Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Gardens at Saint Elizabeths — A National Memorial of Recovered Dignity

It’s time for memorial in Alaska.

“The Gardens at Saint Elizabeths — A National Memorial of Recovered Dignity is being designed by the University of Georgia’s College of Environment and Design, and will be incorporated into the existing 10-acre cemetery adjacent to the new hospital.

Saint Elizabeths, which opened in 1855, was the first federally funded asylum. On June 10, 2009, a dedication for the memorial was celebrated at Saint Elizabeths in Washington, D.C. Saint Elizabeths has begun preparing the cemetery, which holds the graves of more than 4,500 psychiatric patients, including Civil War veterans.

“The cemetery already looks more dignified,” says Larry Fricks, Chair of the Memorial Project. He added that, “While the formal gardens have to wait until we conclude the historical and environmental reviews, in some ways the memorial is already underway because the cemetery is being restored.”

No patients are currently being buried on the grounds of Saint Elizabeths and the memorial (as previously noted) will consist of the existing 10-acre cemetery plus an additional acre of gardens.”

From the website

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Lost Alaskans Partners with

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The Morningside Hospital patient database will soon be available on, the largest collection of genealogical and historical records in the world. And, not only is it the largest collection, you can use it for free. Here’s some background from their website:

“FamilySearch, historically known as the Genealogical Society of Utah, which was founded in 1894, is dedicated to preserving the records of the family of mankind. Our purpose is simple—help people connect with their ancestors through easy access to historical records.”

We gladly join and partner with others who share this vision. We pioneered industry standards for gathering, imaging, indexing, and preserving records. Advances in technology and the emergence of our digital world now provide an opportunity for us to share these resources with the world.”

The Morningside records are not yet available, but should be soon. If you’d like to check out the website, it’s here.

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Christmas at Morningside: 1923

The text on the photo reads:

Christmas Festivities at Morningside

Morningside Hospital provided three Christmas trees for the inmates. Natives helped to provide the entertainment which was held in the Assembly room in the new Parole House. Gifts were provided for all the patients in the institution by Dr. Henry Waldo Coe, the Chief Officer. After the exercises in the main hall the women retired to their own buildings where trees awaited them, while the men had their remembrances in the assembly room.

Photos 1923_0010

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Long Journey is Eventful

My last post was about citizens being hired by the U.S. Marshall to take patients from Alaska to Oregon. The article below details one of the more exciting trips. Patient Jennie Zimmerman was 49 and from Fairbanks. She was admitted to Morningside Hospital on March 2, 1919. Her diagnosis on admission was, “Paretic, noisy and destructive. P.c. poor.” She remained at Morningside for more than 20 years, dying on January 18, 1941. Her two daughters, who were living in Portland, were notified.

Morning Oregonian, March 10, 1919

Morning Oregonian, March 10, 1919

From the Morning Oregonian: The sole custodian of an insane woman, whom she was taking from Fairbanks, Alaska to Morningside asylum, in this city, Miss Lillian D. Hill of Fairbanks recently arrived here safely with her charge, after a terrible experience on the way, when the woman, Mrs. F. C. Zimmerman, escaped from her and made her way at midnight to an Alaskan glacier. Miss Hill, her task completed, is now on her way back to Fairbanks.

Miss Hill was engaged as a “matron” by the United States Marshall in Fairbanks despite her slight build and the 160 pounds of the patient. The trip of 400 miles over the trail from Fairbanks is trying for a man acclimated to the country, but for a woman in charge of an insane person, the trip proved to be a thriller, according to Miss Hill.

Black Rapids Roadhouse

Black Rapids Roadhouse

It was at the Rapids Roadhouse, half way between Tanana valley, of which Fairbanks is the center, and the coast, that the patient decided to wander out into the night. Her absence was discovered shortly afterwards by Miss Hill who followed her tracks in the snow. Neither of the women were clothed other than their night garments. Miss Hill, running from the roadhouse in terror that Mrs. Zimmerman would become lost, did not stop to don so much as a cloak. She found Mrs. Zimmerman after a search lasting three-quarters of an hour on the glacier.

