FRANKFORT — It is a place for the forgotten — most of the graves of the disabled individuals who once lived there are marked "unknown."
But on Thursday about 40 volunteers cleaned up the Frankfort State Hospital and School Cemetery to make sure the people who died in the facility were honored and remembered. It was the second annual cleanup of the cemetery.
Jeff Edwards, federal program coordinator with Kentucky Protection and Advocacy, said the event was about remembrance more than anything. That's because most people don't know about those who are buried in the cemetery, which had been mostly abandoned. The volunteers were members of several groups, including the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities.
"This is a piece of Kentucky history that no one remembers," he said. "We know very little about the people who lived here."
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Edwards said 371 of the 411 graves are marked as "unknown" at the cemetery, which is at the intersection of Glenns Creek Road and Cold Harbor Drive.
The hospital and school, formally known as the Kentucky Institute for the Feeble-Minded, opened in 1860 as a place for the disabled. Edwards said the Legislative Research Commission had heard reports of horrible conditions and initiated reforms. Thousands of Kentuckians had stayed there before it closed in 1972.
Mark Newton, of Campbellsville, lived in the institution when he was about 12 years old. He does not have fond memories of the facility. Newton said living there was "not fun at all." He was in one of the first groups taken out of the home when it was closed.
Heather Bava, who helps Newton with budgeting and grocery shopping, became involved with the cleanup through Newton, but said the cleanup was important because it honored the dead. Bava said it could have easily been Newton who ended up in one of the graves.
"They had a horrible, horrible life," she said. "It's really sad to think people were treated this way."
Christina Bowman, of McKee, also became involved with the event through a woman she helps daily.
"I know if it was me personally, I'd want someone to come out here and clean my grave for me and try to remember me," she said.