Copper Canisters

Photo by David Maisel, Libraries of DustOver the summer, I corresponded with Cynthia Prater, a clinician at the Oregon State Hospital. She’s doing research on the mental health care of Native Americans in Oregon and came across the blog. She passed along a fabulous report created by the Willamette Valley Historical Society in 1991 on the cemetery at the State Hospital. There were 69 Alaskans admitted to the Oregon Insane Asylum between 1901 and 1903, 6 of whom died.  I’ll post more information on the report soon, but wanted to pass along this bit of history.

There were 1,539 burials in the Asylum Cemetery between 1883 to 1913. In 1913 all the bodies were exhumed, cremated, and the ashes were put in copper canisters. In 2009, the American Journal of Psychiatry reported: “A grim discovery was made by a group of state legislators touring the facility in 2004. The cremated remains of more than 3,000 patients who died at the hospital from the late 1880s to the mid-1970s were found in corroding copper canisters in a storage room, the so-called “room of lost souls.” They were the remnants of a time when mental illness was so stigmatizing that families abandoned patients.”

There were a number of attempts to connect remains to family members and to honor or formally recognize them in some way. However, at this point, they are still stored at the hospital.

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