PROVO (News4Utah) – Between 1886 and 1960 nearly 500 former patients at the Utah State Hospital were buried with no headstone, no funeral and no one to say goodbye. Now those men and women are finally getting a degree of dignity decades after their deaths.
They were 485 people who were shunned in life and forgotten in death. Now after years in umarked graves at Provo City Cemetery, these former patients are finally being remembered.
The faces are haunting. Those of men, women and children who suffered mental illness and developmental disabilities at a time when their conditions were not understood.
Janina Chilton, the Utah State Hospital Historian explains.
“The idea back in those years was once you had a mental illness you were sort of never heard from again,” Chilton told News4Utah.
Starting in 1885 thousands were warehoused at the Utah Territorial Insane Asylum, later renamed the Utah State Hospital. When they died, many were never claimed by their families and were buried anonymously here. Chilton was moved to find their names and raise money to get them engraved on a permanent memorial. That two year project is now complete.
“Being on a campus where these people lived and read their stories and read how horrible the conditions were you just cant help but feel for how awful it would have been to have been here and be forgotten by society,” Chilton said.
Though these patients have been deceased for decades, their sad stories still resonate today.
“We still have problems recognizing the worth of people with mental illness,” Chilton said. “It’s important not to forget that so this cemetery is not just honoring those people that died in that era but to remember that we still have people out there that have severe mental illnesses and that this is a lesson we should never repeat. That these people have value to humankind.”
Chilton says the memorial cost about $90,000 and was paid for with donations.
The Forgotten Patients Memorial is located in the southwest portion of Provo City Cemetery. It will be officially unveiled at 1:30 pm on Wednesday afternoon.