Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Friday Five: Forgotten Souls

Several years ago I saw an online article detailing the thousands of copper canisters containing the cremains belonging to former residents of the Oregon State (Mental) Hospital in Salem. Death had freed these men and women from the imprisonment of their minds, but they left behind no one to take them home on their final journey. They remained on a shelf in an outbuilding—“unwept, unhonored, and unsung”. (The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Sir Walter Scott).

Built in 1883 as the Oregon State Insane Asylum, the hospital gained its moment in the sun with the filming of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But these forgotten former residents remained forgotten in the shadows. 

When the canisters were discovered, some launched an effort to reunite these forgotten souls with family—perhaps people who, given the shame and secrecy of mental illness in the past, never knew they existed. Called “the shelves of forgotten souls” in a 2011 article written for the LosAngeles Times,  the author made reference to an online data base created to help find claimants for the remaining 3,476 canisters and the plans to create a memorial for those forever unclaimed. 

Recently, another eerily similar article caught my eye and reminded me of these forgotten souls. Across the continent in Willard, NY, another trove of “remains” came to light at the former Asylum for the Insane. Curator Craig Williams of the New York State Museum, salvaged 427 suitcases belonging to former residents of the institution.

Each suitcase contained the haunting story of a life which ended in a way the person never envisioned. How did the owner of the zither get there? Why did someone pack school books and writing material? Did the vials and needles contribute institutionalization? These questions and more will come to mind as you scroll through the photographs. 

Click on each picture in the gallery photographed by Jon Crispin for more images and information. 
Basically, these souls vanished—out of sight, out of mind—forever. Only now, years after their deaths, has someone recognized the spark of the divine in all of us also rested in each o them. Perhaps, wherever they are, they can truly now rest in peace.

Related Article (Read this to put a "face" on those who disappeared behind the walls of institutions.)

Disclaimer:  The photographs were taken from the linked articles without permission. No provenance for any of them was available. The suitcase is from clip art since I didn't want to infringe on the copyright of the suitcase gallery photographer. These pictures are for illustration only on this not-for-profit site.

 Check back on Monday for a question/writing prompt based on this blog. There might even be a contest involved!

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