Writing about Western State Hospital last week , we mentioned that "Untold mistakes and mysteries are buried there," referring to the mental institution's overgrown graveyard.

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Grave Markers for Western's Dead

Writing about Western State Hospital last week, we mentioned that "Untold mistakes and mysteries are buried there," referring to the mental institution's overgrown graveyard. The mysteries - how, exactly, some patients died in the past - will remain interred, but at least some of the names are being unearthed. As Kathleen Merryman writes in the News Tribune:

For 77 years, patients who died at Western State Hospital were buried in graves marked only by numbers stamped in bricks of cement. It wasn't about money. It was about shame. And it was about the law. The state sought to protect families from the stigma of their relatives' mental illness by barring state psychiatric hospitals from putting names on the graves. Five years ago, the volunteers of Grave Concerns Association persuaded the Legislature to lift that ban. Ever since, they have been restoring the Western State Hospital Historic Cemetery. They have a solid start on honoring the 3,218 buried there. To date, they have installed 120 individual markers bearing names and birth and death dates. They've placed another 500 markers over the site where 500 patients' cremated remains were buried.

And this Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon, the group will dedicate the first 30 of 50 new markers at Fort Steilacoom Park. They managed this recognition project without state money, raising funds from donations, bulb sales and the occasional grant. Merryman, who reports that members of Grave Concerns have had their own mental issues, including treasurer Rosemary Chaput, adds this personal note: "Chaput, who, like me, has clinical depression, explains how modern drugs have saved her life. For her and others, shedding the stigma is a joyful crusade."

 
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