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Eastern State Hospital Preservation Project Lexington, KY

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By Phil Tkacz/President

In 2006 our group was founded by Bruce Burris, who had stumbled across the cemetery at Eastern State Hospital several years earlier. At that time the grass was almost as high as the fence and very little was known about it’s history. It turns out this was not the original cemetery. For some of the souls buried here, they had been moved & reinterred at least 3 times. Records concerning where they were originally buried or even who is buried there, are long gone.

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Since our project started, we have speculated there might be as many as 10,000 unmarked graves throughout the cemetery property. This number is based on the age of the institution, it opened in 1824. Along with the fact other hospitals have that many if not more burials and they havent been in operation as long as Eastern State. To this day, the state has not said that number would be unrealistic.

Unmarked graves have been found. In 2005 digging for a waterline project, 11 graves from the mid-1800s were discovered behind the main building. This past spring another 170 were found in the same area under a road. These graves were found as the hospital undergoes it’s transistion from psychiatric hospital to a community college. Many more will likely be found as construction continues.

Originally the main goal of our group was to make sure the cemetery was maintained. Once we started getting requests from relatives looking for information on family members that were buried there, we realised we had an added mission to our project. Mary Hatton, a retired nurse that once worked at ESH, has been the main source of help for relatives with her genealogy work. The state will not release any files to us but arraingments can be made for family to request copies of what might still exist. Sadly, sometimes the wait is a very long one for them. We have filed open records request in order to view files that might help identify those buried there, but to date we have been denied.

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We have made progress, including a new fence, landscaping for the cemetery and plans to erect a memorial there that would list the names of all those buried there. That would be an ongoing process considering finding names is a difficult task. Mostly by going through death certificates one-by-one.

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Unfortunately this isnt the only such case in Kentucky, or for that case, the country. Western State and Central State Hospitals and the former Frankfort State School (Hospital) all have cemeteries with no or very few marked graves. Hopefully in the future our group will be able to start identifying patients buried there as well.

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