Ghosts of the Past: Mississippi University Seeks to Relocate 7000 Dead Bodies

The medical center is particularly interested in the latter section, since the wealth of bodies interred allows for insight into the lives of asylum patients during the Reconstruction, Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

According to the Clarion-Ledger, the bodies are dating back to 1855 from the area's Insane Asylum. The school is considering a cheaper alternative: handling those exhumations in-house, which would cost an estimated $400,000 a year for at least eight years.

Ralph Didlake, who oversees UMMC's Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, believes the lab would be the first of its kind in the nation.

The Mississippi Insane Asylum opened in 1855 before moving to Mississippi State Hospital in 1935, a facility that still stands to this day.

Officials previously unearthed more than 2,000 coffins, in total, while constructing a road and a parking garage on the medical center's campus in 2013 and 2014, according to the report. They would have to pay around $3,000 to exhume and rebury each body, meaning they would have to pay around $21 million for relocation. "In size, they are fairly uniform", wrote the school of the pine coffins that were discovered, "about six feet long but alarmingly narrow, as if each held a pair of stilts instead of a human skeleton".

The asylum was built after the petitioning of health pioneer Dorothy Dix, who in the mid-19th century traveled throughout the United States to lobby for state mental health facilities.

"We have inherited these patients", Didlake said.

"It would make MS a national center on historical records relating to health in the pre-modern period, particularly those being institutionalized", she said, according to the Clarion-Ledger. Construction of the UMMC campus began in that location two decades later, the newspaper reported.

For numerous researchers who have been studying what the asylum was like in the late 19th and early 20th century, the cost is worth it.

The hospital officials, plus anthropologists, historians and other experts, have founded a group called the Asylum Hill Research Consortium to further investigate the forensic evidence of the burials - and to understand the history of the institution.

"We want to show them care and respectful management", he told the Clarion-Ledger. At the time, experts said there may be more coffins somewhere on the site.

"Hundreds, if not thousands, of descendants are here today because of Isham Earnest", said Clark.

Her sympathy runs high for those in the asylum "because I've had mental issues in the distant past", she said.

Vanessa Coleman

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