Category Archives: Patient Burials

Copper Canisters

[image title=”Canister, Oregon State Hospital” size=”full” id=”444″ align=”left” alt=”Photo by David Maisel, Libraries of Dust” linkto=”” ]Over 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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Virtual Cemetery

[image title=”grave marker 2″ size=”full” id=”538″ align=”left” linkto=”viewer” ]The Friends of Multnomah Park Cemetery have set up a Virtual Cemetery listing the patients of Morningside Hospital (8 so far).  The links from the name or the burial marker take you to additional information about the person.

The director of Morningside sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior each time a patient died. On March 1, 1937, Wayne Coe sent the following letter to Secretary of the Interior about Joe Falardeau, whose grave is included in the Virtual Cemetary:


Permit us to inform you herewith that our patient, Joe Falardeau No. 1269 who was admitted into our hospital, June 14, 1929 from Cordova died February 26th, 1937. The cause of death was Cerebral Thrombosis. The body was turned over to Holman & Lutz of this city for burial in Multnomah Cemetery.

Respectfully yours,

Wayne W. Coe

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Patient Death Certificates

by Sally Mead

Over the past two weeks in Portland we’ve unearthed quite a bit more backdrop on the search for the burial locations of Morningisde patients. Working closely with Robin Renfroe and her sister Peggy, from Salem, we visited the State of Oregon Archives to search for death certificates for over 150 people. Robin had done research on the Wickersham Paper, US Census reports and Morningside Admittance lists to unearth as many Alaska Native people (or known family names) as possible.

Outside Archives

OR Archives, Salem

We have now searched all 121 names on the Wickersham list (pre 1916) as well as around 50 more Alaska Native people reported from 1920 to 1957. It is not complete but an important start.  Not all of them had a death certificate, but most did. The certificates are telling, from full names, to cause of death, burial location and family members if known. Those lines were almost always empty…. It was very sad to see how many were listed with epilepsy as cause of death.



Paggy and Sally

Peggy and Sally

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Patient Burial Sites Located

A lot of good things happened over the past few weeks. I’ll post an article with more information later this weekend but wanted to get just a bit of the exciting news online now. Good friends and volunteers Robin Renfroe (Fairbanks) and Sally Mead (Anchorage) were in Portland this week looking for Morningside patient death certificates and burial sites. Prior to their visit, we’d found a few death certificates and had not located any graves. Robin and Sally found both! Here are a few of the headstones they found at Multnomah Park Cemetery.

Charles Brown (Juneau) Died 1914

Charles Brown (Juneau) Died 1914

Edward Dowdall (Sitka) Died 1914

Edward Dowdall (Sitka) Died 1914

Sam Steinko (Ft. Gibbon) Died 1914

Sam Steinko (Ft. Gibbon) Died 1914

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More Patient Burial Clues

A while ago, Robin Renfroe sent us James Ebana’s story, which was posted in May on this blog.  James had epilepsy and was sent to Morningside Hospital when he was 17 years old. He died there on March 21, 1942 when he was 27. She thought he was buried at the Multnomah Park Pioneer Cemetery, but had no way to confirm it or locate James’s grave.

Last weekend, she emailed with good news:

“I will be heading to Portland on Nov 20.  I hope I have found James Ebana’s grave.  I have talked to the cemetery staff and found their website that has a map and searchable database.  So I have found the location of the grave.  I have asked their staff to pull any records related to this and to call me.  Will see what happens.

Here is the website for 14 Oregon Pioneer Cemeteries and where I found the location of James Ebana (Ebeno) at Multnomah Pioneer Cemetery.  You may be able to search here for names.  May also need to use alternative spellings.”

Good luck, Robin! And thanks for the valuable research tool.

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Patient Burials: New Information

Our research at the National Archives II resulted in new information on patient burials, though we still can’t pinpoint where individual patients are buried. Here’s what we found:

  • Morningside Hospital contracted with funeral homes, which prepared the bodies for burial and arranged for burial in a number of Portland cemeteries. Holman and Lutz Funeral Home is the one mentioned most often in the records for the 1940s and 1950s.
  • So far, we’ve found at least four cemeteries mentioned in the records: Greenwood Hills Cemetery, Multnomah Park Pioneer Cemetery, River View Cemetery, and Rose City Cemetery.
  • In the 1950s, the federal government paid $75 for Morningside Hospital patient burials. There was a good deal of correspondence between Morningside and the Department of the Interior about how inadequate this fee was, comparing it to burial fees provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and similar institutions. The federal government refused to cover the cost of grave markers which is one of the reasons it is so difficult to locate individual graves.

    Greenwood Hills Cemetery, Portland, OR

    Greenwood Hills Cemetery, Portland, OR

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Where Are They Buried?

We’ve gotten a number of emails from people who have found a relative on one of our patient lists. All of them wanted to know where their relative was buried. Unfortunately, we don’t have much information on patient burials, though we’re working on it.

For now, here’s what we know:

Cemeteries: Over the years, Morningside Hospital patients were buried in multiple cemeteries. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, Multnomah Park Pioneer Cemetery and Greenwood Hills Cemetery were the sites of patient burials. We located a few patient graves at Greenwood Hills, but most are unmarked or grown-over. Multnomah Park Pioneer Cemetery is still in operation but Read More »

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