3.5K Dead and Forgotten Mental Patients Now Honored

Cremated remains were found decade ago at Oregon State Hospital

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Jul 7, 2014 11:26 AM CDT

(Newser) – They were dubbed the "forgotten souls"—the cremated remains of thousands who came through the doors of Oregon's state mental hospital, died there and whose ashes were abandoned inside 3,500 copper urns. Discovered a decade ago at the decrepit Oregon State Hospital, where One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was filmed, the remains became a symbol of the state's—and the nation's—dark history of treating the mentally ill. A research effort to unearth the stories of those who moved through the hospital's halls, and to reunite the remains with surviving relatives, takes center stage today as officials dedicate a memorial to those once-forgotten patients.

"No one wants to be laid to rest without some kind of acknowledgement that they were here, that they contributed, that they lived," says a state official. Between 1913 and 1971, more than 5,300 people were cremated at the hospital. Hospital officials have been working for years to reunite the remains with surviving relatives. Since the urns were found by lawmakers on a tour of the hospital in 2005, 183 have been claimed. The 3,409 that remain and have been identified are listed here. "I think it will be very difficult to forget them now," says a state administrator leading the hospital replacement project.

Wencel Devorak, a saddler from Bohemia, was 33 when he was committed in 1890 with delusions that others en route to Portland were following him and teasing him about his wife. He stayed for 40 years.
Wencel Devorak, a saddler from Bohemia, was 33 when he was committed in 1890 with delusions that others en route to Portland were following him and teasing him about his wife. He stayed for 40 years.   (Uncredited)
Susanna Weber was committed on July 26, 1962 at age 82. A widow, she'd been kicked out of a nursing home because she wouldn't stop wandering and rifling through other patients' possessions.
Susanna Weber was committed on July 26, 1962 at age 82. A widow, she'd been kicked out of a nursing home because she wouldn't stop wandering and rifling through other patients' possessions.   (Uncredited)
S. Erickson was committed Feb. 2, 1929, at age 78. A doctor wrote he wanders around naked at night and suffers from senility. A laborer, 5-foot-5, 125 lbs., he came to New York from Norway in 1883.
S. Erickson was committed Feb. 2, 1929, at age 78. A doctor wrote he "wanders around naked at night" and suffers from senility. A laborer, 5-foot-5, 125 lbs., he came to New York from Norway in 1883.   (Uncredited)
A copper urn contains the cremated remains of S. Erickson, a former patient at the Oregon state mental hospital.
A copper urn contains the cremated remains of S. Erickson, a former patient at the Oregon state mental hospital.   (Oregon State Hospital)
A copper urn containing the cremated remains of Wencel Devorak, a former patient at the Oregon state mental hospital.
A copper urn containing the cremated remains of Wencel Devorak, a former patient at the Oregon state mental hospital.   (Oregon State Hospital)
A copper urn containing the cremated remains of Susanna Weber, a former patient at an Oregon state mental hospital.
A copper urn containing the cremated remains of Susanna Weber, a former patient at an Oregon state mental hospital.   (Oregon State Hospital)
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