“I didn’t dare leave the women,” said Miss Hill, “for if I went back for assistance I was afraid she might perish. For a few minutes I didn’t know what to do. If we stood still we would freeze to death and if we stayed out we might die of exposure. There was no telling how long whim would keep my patient from refusing to return.

“Finally, I succeeded in inducing her to walk back and forth on the glacier for three-quarters of an hour, until she became exhausted and was willing to return to the roadhouse.”

The remainder of the trip was made without incident.

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Early Travel to Morningside

Niesje Steinkruger sent this picture of the Valdez Stage. Her description is below. Keep in mind that the trail between Fairbanks and Valdez was 400 miles long.

Valdez Stage“This is  a good picture of the Valdez Stage.  Many patients travelled from Fairbanks and the Interior to Valdez  via this Stage.  It was a long, hard trip by Stage, Boat and Train to Morningside Hospital in Portland.  The patient was accompanied by a US Marshall. Sometimes the patient was transported with convicted criminals the Marshall was taking south.”

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News from Portland

Earlier this month, Eric Cordingley sent an update on his continuing work locating Morningside patient burial sites.

by Eric Cordingley

The weather here has finally turned to “regular” fall weather and we have lots of rain.  This means, of course, that the ground has finally softened up to uncover markers which I hope to do next weekend, weather allowing.

The virtual cemetery is nearing 400.  Check it out!

Riverview Abbey Mausoleum and Crematorium

A recent trip to Riverview Abbey revealed more sad news about former patients whose remains were sent there for cremation (paid for by the family) and then left.  At least 8 boxes of ashes were treated that way and later scattered in the woods behind the crematorium.  Some patients’ cremains were sent to relatives in other states, but for the most part, the ashes were left on the shelf of the crematorium until they were scattered by the staff.

The situation regarding the unclaimed cremains of Charles Marjanen at the Oregon State Hospital is still pressing.  It will be at least another two weeks before I can get to Salem to scan the death certificate.  I will send it out to the team when that happens.  Read More »

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Alaska Humanities Forum

The Alaska Humanities Forum recently funded a historical research project similar to ours. It’s called Bringing Aleutian History Home: the Lost Ledgers of the Alaska Commercial Company.  The project goal is to preserve newly discovered historical documents about the Aleutian Islands fur trade in the late 1800s. The following article is from the Alaska Humanities Forum blog.


AKHF Supports “Lost Ledgers” Project

The Alaska Humanities Forum is proud to support Bringing Aleutian History Home: the Lost Ledgers of the Alaska Commercial Company.

This new multimedia project by Anchorage-based journalist and historian J Pennelope Goforth preserves vital and fragile historical documents covering the Aleutian Islands fur trade in the late 1800s.

Goforth discovered them purely by chance in a Nordstrom shopping bag in a relative’s basement in Washington state.

Here’s the background:

Not long after the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, the Alaska Commercial Company, then a newly formed trading firm, launched extensive sea otter hunting operations in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.

As the only government-sanctioned business in Alaska, the ACC became the de facto civil authority in the frontier territory. It carried the mail, maintained customs records and dispensed food and aid in hard times. ACC managers and agents also kept meticulous ledgers of business and correspondence. Historians prize these rare written chronicles of the early years of U.S.-controlled Alaska. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Unfortunately, most ACC records for the Aleutian Islands either burned in the company’s San Francisco headquarters after the great earthquake of 1906, or were lost during the World War II occupation of the islands.

In particular no records from ACC trading posts in now-abandoned villages like Tchernofski and Makushin were thought to have survived.

