the
In light of this, real community input,
by way of public meetings, should be
sought to determine its future use.
The club is working on a proposal to the
state to ensure that the grounds of the
fenced cemetery are maintained in a
dignified fashion and that a more
ambitious landscaping-memorial plan will
be introduced in the future.
complicate plans for Eastern State
April 16, 2007
J Anderson (posted with permission by
Federal law has strict regulations
regarding relocation of graves disturbed
by new highway construction. Our
Transportation Cabinet is charged with
enforcing the law, and supervisors are
assigned to the task in every district.
For the uninitiated, the job
desirability ranks with cleaning sewers
for a living. But it soon became one of
the most rewarding experiences of my
The first task is to identify the
remains. In older cemeteries some
gravestones are unmarked, and some have
no gravestones at all. These people
became more than cold slabs of granite
and unmarked stones scattered over a
plot of land. I found they were real
people, with real families and real
lives. I developed a strong sense of
responsibility for them.
The second task is to contact the next
of kin. The vast majority were very
concerned, and most became very
involved. Some didn't know about their
ancestors, forgotten and lost in time.
It was a great privilege to be a part of
their reunions, and to help all of the
families to find some comfort in knowing
the departed would be treated with care,
dignity, and respect.
The thousands of forgotten and abandoned
people buried on the grounds of Eastern
State Hospital deserve the very best our
community can offer them. At the very
least, a good portion of the property
should be preserved for a prominent and
dignified memorial. We owe it to them,
to their families, and to ourselves.