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Joaquin County, CA
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Graves main website
following story was found in an old Stockton Newspaper film located
at the Caesar Chavez branch of San Joaquin Public Library in
Stockton, CA. It gives one a fair account of how the burials
were handled at the State Insane Asylum/Hospital in 1898.
From the Weekly Mail
Saturday, March 12, 1898
Burying the Asylum Dead
Where the Poor Unfortunate of
the State Hospital Go.
Laid to Rest in Numbered
Graves by Fellow Madmen-- Relatives Too Proud to Pay the Last Tribute.
(Reported by Miss Bean.)
In speaking of public
institutions in this city people will often say "I wonder what
disposition the authorities make of the bodies of the poor
unfortunates who die friendless and alone in the insane asylum,"
for Stockton has no medical college where a corpse in a very
necessary adjunct in the pursuit of a student's studies. In
larger cities those who die outcasts in public refuges, be it
hospital or jail, winds up, as a general rule, on the slab of some
dissecting-room. "Subjects," as the lifeless bodies
are called, are always at a premium. The prices range from a
dollar to fifteen dollars or more, when deaths of county wards occur
It may be to many a source of
relief to know that the bodies of neither the unidentified nor those
who die while public charges of Stockton ever figure in the barter
and sale, as it were, of human flesh.
When a patient in the asylum
for the insane breathes his or her last a blank is filled out, giving
date, name, age, the day the deceased entered the asylum and other
marks that enable the attendants in that office to find in a few
seconds whether there are any relatives or friends to be communicated
with. If so, friends are notified at once. As is often
the case, those to whom word is sent are too poor to bear the expense
of shipping the body or even paying for a burial. Others send
notes asking the Superintendent to make all arrangements for a burial
in their stead, as a sort of pride forbids them from giving publicity
to the death of a relative who passed away in an insane asylum.
It is generally conceded a misfortune and not a disgrace for any poor
mortal to be compelled to end his days in a madhouse, yet there are
those who would not move a finger toward defraying the expenses even
for a decent funeral of one who is part of their flesh and blood, for
fear the incident may become public property, thereby causing them a
Under these circumstances the
Superintendent tries to do what he considers proper. A body is
taken from a ward on a stretcher to the morgue by patients, who act
as the only pallbearers, accompanied by an attendant whose duty it is
to see that the remains are washed and dressed, ready for interment.
As visitors enter the morgue
of the asylum their first impression is that they are in a public
vault, as tier upon tier of coffins are stacked up as high as the
ceiling, nearly. In this department the remains of a patient
are left at least twenty-four hours, as required by law, but it often
happens they are kept days at a time at the request of some friend or
relative. The shroud of a man I saw in this place last Tuesday
consisted of woolen socks, new canton flannel trousers, a worn but
clean undershirt of same material, and a polished white shirt with
rolled collar and little black bow-tie. The man was freshly
shaven, and his hair was neatly brushed.
The common redwood box, shaped
somewhat after the style of old-fashioned coffins, had a coating
of a brownish paint on it. These boxes are very thin and have
no linings; a bit of straw covered with a clean piece of muslin
answers the same purpose, as do any of the more lavish
head-rests. When all is made ready the patients again carry the
remains of their fellow-man to the hearse in waiting, and then they
are driven out to the grave, to do the work of grave-diggers and pall
bearers as well.
I happened to take a drive out
through the cemetery last December, when I saw a little funeral
procession of asylum patients going on a little distance from
me. I alighted and had to climb down and out of a ditch about
nine feet deep and almost as wide, in order to reach the part of the
place given over to the asylum's dead. There was a
scrimmage going on about the grave being too short for the
coffin. All were talking at once. The coffin was lowered
and hoisted two or three times, and finally it was forced in place
with spades. The coffin with its contents was handled with
anything but the respect and deference usually shown the most humble
creature who dies in any place called "home." But
what does it matter to the poor soul who is at last freed from a
miserable existence? At least we shall all be on an equal
footing when the time comes for us to be put under the sod.
Thousands of little white
sticks mark row after row of graves; 1753 was the number over the
grave which was just filled in, though there were nine others ready
for occupancy. These looked like gaping wounds in the
earth. They were dug very close to one another--not much more
than a foot apart. Out of nearly 2,000 graves there were but a
half dozen marked by headstones, bearing names and ages of the deceased.
Some of these had only the
initials and place and time of birth. One was marked Y5-M-T --
representing something on the open pages of a book.
"Here lies Addie
sheltered and safe from Sorrow," was the most appropriate
inscription engraved upon another marble tombstone.
In marked contrast to these
humble and unknown graves are the handsome vaults and burial places
of those on the "other side," but alas, all shall be alike
in the eyes of God, when we shall have reached "the other side."
the institution has a
dissecting room, but it is used only in cases where patients die from
some cause requiring investigation.
This site is dedicated to all those unfortunate enough
to have died while under the care of Stockton State Hospital, and all
Mental institutions everywhere.
May there be dignity in death, as there was none in life.
Please let your public officials know that you support
caring for those buried in these state run institutions.
Californians please support SB 1448