CENTRAL STATE HOSPITAL CEMETERY PROJECT
March 2, 2021: We continue to hear from concerned citizens about the legality of what’s happened in the CSH cemetery. We are also very upset about the situation and appreciate hearing your concerns, but our understanding, as explained to us by the Indiana DNR Division of Historic Preservation & Archaeology (DHPA), is that no laws have been broken.
DHPA explained that the laws that would make these actions illegal for most property owners do not apply to the City and certain other exempted entities. Because the land on which the cemetery sits is owned by the City of Indianapolis’ Department of Metropolitan Development and leased to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, we have been advised that nothing can be done to hold either party accountable or to prevent this from happening again.
DNR has not issued an official statement, but questions and concerns about this incident or about cemetery laws, what they mean, and to whom or what entities they apply can be directed to DHPA Director Beth McCord at firstname.lastname@example.org.
November 24, 2020: We have a heartbreaking update to share about recent incidents in the Central State Hospital Cemetery, Section I. Click here to read the update.
In the last few years, we at the Indiana Medical History Museum have made a point of expanding our interpretive focus beyond the science and technology that our history represents, beyond the doctors and administrators who worked at the Pathological Department and at Central State Hospital, and beyond the architecture of our historic building, to draw more attention to the patients themselves and their experiences.
Those other things are important, and we haven't abandoned them. But we recognize that they are only part of the story. What was obviously missing were the patients themselves. These are the people for whom the hospital existed and for whom many of the administrators, medical staff, attendants, etc. worked very hard to help throughout the hospital's long history. And they are the people who unfortunately felt the brunt of the negative side of that history when things went wrong- through lack of funds or misappropriation of funds, lack of training for staff, lack of understanding of mental diseases or how to treat them, the weight of stigma and isolation, lack of empathy on the part of some staff, and unfortunately too commonly sometimes even abuse and neglect.
In 2014, we and our partners unveiled a new monument in Sections II, III, and IV of Central State Hospital's cemetery, which is now cut off from the former grounds of the hospital on the west side of Tibbs Ave. south of Mount Jackson Cemetery. A brick sign once listed the names and plots of each of the 500+ patients who were buried there beginning in 1905. The sign was falling apart, and many of the names had fallen off of it. IMHM’s Lois Allis conducted extensive research at that time to re-identify each of the patients buried at the site, ensure that the plot numbers were right, and correct misspellings in the names. Our friends at Flanner & Buchanan commissioned a new granite monument and had each of the names engraved on it. And the community rallied to help clean up the neglected and overgrown cemetery.
We are very proud of this work, but Section I of the cemetery, still occupying land on the northwest corner of the former grounds was left out of this project for a variety of reasons beyond our control. Now that the land falls into the lease area of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's Mounted Horse Patrol, we now have an opportunity to memorialize the patients buried in Section I and finally show them the respect that they deserve.
There are no surviving markers in this section of the cemetery, and records of these burials there no longer exist. We can use ground-penetrating radar to located burial sites within the cemetery boundaries. We are conducting research at the Indiana Archives to, in a round about way, find out who is buried in that section. It may be that we can only discover who is buried (or likely buried) in the cemetery but not in which plot they are buried. We may never know the identities of everyone buried in Section I, but we can at least determine where someone is buried and mark those graves with a marker and erect a monument on the site to pay respect to and memorialize all of the patients who lie there in rest, forgotten and isolated in life but now...finally...acknowledged and appreciated more than a century after their passing.
ABOVE: Section I of the CSH Cemetery in January of 2020
ABOVE: View toward the north end of the CSH Cemetery Section II-IV, in the summer of 2007
ABOVE: The brick monument with names of those buried in Sections II-IV in the summer of 2007; it's hard to see here, but the many of the plastic plaques with the patient names and locations were broken or had fallen off the sign into the bottom
ABOVE: The beautiful new granite monument provided by Flanner & Buchanan with the names and locations of each patient buried in Section II-IV engraved on it