• The story of Morningside Hospital is a civil rights story. Prior to statehood, there were no services available in the Territory of Alaska for individuals who experienced mental illness or developmental disabilities. At the time, mental illness was considered a crime. Alaskan adults and children were arrested, convicted of being insane, and sent by the federal government to live at Morningside Hospital in Portland, Oregon. They were taken from their families and communities by dog sled, train and boat. In the end, at least 3,500 Alaskans were sent to Morningside between 1904 and the 1960s, when Morningside was finally closed. Many were never heard from by their families again. These are the Lost Alaskans.

    The Lost Alaskans: The Morningside Hospital History Project is an effort by volunteer researchers to document the history of Morningside through territorial court records, national and state archives, vital statistics, genealogical and burial records, and interviews. Our goals are to have the Morningside story recognized as an important part of Alaska history and to provide information to families still searching for loved ones who disappeared decades ago.

Michael Carey: Suicide has long been an Alaska wilderness hazard

Interior-Aleutians Campus, University of Alaska

Nulato, Alaska

Michael Carey is the former editorial page editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He can be reached at mcarey@adn.com. He gave us permission to share his column.

Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” is one of the rare pieces of fiction set in the Gold Rush that continues to attract readers. In vivid economical prose, London rapidly tells the story of a greenhorn who freezes to death, alone except for his dog, on a remote Klondike trail. This is a tale of small mistakes at 50 below zero (or colder) following a profound failure of judgment. When the man leaves his warm cabin without recognizing the danger the cold presents, he is doomed.

London’s fiction is founded in fact. Men did freeze to death on Alaska trails, and not all of them were greenhorns. Territorial inquest records confirm this. But the hundreds of inquests in the State Archives in Juneau suggest suicide was more common than freezing to death. Clearly suicide constituted an occupational hazard to many men who trapped, mined, cut wood or otherwise supported themselves in the woods. My Dad, Fabian, who spent 30 years trapping, made a distinction between “trappers and misfits with trapping licenses.”

Of course we don’t know if suicides had emotional problems when they arrived in the woods or developed them while living there. Read More »

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In Vt., Long-dead Mental Patients Inspire Crusade

In this Thursday, March 28, 2013 photo, Rep. Anne Donahue looks at a memorial stone at the site of a Vermont State Hospital cemetery in Waterbury, Vt. Vermont mental health advocates are trying to decide what to do with the abandoned cemetery near the former State Hospital, which was forced to move by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

by Wilson Ring

WATERBURY, Vt. (AP April 1, 2013) — An all-but-forgotten cemetery and its dozens of long-dead patients of the forerunner of the Vermont State Hospital are reaching from beyond their hillside graves to help modernize state law regulating what happens when someone dies and no one claims the remains.

The issue emerged from the shadows of history because of Tropical Storm Irene, which more than a year ago inundated the hospital complex, destroyed many old patient records and rendered the complex unusable. As plans were made for a new hospital, some feared the cemetery was in danger of being forgotten again.

“Somehow it felt incredibly important to give those people back the dignity of their identity,” said state Rep. Anne Donahue, a Republican from Northfield and longtime advocate for the mentally ill. “I wanted to find out who was here.” Read More »

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“Insanity Raging”

Thursday, October 25, 1906
Fairbanks Evening News

Man Being Brought From Richardson Is the Third Case Which Has Developed Within Past Three Weeks

Marshal Perry is in receipt of a telegram from Richardson, stating that two men, Maher and Espy by name, left the Tenderfoot town yesterday with an Insane person in charge, who will be kept here until there is some improvement in his condition or otherwise, until he can be sent outside to Mount Tabor (the early name for Morningside Hospital).

This is the third case of insanity which has developed in the Tanana during the past three weeks. Jack Spencer was brought up from Gibbon and tried before Commissioner Erwln, and, although he was discharged, the general opinion appeared to be that he was a fit subject for the wheelhouse, unless he could be kept away from the Influence of hootch. Jack was Interdicted by the Jury which tried his case, or a recommendation was made to that effect.

The case of Mrs. Black is hardly a week old. Mrs. Black, the mother of a family at Gibbon, went violently Insane at that place, and the commissioner there having no jurisdiction to try the case, the afflicted woman is now on her way to Rampart, where she will be held awaiting some improvement in her condition or until her case is dispensed of by Commissioner Green.

Commissioner Hedger has already dispensed of the case of the patient at Richardson, but there being no place at that point where such cases can be properly handled, It was thought best to send the Insane person to Fairbanks. The name of the man is not known here, the Richardson commissioner having failed to mention it in his various dispatches.

Posted in 1900-1929, Media Coverage, Patient Stories | Leave a comment

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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Lawrence Ross 1921 – 2012

Brother and uncle, Lawrence Joseph Ross, 91, died Sunday, July 22, 2012, at Denali Center where he had lived for the past 39 years.

Born in Ruby, on March 26, 1921, to Charles F. Ross, of Stockholm, Sweden, and Emma A. (Alexander) Ross, of Anvik, Lawrence recalled being raised by “the doctor” because of early diagnosis of polio. As Emma’s ninth child, he remembered all his siblings and extended family well, having lived along the Yukon River until 1955.

