Ramblings & ephemera

3500 forgotten cans

From “Mental Health Association of Portland“:

Over 3,500 copper canisters like these hold the cremated remains of patients of the Oregon State Hospital that went unclaimed by their families and friends. They sit on shelves in an abandoned building on the grounds of the Oregon State Hospital. They symbolize the loneliness, isolation, shame and despair too many patients of the hospital experienced.

Our members are helping find a final resting place for the remains. We have helped families find their lost relatives. We’re pressing the hospital and the state to create a suitable memorial. We’ve demanded former, current and future patients be advised and consulted about the creation of a memorial, its site, design and any ceremony.

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From The New York Times‘ “Long-Forgotten Reminders Of the Mentally Ill in Oregon”:

Next to the old mortuary, where the dead were once washed and prepared for burial or cremation, is a locked room without a name.

Inside the room, in a dim and dusty corner of one of many abandoned buildings on the decaying campus of the Oregon State Hospital here, are 3,489 copper urns, the shiny metal dull and smeared with corrosion, the canisters turning green.

The urns hold the ashes of mental patients who died here from the late 1880’s to the mid-1970’s. The remains were unclaimed by families who had long abandoned their sick relatives, when they were alive and after they were dead.

The urns have engraved serial numbers pressed into the tops of the cans. The lowest number on the urns still stored in the room is 01, the highest 5,118. Over the decades, about 1,600 families have reclaimed urns containing their relatives’ ashes, but those left are lined up meticulously on wood shelves. Short strips of masking tape with storage information are affixed to each shelf: ”Vault #2, Shelf #36, plus four unmarked urns,” one piece of tattered tape says.

Most of the labels that once displayed the full names of the dead patients have been washed off by water damage or peeled away by time. Still, a few frayed labels are legible: among the urns stored on one shelf are a Bess, a Ben and an Andrew.

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