Remains of 20 to 30 people found on Eastern State grounds

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comJanuary 20, 2011 

Construction workers dug on the grounds of Eastern State Hospital in January after remains of people thought to be Eastern State Hospital residents in the 1800s were found on the grounds.

PABLO ALCALA | STAFF

The remains of 20 to 30 people thought to be Eastern State Hospital residents in the 1800s have been found on the hospital grounds where the new Bluegrass Community and Technical College will be built, officials said Wednesday.

Similar remains in unmarked graves were found on the state mental hospital's grounds in 2005.

The remains most recently found are believed to be patients of the hospital from 1840 to 1860, said David Pollack, the director of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey.

"Some of them could be mass graves, but we really don't know much about them," Pollack said.

No exhumation of the remains will take place before March, said Cindy Lanham, a spokeswoman for the Finance and Administration Cabinet.

Eastern State, one of the nation's oldest mental hospitals, agreed in 2008 to move from Newtown Pike to a new facility at the University of Kentucky's Coldstream Research campus. Under the agreement, BCTC will move from UK's campus on Cooper Drive to Eastern State's location.

Although construction has already begun on the first BCTC classroom building, the hospital will not move to its new location until 2013, Lanham said. That also is when BCTC will occupy the new space.

Given the 2005 discovery, state officials hired Pollack to survey for additional remains, Lanham said.

Before the remains can be moved, a permit is needed from Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn, who said Wednesday he is preparing paperwork for the permit and will meet with anthropologists and others working at the site.

Pollack said his examination of the unearthed remains should be able to show the resident's age, sex, the clothing they wore and perhaps if they were suffering from specific diseases.

After undergoing study at UK, the remains will be reburied in a cemetery on the hospital's grounds, Lanham said.

As part of the BCTC project, the state has restored an existing hospital cemetery, adding benches, a fence and a wrought iron entrance gate, Lanham said.

Bruce Burris, founder of a group called the Eastern State Hospital Cemetery Preservation Project, said Wednesday there are at least 4,000 residents buried in one cemetery on the grounds.

Burris said state officials could have done a better job of informing the public about the remains of residents.

"They failed to include the community and family members in the process of creating a dignified way of handling the remains," he said.

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3409.

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