AUGUSTA — A monument to the thousands of patients who died while at the former Augusta Mental Health Institute will be dedicated Friday.

The granite memorial to the 11,647 people who died while patients or on leave from the former state mental health hospital is meant to pay tribute to the dead and help make sure they are not forgotten. Many were buried in unknown, unmarked locations.

“The intention is really to honor people who are forgotten, who were cast away without any memorial,” said Peter Driscoll, a member of the Maine Cemetery Project Committee, a nonprofit group that researched the deaths of patients at AMHI and their final resting places. “It’s not about blaming anybody. It’s about honoring people and remembering that every life has honor and dignity.”

The monument is located in the city-owned Cony Cemetery directly across Hospital Street from the former site of AMHI, where many of the hospital’s buildings still stand. The hospital closed in 2004 after 165 years of operation.

About 45 AMHI patients are buried in the small cemetery. Most of their graves were acknowledged with wooden markers that have long since disappeared. The whereabouts of most other patients’ graves are unknown. Many whose bodies were never claimed by their families were buried in unmarked graves in various cemeteries around Augusta, according to Driscoll.

The Cemetery Project Committee raised about $20,000 to commission the memorial, including $10,000 from the Augusta-based Elsie & William Viles Foundation.


Driscoll anticipates a couple hundred people could attend the dedication ceremony Friday, including Gov. Paul LePage, Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, Riverview Psychiatric Center Superintendent Jay Harper and former patients and staff.

“It touches the core of folks,” he said of the memorial to honor the forgotten dead. “People feel it is important to honor the dead. In this case that didn’t happen. It is important to fix that.”

The text etched into the stone memorial states: “In memory of the patients who died at the Augusta Mental Health Institute: During the period of Augusta Mental Health Institutes’s operation, 1840-2004, over 11,600 patients died while hospitalized there. Some were buried in their home communities. Some were buried in unmarked pauper’s graves throughout Augusta. Some were buried in this cemetery, a few in marked, most in unmarked graves. The location of the burial grounds for most of those patients who died at Augusta Mental Health Institute are unknown. Records were not kept or have been lost. May this stone serve as a memorial to those that died at AMHI. May it also serve as a reminder that their lives had value and that they were deserving of dignity both in life and in death.”

The effort to research, document and memorialize patients who died at AMHI began in 2000. The Cemetery Project Committee hired a researcher to pore through old, scattered AMHI records to determine how many patients died while there after being told by officials they didn’t think very many had. After extensive research, the group determined nearly 12,000 patients died there or while on leave from AMHI.

“We were astounded,” Driscoll said.

Out of concern that releasing the names of former AMHI patients could embarrass their families, the state required the group to put an advertisement in newspapers announcing the names were going to be made public, so that if families wished, they could have their names redacted. Driscoll said only six families did so.


In 2005, in an emotional day-long ceremony on the hospital grounds, the names of patients who died at AMHI, minus the few who were readacted, were read aloud.

Driscoll said initially he and others expected to find an unknown cemetery somewhere on the cemetery grounds where patients were buried.

He said he’s walked much of the grounds searching for one, but hasn’t located one. He now believes it probably doesn’t exist.

The monument sits on a knoll overlooking the rest of the cemetery.

“We wanted it to have a commanding view, looking out over the old hospital,” Driscoll said.

The ceremony is open to the public and will go from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday at Cony Cemetery on Hospital Street.

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