Sykesville hospital to hold memorial for past patients

Today's service to include tribute to 1800s farmers

May 24, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

As it has done for several decades, Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville will hold a memorial service today for nearly 1,000 patients lying in unmarked graves at a cemetery known as Sunny Side.

In addition to those patients, the service at 1:30 p.m. also will pay homage to 14 men, women and children whose remains were found five years ago during construction of the state's driver training course for law enforcement officers. The course is part of a $45 million police-training center, which should be completed next year on former hospital property. In addition to the driving course, the center includes a shooting range, dormitories and classrooms that will train up to 500 officers a week.

With the discovery of the remains in February 1997, the project stopped. The state hired a New Jersey archaeological company to study the site and search for related artifacts.

"Whenever we find anything of historical significance, we have to do a study," said Philip Townsend, project manager at the state Department of General Services.

After more than two months of painstaking excavation, the archaeologists found coffin hardware, fragments of hair, scraps of cloth, a rusty pinhead and were able to date the gravesite to between 1790 and 1825. The people interred there most likely were tenant farmers, the study showed. Springfield was built in 1896 on farmland known as Brown's Inheritance.

"Skeletal evidence showed these were people who were subjected to heavy labor and we had historical data that there were farmers working in this area," Townsend said.

The Smithsonian Institution participated in the study and completed an analysis of the bones that determined 12 of the bodies were adults between the ages of 30 and 40 and two were children. No further identification was possible. The Smithsonian returned the remains to the hospital in a concrete vault a few weeks ago.

"There was nothing of historical value and not enough to be preserved at a museum," Townsend said.

The hospital has a copy of the archaeology report, which includes details of the study and many drawings of the artifacts. The state will provide a copy to Sykesville's Gate House Museum of History, which houses many of town's artifacts.

The remains along with several artifacts found at the original gravesite were reburied last week at Sunny Side, in two plots beneath a single large marker -- the first burials in more than 40 years.

"Our goal is to place a plaque at the gravesite, indicating the remains have been relocated there and referencing the archaeological document," Townsend said.

A few state officials are expected to attend the memorial service today for the tenant farmers who worked the land where the state police training facility stands today.

"We know a lot of research went into this and we want to remember these people along with our patients," said Betty Jean Maus, director of volunteer services at the hospital.

From about 1899 until 1961, destitute patients whose bodies were unclaimed by families were interred in the cemetery, buried beneath a numbered stone marker with no room for a name or years of life. Hospital records list the names that match most of the numbers. Until last week, no new graves have been added to the neat rows of small stones at Sunny Side.

The state hospital for the mentally ill often cared for up to 3,000 patients and had little money for burials. The hospital could not provide coffins and wrapped the deceased in coroner's bags. The tenant farmers, probably as poor as the patients, had wooden coffins and the report contains several sketches of those.

The Rev. Clayton Briley, hospital chaplain, will conduct the service as he has for several years.

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