Maine’s Forgotten Dead – Thousands Of Mentally Ill Patients Buried On Hospital Property

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AMHI is a rather notorious mental institution located in Augusta, Maine. The hospital was opened in the year 1840 and closed for good in 2004. The massive 800-acre property houses many, large and rather creepy looking stone buildings, the type that send a chill down your spine when walking through the halls. Most of the buildings are run down, but some remain in use as functional office buildings.

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There is a very dark history to AMHI, and the story just keeps getting darker and darker, thanks to stories recently shared by former patient Karen Evans. Evans was a patient at the Augusta Mental Health Institute in the early 1960s.

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(Following words written by Kelley Bouchard, Portland Press Herald)

Evans was just 17-years-old when she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and hospitalized for about a year. During her stay, a girl she knew only as Margaret confided that she was contemplating suicide.

Evans warned the hospital staff. The next day, she discovered Margaret in her room, her head forced between the bars on the window. The window was shattered. Blood was everywhere.

“They took her away and I never found out what happened to her,” said Evans, now 65. “It happened more than once while I was there, but she affected me the most. It felt to me that people disappeared overnight. That life could be dismissed so easily.”

Nearly 50 years later, the tragic memory of Margaret fuels Evans’ desire to establish a permanent memorial to the 11,647 people who died at AMHI during its 165-year history. The hospital, which closed in 2004, kept no apparent records of where deceased patients were buried, other than a hand-scrawled map of a few graves in a nearby cemetery.

Researchers found 11,647 names of patients who died on the premises. In the early days, hospital staff would simply note in a daily journal that a certain patient had “passed away in the night.” Of the estimated 45,000 people who were admitted to AMHI from 1840 to 2004, nearly one-quarter died at the hospital, according to a Maine Cemetery Project report.

Early treatments at the hospital included medieval measures such as bleeding, restraining patients in a “tranquilizer chair” and cupping — the placement of heated cups on the body, causing skin blisters that were thought to draw out poisons. Through the years, medical treatments evolved from opium to thorazine to lithium and included controversial insulin and electro-shock therapies.

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AMHI was opened at a time when very little was known about mental illness. People would be admitted to the hospital for simply having opinions that were not the norm or not the same as other commoners, such as skewed views on religion, or socially unacceptable behavior. As a result, the list of 11,647 patients who died at AMHI includes people who didn’t have mental illness.

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So needless to say, the history on this large property isn’t the greatest. The events that took place here are in fact, very, very disturbing and sad. I’m sure there are a lot of very upset and angry souls wandering the halls, rooms and grounds of this wretched old place.

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