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Memorial wall to honor 1700 previous unnamed people who died at Crownsville hospital

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Posted at 6:50 PM, Apr 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-29 18:51:53-04

CROWNSVILLE, Md. — Crownsville Hospital has a long history.

Many of those who stayed there died and were buried without ever being named.

This weekend, a memorial wall will be placed on the grounds of that hospital with 1700 names that took years to compile.

A historian, Janice Hayes-Williams, made it her mission to decade those people decades after they died, at Crownsville State Hospital.

Crownsville State Hospital was a “Maryland hospital for the Negro insane,” Hayes-Williams said.

It was the only state hospital for Black people.

“A mental hospital. At the time they were called asylums,” Hayes-Williams said.

The hospital was established in 1911.

As it grew, it became a place for experimenting with new therapies and treatments.

When patients without families died, they were buried on the hospital’s grounds.

Most patients did not have families, and because of medical privacy laws, they couldn't put the names on the markers so, they used numbers.

“And they're all just lined up in a row. Yeah, they're everywhere,” Hayes-Williams said. “Once upon a time, they were all standing. There was one standing up until two years ago.”

Hayes-Williams couldn't stand to see her fellow Marylanders, relatives perhaps, unidentified.

So she set out on a mission to find the names of those in their final resting place.

Finding the names of 1700 people who passed decades ago is a monumental task.

How did Janice do it? Good old American ingenuity.

“And comb through the Maryland state archives,” Hayes-Williams said.

Hayes-Williams and her team went through every year from 1912 to 1968.

That's 672 months of records.

“It's taken years and we've found every single name that said Crownsville Hospital buried,” Hayes-Williams said. “Even though we only see a few, we go by the records. That's how we know who's here."

She also found out, in the 40s, the body was used as a cadaver for the University of Maryland Medical School, benefiting doctors for years practicing surgery and understanding the human body.

“In the 1950s there's a new attitude. So in the 50s, they said not anymore, we will put the names,” Hayes-Williams said.

Other patients help buried the dead so they just hand-scribed the names of the patients on the markers.

Burials stopped in 1986.

The hospital was closed in 2004.

Hayes-Williams felt compelled to do this overwhelming project.

“That's what I was born to do and that's to tell the story of our ancestors,” she said.

This weekend marks the 17th annual "Say My Name" ceremony honoring those patents who died there.

But this ceremony is of special significance because of those 1700 names they now have.

“Healing and hope that this hospital was meant to be,” Hayes-Williams said. “So all of this is for the ancestors.”