That was, until Goforth peered into the long-forgotten shopping bag while organizing materials in her family member’s basement. “I saw the tops of several black bound ledgers, onion skin [paper], and then smaller red marbled page markings,” she said. Read More »

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McNeil Island Prison

During territorial days, US Federal Marshals in Alaska made regular trips South, first delivering prisoners to McNeil Island Prison in Washington, then taking patients to Morningside Hospital. Warren Gohl is part of a group attempting to locate the graves of Alaska Natives who died while serving sentences at McNeil Island.  Please leave a comment if you have any information or ideas for Warren

From Warren Gohl

[image title=”800px-McNeil_Island_Prison_-_NARA_-_299549″ size=”full” id=”1007″ align=”right” alt=”McNeil Island Prison circa 1890″ ]I  act in collaboration with the 13th Heritage Foundation which represents the 12 Alaskan Native Corporations in the lower 48 States and Hawaii. The foundation has initiated a  project:  “The Search”. This project has as its sole purpose  the discovery of the grave sites of  22 Alaskan Natives  sent to the Federal prison at McNeil Island, Pierce County, Washington between 1872 and 1951 (dates approximate), where they passed away  while serving their Federal prison sentences. Their passing at McNeil Island prison has been  confirmed through record reserarch at the National Archives, Sand Point, Seattle in 2011. However, their McNeil Island gravesite locations remain unknown in spite of considerable inquiry to agencies of the State of Washington who assumed control of the former Federal prison and co-located properties on McNeil Island following closure of the Federal prison in 1981. The 13th Heritage Foundation seeks the physical  location of the Alaskan Native grave sites in question so as to begin closure to the Alaskan Native families who lost track of their loved ones upon their incarceration under Federal custody and subsequent demise. Any guidance, assistance, advice, etc. you may provide is of great importance, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

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Albin August Hofsted (Hofstad)

Most of the patient information on the blog is from the National Archives II, in College Station, MD. The Department of the Interior (DOI) contracted with Morningside Hospital for the care of Alaskans judged to be “insane”.  Morningside submitted monthly reports to the DOI that were essentially invoices, which also included patient admission and discharge information, death and burial details, and diagnoses. Marylou Elton, our volunteer in Washington, DC, continues to dig into the records. We now have patient information for the years 1907 to 1915 and 1924 to 1951.

[image title=”Wrangell-1″ size=”full” id=”841″ align=”left” ]One name that appears over and over again is August Hofsted (Hofstad). He was born in 1884 in Vesteraalen, Norway to Peder Mortensen Hofstad and Hanna Pauline Albrigtsdtr. August emigrated from Bergen on November 1, 1901 when he was just 17 years old. It’s not clear how he got to Alaska, although it appears that he may have joined family members in Wrangell.

Less than 3 years after immigrating, August was at Morningside Hospital. He was committed from Juneau and admitted on August 10, 1907. He died there on March 3, 1949. I’m sure he was at Morningside longer than any other patient. The DOI records provide the following information:

His diagnosis in 1907 was “general epileptic, more or less demented: occasional outbreaks of frenzy. General health fair.” By 1924 he was described as, “Mentally enfeebled. Confused more or less. Stuporous condition. Vague.”

His condition continued to worsen. In 1933, his diagnosis was, “Dementia precox, catatonic form. Mute and inaccessible for many years. Tidy but idle. Attends to only elemental wants.” The records also indicate that there was no contact with family members.

Please contact me if you can provide more information about August’s life.

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Willard Asylum: Ovid, New York

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The Inmates of Willard: A Genealogy Resource

This blog is in preparation of a new genealogy resource book soon to be published about the Willard Asylum for the Insane and the first generation of Willard Inmates. It was written with genealogy geeks in mind. It is for those who want to glimpse the past, enjoy reading historical documents with little or no interpretation, and want to acquire basic knowledge about Willard in one resource without having to search the Internet to read hundreds of articles to understand what it was about. The most important feature of this book (and blog) is that it includes the names of over 4,000 inmates, something for which geeks are constantly searching. My personal interpretations and transcriptions of the names of the Inmates of Willard from U.S. Federal Censuses for the years 1870, 1880, and 1900, have been disseminated onto spreadsheets that the reader may find an ancestor more easily. The book is a collection of historical documents and laws of the time that tell the most accurate story of the people and politics surrounding the controversial Willard Asylum. Although this book deals with the specifics of Willard and its inmates, the laws, rules, and regulations applied to all county poor houses, city alms houses, and public and private mental institutions in the State of New York. The history of the treatment of the insane belongs to us all. Read More »

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