Up to 7,000 bodies may be buried on the campus of the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

If you are wondering whose bodies these are, they are former patients of Insane Asylum, the state’s first mental institution that opened in 1855.

Unique Mississippi Resource

Underground radar revealed that the coffins cover 20 acres inside the campus, where officials have intended to build, reported USA Today. But there’s a steep cost they have to face to exhume as well as rebury each body, which is $3,000 each or up to $21 million in total.

For UMMC, there’s a cheaper alternative available, which is to handle the exhumations on their own or at a price of $400,000 every year for eight years at a minimum.

The endeavor would also involve a memorial that will preserve the 7,000 remains and includes a visitors center and a laboratory for studying them and their clothing and coffin remnants.

“It would be a unique resource for Mississippi,” said associate professor Molly Zuckerman, adding it would make the state a national center offering a wealth of historical data on health in pre-modern times, specifically of institutionalized individuals.

The lab, according to Ralph Didlake of the campus’s Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, is likely the first of its kind in the United States, covering asylum history from the 1800s to the early 1900s.

Their group, dubbed the Asylum Hill Research Consortium, gathers archeologists, anthropologists, and historians to develop the initiative for an asylum memorial and visitors center.

Revisiting Asylum History

In 1855, the state’s first mental institution was completed after reform personality Dorothea Dix lobbied for the funding of its construction. It took $175,000 for the asylum to become a reality.

Prior to the asylum’s existence, there were grave conditions for mental health patients, who were chained and had a sizable number die, according to state board of health chair Luke Lampton.

The center eventually grew to shelter 300 patients and became known as Asylum Hill, where houses, a school, and a Baptist church for former slaves could be found. At its prime, the facility had about 6,000 patients, and employment was aplenty.

Mississippi moved the center in 1935 to its current location, the State Hospital at Whitfield. About 20 years later, UMMC construction started on that very hill.

It was in 2013 when campus officials found 66 coffins while building a road. The following year, they employed underground radar and discovered 1,000 coffins, where the numbers are now estimated to be as high as 7,000.

Didlake sees the project as a responsibility.

“We have inherited these patients. We want to show them care and respectful management,” he said.

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