EVENT NOTICE: For those in the Reno area, Nevada Disability Advocacy & Law Center is co-sponsoring their second annual mental health awareness day. This will be on May 18th beginning at 8:30 a.m. Part of the event will involve pulling weeds at the historic cemetery and doing other needed landscape maintenance.
If you live in the area, your help would be greatly appreciated. If you can assist, please identify yourselves as Friends of the cemetery.
We are getting close to the first anniversary of this beautiful new memorial and newly designated historic cemetery. It was dedicated on January 21, 2011. According to those who visit regularly, the cemetery and monument are being treated with the respect deserved. It will now require the vigilance of families and the community over the years to be sure it never reverts back to the disgraceful condition we discovered a few years ago.
Updated April 13, 2011
Check out this video by author Dennis Cassinelli. Episode 1 features the hospital cemetery memorial.
Last Updated February 20, 2011 The Guest Register for the historic cemetery dedication has been added to our website. Just click the link above entitled "Dedication Guest Register". Again, we thank all who took time to attend this ceremony.
Following the dedication, we received a very nice note from NAMI thanking the Friends group for supporting this cause on behalf of these former mentally ill patients. The fact that former hospital patients in this cemetery had been treated so badly while others were not is, after all, what this was about.
The Friends group encourages all to support local mental health causes in any way they can. If you click on the button above "Resources/Links" you will find a link to the hospital's website.
The dedication of this new historic cemetery was held January 21, 2011. Please click on the link above entitled "Dedication Ceremony". A speakers' list has been posted as well as a link to photos of the ceremony.
Here is a link to the story about the dedication on KOLO TV
The relocation of the small cemetery has been completed. All of the graves were exhumed and reinterred into the main historic cemetery. This was handled very professionally and respectfully with an archaeologist present.
The fencing is nearly completed and the monument will be installed soon.
News will be posted here once the date is known for the dedication ceremony.
Follow this story in the latest article to appear in the Reno Gazette Journal
Bones Discovered July 15, 2010 (and also earlier in the month) - KOLO-TV, Channel 8 in Reno, ran the story of the discovery of bones within 21st Street adjacent to the cemetery. Even though the City of Sparks and the Hospital each had experience unearthing bones in and adjacent to 21st St. in the past, they have learned no lessons. This link is to the Channel 8's coverage:
Click on the link to the right to see the results of the State Public Works Board Historic Cemetery Status Report. It includes an update on what is happening at the cemetery, maps and photos, information about the Ground Penetrating Radar Survey, proposed style of headstones for the 32 graves to be relocated, a photo of a proposed monument honoring the over 600 former patients, and fencing to be installed at the cemetery. The project schedule is included along with the project budget and information about the MHDS webpage.
CEMETERY UPDATE: The play equipment and fencing from the park have been removed and temporary signs have been installed by the State. The Proposed Master Plan and Improvements will be presented on February 2, 2010 at approximately 1:30 PM at the Interim Finance Committee (IFC) meeting.
The following photos of the temporary cemetery signs and current condition of the cemetery were provided by Arline Laferry.
(click on photo to enlarge) Flowers/Photo by Arline Laferry MEMORIAL WEEKEND 2009
SB 256 was signed by Governor Gibbons on May 22, 2009 Click on "Legislature 2009" above for a full text of the Bill.
Today, Saturday, May 16, 2009, the Nevada Senate voted on SB 256. It was ordered enrolled. On behalf of all the families and constituents who have encouraged the Legislature to draft and pass this Bill, we thank every member of the Senate and Assembly who voted for this Historic Cemetery.
Our thanks especially go to Senator Mathews and Assemblywoman Smith for sponsoring this Bill. They, along with Senator Coffin, stepped up immediately to do the right thing when the condition of this cemetery was brought to their attention.
The members of the Legislature who voted for this Bill can be very proud today for doing their part to save a part of Nevada's history.
Then and Now
The cemetery in 2008
Photo Courtesy of University of Nevada School of Medicine
RESTORATION, PRESERVATION AND MEMORIALIZATION OF THE CEMETERY AT THE OLD NEVADA INSANE ASYLUM (now Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services), at the corner of 21st and North in Sparks, Nevada
"The dead can't speak, but if we listen closely we can hear their voices and stories in the cemeteries and graveyards where they are buried."
"These cemeteries remind us of the settlements that built them and the people who rest within them. They are among Nevada's historic treasures, and they must be preserved so their stories can be passed along." (Senator Harry Reid in Alkali Angels, by Marilyn Newton.)
The stories this cemetery might tell could be stories of horror, but may also help us to find and notify descendant family members of the final outcomes of the lives of their lost ancestors.
