Experts believe up to 7,000 bodies are buried under a university campus in Jackson, Mississippi. The bodies, believed to be buried under the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus, are former patients of the state’s first mental institution. The mental institution, which was called both the Insane Asylum and the Mississippi Lunatic Asylum, was built in 1855.
According to USA Today, underground radar shows that the coffins of patients stretch across 20 acres of the campus. School officials have wanted to build over some of these acres but now face $3,000 to exhume and rebury each body if they decide to construct. According to the report, it could cost as much as $21 million. The school is considering a cheaper alternative: handling those exhumations in-house, which would cost an estimated $400,000 a year for at least eight years. If University of Mississippi Medical school goes that route, they would create a memorial that would preserve the remains. The school claims they would also build a visitors center and a lab that could be used to study the remains.
Ralph Didlake, who oversees UMMC’s Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, said the lab would be the first of its kind in the nation and it could give researchers insight into life in an 1800s and early 1900s asylum.
The asylum was Mississippi’s first mental institution. Before it was built, those suffering from mental illness were chained in jails and attics, said Luke Lampton, chairman of the state board of health. But, the asylum was no paradise either. According to the report, of the 1,376 patients admitted between 1855 and 1877, more than one in five would die. At its height, the asylum had about 6,000 patients. Mississippi moved its location in the 1930s to its present location of the State Hospital at Whitfield.
In 2013, University of Mississippi Medical officials found 66 coffins while constructing a road on the 164-acre campus. When the school started building a parking garage in 2014, underground radar revealed 1,000 coffins. Now, the university has discovered that thousands more are under the campus.