Chubsy-Ubsy wasn’t the only Baltimorean who got a proper gravestone this week. For a century, Sunny Side Cemetery in Sykesville was home to 900 plain gravestones that marked the final resting places of patients from a local mental hospital who either weren’t claimed by families or were too poor to pay for a proper burial. The graves were marked with numbers, but their names and birthdays and life stories were lost to history — until now.
The Springfield Hospital Center, founded in the nineteenth century, was far from the creaky, abusive mental hospitals you see in horror movies. Its 3,500 patients helped run the hospital’s farm and dairy; the complex even had its own fire and police departments. But though Springfield was humane, that doesn’t mean that patients had a pleasant life. Before the advent of psychiatric medicines, long-term institutionalization was the main form of treatment; many Springfield residents were essentially abandoned by their families — hence the unmarked pauper’s graves.
“We must take care of our patients with all sense of dignity and respect,” says Paula Langmead — referring both to Springfield’s current population (down to a couple hundred in-patient residents) and its former denizens. Which is why Langmead, along with other Springfield staff and volunteers, painstakingly looked through the hospital’s dusty records to put names to those hundreds of unmarked graves. Those names are now memorialized on a plaque to honor and preserve their memory. Last week, two hundred people gathered to dedicate the memorial.
“There is a real peace here, but I have wondered forever about who they were,” Jen Fry, a nurse who works at the hospital told the Baltimore Sun. “I knew the hospital had to have their names. Now that we have turned the numbers into names, there is still peace but a real difference in how this place feels.”