Gone and Once Forgotten; Unidentified Remains Exhumed

Published 03/24 2014 06:15PM

Updated 03/24 2014 06:30PM

After a year of careful planning, crews hired by the City of Evansville begin exhuming the remains of more than two-dozen people buried on the State Hospital grounds more than a century ago.

The painstaking, meticulous work is necessary in order to make way for a $2.3 million pedestrian bridge slated to be built near the intersection of Vann Ave. and the Lloyd Expressway, said City Engineer Pat Keepes. Because the project uses federal money, city officials consulted state and federal officials on what to do with the remains.

"While it's not unheard of, it's a first for me," Keepes said. "We did adjust our design to minimize [the footprint of the project] because we did not want to disturb more historical resources than absolutely necessary."

Void of any identity, they are the nameless remains of some 30 men, women and children; people that history long forgot. Historians believe they were patients at the State Hospital more than 100 years ago.

"Personally, it's somewhat sad that these are unmarked graves," Keepes said. "Nobody knows who these individuals were but these are somebody's relatives."

After they are exhumed and processed, the remains will be buried at Oak Hill Cemetery, Superintendent Chris Cooke said. Cooke said he consulted the Indiana Cemetery Association in order to ensure the city was following the letter of the law.

"We sought a section in Section O where we had enough space in one block that we could get every body in one single area," Cooke said. "We had enough unsold graves in this area that it made sense to have it here."

The future final resting place of those people once buried on the State Hospital grounds will feature a marker that pays tribute to the people buried there. Most importantly, Cooke said, it will provide dignity to those who remain unidentified.

 "Regardless of whether they are identified or unidentified, everybody that hits the gate at the city cemeteries, it's always about families," Cooke said. "We put those families first whether they are known or unknown. Everybody gets the treatment of respect and dignity regardless of whether we know who they are or not."

The exhumations will continue for the next few weeks, Keepes said. Construction on the pedestrian bridge should begin early next year.

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