AUGUSTA — The City Council is scheduled to consider on Thursday a request for support from a group seeking to erect a memorial to 11,647 people who died while they were patients of the Augusta Mental Health Institute.

The group is working to make sure those people – including many whose bodies were unclaimed by family members and who were buried unceremoniously in unmarked graves scattered in various cemeteries around Augusta – aren’t forgotten.

The Cemetery Project Committee wants to put a monument where at least some of those people are buried in the city-owned Cony Cemetery directly across Hospital Street from the grounds of the former state mental hospital. The hospital closed in 2004 after 165 years on the city’s east side, across the Kennebec River from the State House.

The small cemetery is the final resting place of about 45 AMHI patients. Most of their graves were marked initially with wooden markers that have long since disappeared, according to Peter Driscoll, a member of the committee, a nonprofit group that has researched the issue.

The group has raised more than $15,000 for a memorial and already has ordered a granite stone that, with City Council permission, would be placed at Cony Cemetery.

Augusta philanthropist Elsie Viles, who died last year, donated $10,000 to the project through the Elsie & William Viles Foundation. The cemetery is next to the Viles Arboretum.


Driscoll said the effort is important for the same reason it was important to sift through the remnants of the World Trade Center to claim the remains of victims.

Driscoll said the thousands of AMHI patients buried in unmarked graves with little recognition or documentation deserve better. “People’s lives have value and meaning, and these folks did not, and it’s time to right that wrong,” he said.

“We hope that you will join with us and embrace the effort to finally recognize and respect the lives of 11,647 individuals who died at the Augusta Mental Health Institute,” Driscoll said in a letter to city officials.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the only cost to the city would be the expense of maintaining the memorial. He said that would be minimal because the city already maintains the cemetery.

Driscoll said the group also is asking the city to create a walkway from a nearby state parking lot to the cemetery because there is no place to park on Hospital Street.

“I think it’s a very dignified and tasteful memorial to what turns out to be a rather large number of people,” said Bridgeo, who met with Driscoll on Tuesday to discuss the proposal. “Frankly, I was quite touched by the effort.”


That effort started in 2000 after a member of Amistad, a Portland-based nonprofit group that serves people with mental illnesses, learned of efforts in other states to find burial places of states’ mental patients. She formed a group that sought to find out how many had people died at AMHI and where they ended up.

Despite assurances from the then-commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services that not many patients had died at the state hospital, group members and experts, researching records from AMHI’s 165 years of existence, determined 11,647 patients died either while patients there or while on leave.

There were few records of where most of those patients were buried. Those unclaimed by families often were buried in Augusta cemeteries, sometimes with only a funeral director to witness the burial, according to information on the cemetery project’s website.

The proposed inscription on the monument reads, in part, “You are not forgotten. The citizens of Maine have created this memorial to remember these lost ones, and to serve as a reminder that all lives have value and dignity.”

The group also has secured a commitment from state officials, Driscoll said, that when the Stone building, a former AMHI building, is redeveloped, the budget for the redevelopment will include money for a permanent memorial there dedicated to those who died while patients at AMHI.

In the meantime, the group wants the memorial in place early next summer.


Bridgeo said Jim Goulet, the city’s director of parks, cemeteries and trees, has identified an area in the cemetery for the memorial.

Councilors are expected to discuss the proposal Thursday in a meeting that begins at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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