On some 20 acres of the 164-acre University of Mississippi Medical Center campus, there's something unexpected underfoot: bodies. The Clarion-Ledger reports there are as many as 7,000 bodies buried on the campus, and they likely belong to patients of the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum, which in 1855 opened as the state's first mental institution. During the course of 2012 road construction, 66 bodies were uncovered on campus. "In size, they are fairly uniform," wrote the school of the pine coffins that were discovered, "about six feet long but alarmingly narrow, as if each held a pair of stilts instead of a human skeleton." The newspaper in 2014 reported a subsequent 1,000 were found when the school did radar testing in preparation for the construction of a parking garage in a wooded area near the dental school.
The number of coffins verified by radar is now double that figure, with estimates topping out at 7,000. The number is the problem: Engaging an outside company to handle the exhumations and reburials would cost $3,000 each, or up to $21 million. So UMMC is weighing doing it itself in an 8-year effort that would cost closer to $3 million. It's possible that in addition to a memorial, a lab would be created that would allow researchers to study the remains and gain insight into asylum living; the asylum was operational until 1935, and the school opened 20 years later. (Read more University of Mississippi stories.)