Patients of State Hospital Get Respect Posthumously

For a century or more an empty weed choked lot and the city park next door in Sparks' Conductor Heights neighborhood served as the final resting place for 800 or more souls, patients of the adjacent Nevada Mental Health Institute.

They lie here in unmarked, even unrecorded graves. Many of them literally abandoned in life, receiving no more respect in death.

Buried here between 1882 and 1949, over the years their graves were disturbed a number of times, most recently this past summer when crews working on 21st street unearthed the remains of 4 individuals and, not knowing what else to do, left them in a sack by the side of the road.

As a boy growing up in Conductor Heights local author and historian Dennis Cassinelli witnessed one of the most horrific as construction crews digging a pipeline tore through the graveyard. "They ripped through caskets. Body parts were scattered everywhere."

Sixty years later Cassinelli and some of the families of the deceased pressed the 2009 legislature to do something about it. It was declared an historic cemetery, the city was ordered to abandon the park and plans were made for a memorial.

Today, the cemetery is surrounded by a handsome wrought iron fence. An obelisk with all 800 names sit where playground equipment once stood and awaits a final dedication January 21.

All the remains that could be found elsewhere including those unearthed by the construction crew this summer have been reburied, but not without the discovery of new evidence of how casually these burials were once treated.

It was thought as many as 30 were interred nearby on the other side of a new state agriculture building. Only 19 could be found. The graves were marked, but as it turned out were mistakenly marked.

"They apparently just marked a row," Cassinelli says.
But that didn't mean there was a body underneath or that it was who the marker said it was.

"For instance, a grave marked for a man turned out to be a woman and vice versa."

And there was one last glitch on the monument itself.

"There were some misspellings," says Cassinelli. "They're being corrected, hopefully before the dedication."

That done these once neglected and all, but forgotten 800 may finally rest in piece, their names recorded.

"Finally there's the recognition that these people even existed."


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