Maryland's dying shame

Unmarked graves: Effort to restore dignity to former mental patients deserves state help.

May 22, 2001

NO MATTER how deeply buried, truth rises sooner or later.

A half-century ago, The Evening Sun reported how the state mental hospital in Crownsville housed its patients in dirty, overcrowded conditions, warehousing them rather than providing proper therapy.

Last week, Sun reporter Jackie Powder revealed that the hospital mistreated them in death, too, burying them in unmarked graves identified by numbers instead of names.

A final insult to as many as 3,000 people who were cast aside as "feeble-minded, idiots and imbeciles" and sent to the facility once called the Hospital for the Negro Insane.

According to the story, a group is, however, attempting to unearth the past and identify those buried at the cemetery.

Members led by Brewer Hill Cemetery Association president George Phelps Jr. never will discover who was buried in exactly which grave, but they want to scour death certificates and compile a computer database and build a monument to the dead.

The group should not have to undertake this worthwhile endeavor alone. The state of Maryland -- in whose care the patients were placed -- should help unearth their identities and write an appropriate epitaph to this sorry, shameful chapter in its past.

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