As many as 600 or more former patients, including Veterans and Native Americans, have been identified on the burial list and every person deserves to be remembered.
The issues and atrocities of this cemetery date back to its founding in 1882. Neglect and desecration at the Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services Cemetery have continued through many generations. Between 1882 and 1949 many patients found the hospital cemetery to be their final home. Plots were filled with souls who had lived tormented lives and in death were never granted the decency of a tranquil resting place and connection with their families.
The current generation of hospital administrators and politicians were not responsible for the history of the cemetery. They do, however, find themselves in a position to make some amends by providing a new future for the residents of the cemetery and their families. We hope to work together to provide the hospital with constructive ideas and supplemental private funds to help restore the dignity and respect the people buried at this cemetery deserve.
The face of this cemetery might well be represented by Cora Wilcox Clark. Cora was the daughter of the well-known Wilcox family of Carson City. Her father, George Wilcox, was a Civil War veteran and a Mayflower passenger descendant. Cora led the usual life of the times, marrying young and having a family. Her life changed when her husband had her committed to the State Hospital in 1917. The reason given to her family was that he could not get along with her.
Cora would spend the next 25 years of her life at the State Hospital during some of the worst times of its history. Her family always corresponded with her and sent money for her clothing and other needs. They were never told to stop sending money for her care, but on a visit they were told she had previously "vanished". A death certificate was obtained a few years later showing that she died at the hospital in 1943 and was buried in the hospital cemetery. Cora had family in Carson City and her father, mother and brothers are all buried at Lone Mountain Cemetery. At the time of her death, the law required that family be notified. A death notice was to be published in a local paper. Neither of these things was done for Cora so her children were unable to bury her with her family according to their wishes. As was the custom at this hospital, and others across the country, she was buried on hospital grounds in the manner fitting an indigent as defined by the State of Nevada.
On the day of her death in 1943, her troubled life may have given way to a peaceful eternal rest, but the treatment and respect given to her remains was another story.
Nevada Insane Asylum Early 1900s, Courtesy of Nevada Historical Society
The State Hospital in Sparks was in a very isolated area in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was a working farm where the "inmates" raised animals and grew their own food. Burial procedures were most likely a do-it-yourself operation at the direction of the hospital administrators at that time.
There are hundreds of human remains at this cemetery. The current list from the Preservation Office shows just under 600 names, but several years of records are missing. Current estimates have the number around 600 or more. The boundaries of the cemetery extend as far north as the City of Sparks Maintenance Building at the corner of 21st and Fraser, west to the new Agriculture Building, south to North Street and the eastern boundary extended well beyond 21st Street toward Hymer. Record keeping was minimal and grave markers seemed at the whim of administrators of the times. A few graves had markers but most had none.
Robert Hope, a Civil War Veteran, was buried in March 1889. The grave of this Veteran is now lost forever.
In 1897, the body of S.W. Thomas was kept in the morgue so long his body was in an advanced stage of decomposition. The reason given was "because no funerals are permitted at the Hospital in the day time while patients are about the grounds." Burials were done at night often by inmates.
Throughout the years, the cemetery at this Nevada hospital has suffered neglect and horrendous acts. There are eyewitness accounts of the excavation of the asylum ditch through the hospital property in 1945. Those accounts tell of bodies being dredged from their graves by a dragline with body parts strewn about, of skulls being taken home and gold teeth removed. This work was proposed by the City of Sparks and approved by the hospital Superintendent. The project was contracted to Isbell Construction. There are accounts of watching workers dig graves too shallow, burying bodies in cardboard refrigerator boxes then jumping on the boxes to get the box to fit the hole before covering the grave.
In subsequent years, this desecration took another form in the name of progress. On March 28, 1949 the Nevada Legislature passed Assembly Bill No. 357. Section 3524.01 stated "it is hereby made the specific duty of the board of commissioners of the Nevada hospital for mental diseases to abolish the use of any cemeteries now located on the hospital grounds." There were apparently no provisions made for the care of the graves previously placed in the cemeteries.
Over the years, a road was constructed over part of the cemetery as well as a fire station (which is now the City of Sparks Maintenance Building). When 21st Street and North Street were constructed, bones discovered were moved to an "upper cemetery". When North Street was put in it was discovered that patients had been buried in tiers, three deep. Some bodies at that time were moved to a cemetery on Virginia Street above the University.
In 1959 the State, knowing this was a cemetery, leased the City of Sparks the land for Pinion Park. This was just ten years after the hospital "abolished" the use of the cemetery. Throughout the next few years, the City and volunteer groups, including the Sparks 20-30 Club, the Army Reserve, Parks and Recreation Commissions, and the Sparks Outreach Society, laid 300 yards of topsoil, installed sprinklers, fences, and installed a play structure. The park is on top of the known cemetery.