Lawrence began institutional living at Morningside Hospital in Portland, Ore., at age 34. He also lived in facilities in Anchorage and Valdez before moving permanently to Fairbanks in 1973 to be closer to his sister, Edith.

His career as a janitor began in the days when he used to keep the Pioneer Hall in Ruby clean. Quite a storyteller, he would recount housekeeping chores he did at Harborview in Valdez. His jobs at Denali Center included picking up laundry, wiping down tables and handrails, and checking to make sure that office doors were locked after hours. Read More »

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Morningside Hospital in 1964

Eric Cordingley of Portland emailed a very interesting article from the Oregonian about Morningside Hospital. Written in 1964, the article spotlighted Morningside as an example of new approaches to institutional care.

I was surprised by a number of things in the article:

  • Morningside was the largest private psychiatric hospital if the West Coast
  •  135 Alaskans, many of whom were Alaska Natives, were still patients
  • Nearly a third of the patients were children, most of whom were developmentally disabled

The treatment philosophy (therapeutic community) described in the article is rather forward-thinking for 1964. The article noted that Morningside looked more like a farm than a hospital, there were no uniforms for the patients or staff, patients were encouraged to participate in education/work and recreation, and the goal for most patients was self-sufficiency and discharge.

You can read the whole article here: [Download not found]

Posted in 1950-1960s | Leave a comment

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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Portland Volunteers Featured in the Oregonian

The Oregonian published a wonderful story about Eric Cordingley and David Anderson’s work locating Morningside Hospital patient graves in Portland. The story, Researchers dig to find what became of Morningside Hospital patients, Alaska’s mentally ill, provides a great description of their research methods and includes a video where they talk about why they’re so committed to locating graves. Congratulations, guys! You’re the best.

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Gustav “Gus” Berglund 1881-1956

Lina Olafsson lives in Stockholm, Sweden,  and recently discovered that her grandfather was sent to Morningside Hospital when he was a young man. She kindly provided the following story and photos.

By Lina Olofsson

My mother died last year, leaving a box with an old diary, some pictures and old letters from my grandfather.

Gus Berglund, seated on the right

Gus Berglund, seated on the right

My grandfather, Gus Berglund, was born in 1881. He lived in the little mining town  – Malmberget  – in the north of Sweden, just about 100 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. He came from a large family, with three sisters and six brothers. His father and the older brothers worked as iron-ore miners.

At the age of 27, my grandfather Gus immigrated to Canada with one of his younger brothers – Conrad – and four of their friends. They arrived to Quebec on the Empress of Ireland on May 1, 1909. Their brother Erik had emigrated some years before, and was living in Spokane, Washington with his young wife and a son. Their sister Elin emigrated some months after my grandfather, and she settled in Vancouver, Canada with her husband and four children.

1917 Letter to Morningside Hospital

1917 Letter to Morningside Hospital

From 1910 to 1914, the two brothers, Gus and Erik Berglund, worked together in different railway camps in the Spokane-Seattle-Vancouver-area. Sometimes together – sometimes apart.

My grandfather kept a diary during the first years in Canada and United States, where he wrote some short notes about the different jobs. But the last note is dated 1914, and there are no letters after that time saved between the siblings in Canada and their family in Sweden.

But I found a [Download not found] from February 1917, written by a brother in Sweden to Doctor J. W. Luckey at Morningside Hospital, asking about my grandfather Gus. He had heard that Gus had been admitted at Morningside, but the family was worried and could not get in contact with him at the hospital.

Gus Berglund, standing left

Gus Berglund, standing left

The patient records I found from Morningside state that my grandfather Gus Berglund was admitted from Knik on May 8, 1916. His diagnosis was, “Catatonia, Silent, uncommunicative, Morose”. About a year later , on June 7, 1917,  he was discharged to Seattle where his brother Conrad was living with his family.

Gus probably went Alaska, to build the Alaskan railway, which was constructed at that time in the area of Knik. He probably lived in the Wasilla railway camp with his brother Eric when he was taken ill. Or maybe he went to Alaska for the gold? I probably never will find out what happened to my grandfather Gus in Alaska.

After First World War grandfather Gus returned to Sweden. From 1923 to 1932 he was building railways in the north of Sweden.

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Mamie Ball

[image title=”nome_1900″ size=”full” id=”1117″ align=”right” ]The city of Nome was founded on April 9, 1901. By the end of the decade, there were 20,000 residents, most of whom were starry-eyed optimists convinced they were going to strike gold on the beaches of Norton Sound.

Mamie Ball and her husband Harry were two of the gold-seekers. Harry died in 1927 but Mamie lived in Nome until she was committed to Morningside in 1941.

Her death certificate was among those posted on the Records Archive earlier this month. It’s interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, there was a note written on the back of the Oregon Death certificate that detailed her death soon after her arrival in Portland.

[image title=”Ball, Mamie Note 2″ size=”full” id=”1124″ align=”center” ]

The other interesting aspect is that there are two death certificates, one from Oregon and the other from Washington. It appears that the Oregon certificate, filled out soon after her death, was corrected by Eliza Scott, her sister. Mrs. Scott lived in Seattle and took Mamie’s body there for burial. Apparently, the Washington death certificate was needed to do that. The death certificates and note can be found here. [Download not found].

Posted in 1930-1949, Patient Stories | Leave a comment