In 1977, 19 coffins were hit by a road grader. Even though the cemetery was not to be used any longer according to the 1949 law, the coffins were reburied in another location within the cemetery, making this an active cemetery.
In 2005 the Legislature approved a $91 million increase in the mental health budget, with plans for building a $4 million kitchen and a plan to renovate the site. Newspaper articles told of an estimated 40 graves north of the area of the proposed building. Newspaper articles quoted concerned politicians discussing the uproar that might be caused by moving the graves and musing over how someone would feel if a member of someone's family was buried there.
A member of someone's family is buried there. Cora is a perfect example. In fact, hundreds of families have someone buried there. Many families undoubtedly do not even know their family member is at the hospital cemetery.
There is a distinct difference between coming across an old archaeological site, such as finding a few bones while building a highway in the middle of nowhere, and desecrating a known publicly administered cemetery.During the former, it is totally acceptable and necessary to identify and relocate human remains when they are initially unknown and discovered.When this is a known, well-documented cemetery, however, there should be no planned projects on or in the cemetery, and work should be stopped if remains are encountered, not necessarily just by law, but by any standards of human decency.
This cemetery is not an old archaeological site just “discovered.”It contains graves of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, cousins, grandparents, and great-grandparents of people living today, many of whom have yet discovered that the graves of their ancestors may have been desecrated or obliterated with no record of their present location.
The families of patients at the hospital entrusted the State of Nevada to care for their loved ones and this included an expectation that they would receive a decent burial (not one conducted during the dark of night so no patients would see someone being buried; not denied a religious service if so desired; not buried in cardboard boxes and jumped on by inmates; not dug up by excavation equipment; not dug up by road graders, reburied then dug up again; not left unidentified so families can never visit graves; not moved to other cemeteries when the graves are inconvenient; not used as a dog park, playground, or office buildings.)
These patients, who got no respect from the community and many times from the hospital itself, were, at the very least, entitled to a FINAL RESTING place; not a place later considered portable at the whim of the then-current hospital administration.The remains of these patients, all 600 of them, are entitled to the same respect given to any other person buried in a local cemetery. We are working with the State to see that they are properly honored.
RIGHTING THE WRONGS AND MOVING FORWARD
Nothing will ever change the wrongs that have been done to those buried in this cemetery, beginning with the disrespectful burials, and including the excavation of the ditch, the road and other projects.
Our group, working with the State, hopes to raise funds, and provide volunteers to accomplish some of the following:
1. Encourage the State to restore and preserve any artifacts, records, monuments, headstones, and grave markers of the cemetery .
2. Encourage the State to Install a sign(s) to designate this as an historic cemetery.
3. Check all the names of those buried there to determine who were Civil War, Spanish American War or WWI Veterans. To date, we have identified one Spanish American War Veteran and several Civil War Veterans. All of our Veterans should be properly honored.
4. Consult with the State regarding the installation of a memorial with the names of those buried in this cemetery. 5.Publish historical information regarding patient deaths and burials for use by genealogists and historians.
6. With the consent of the State, develop a brochure for placement at the cemetery that will inform and educate the public about the history of the Nevada Insane Asylum (now Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services) and the cemetery.
7. Provide research on the cemetery and asylum to historic agencies within the State.
Many hospital cemeteries across the country are being rededicated by placing memorial stones with names replacing numbers, planting gardens with walkways, installing fountains and supplying benches for reflecting. Our vision is to leave the main cemetery basically undisturbed, but fenced, and have a memorial placed within Pinion Park to honor the dead. This would provide a place for families to pay their respects and information for researchers. Many of the items for such cemetery renovation can come from generous donations from the community and do not need to be at a large cost. What is needed is just the will to get it done.
On another hospital cemetery project it was said by someone "Society has more respect for a pet cemetery than was evidenced by the abused and neglected human graves." Restoring this cemetery will send a message of apology for past wrongs and provide a positive message for the future of mental health care.
SAVING THE PAST SUPPORTS A COMMUNITY
There are some who question preserving any cemetery. Restoring this and other historic cemeteries not only honors those there, it also benefits a community as a whole. In addition to preserving and honoring those from our past, work at this cemetery and others requires the services of fencing contractors, landscape companies, monument companies, concrete companies, and it requires graphic artists, printers, computers, sign makers, materials from local building centers, etc.
There is no negative to a community restoring and preserving a historic cemetery and saving a piece of our past.
All known burials are being posted with indepth biographical information and transcripts of newspaper articles on www.findagrave.com under "Nevada," "Northern Nevada Mental Health Cemetery." This is an ongoing process as information is provided by researchers and families.