CSH Cemetery Project Update 11-24-2020

We have a very sad update regarding our project to memorialize patients in Section I of the Central State Hospital Cemetery.

As many of you know, for a couple of years now, we have been working to identify and mark the burials in the oldest section of the cemetery, list the people we know are buried here somewhere, and create a landscaped and publicly accessible greenspace there where the community can enjoy the beauty of nature and reflect on the history of this site and where descendants can visit and pay their respects.

We don’t know what the future holds now for this project, but our work to identify the people buried in the cemetery, to honor their memories, and to tell their stories will not be disrupted by recent events.

Until now, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) Mounted Horse Patrol, who occupies the City-owned property where the cemetery is located, has been a supportive and seemingly empathetic partner in this work. In August, with their approval, we brought in a team of archaeologists from Ball State University’s Applied Anthropology Laboratories to collect data using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and other imaging to identify burials and determine the boundaries of the cemetery.

Despite the fact that this cemetery was known to exist in the area and knowing that a report of the GPR analysis was forthcoming that would more conclusively identify the burials, a construction crew working on the new K9 training facility began digging a trench across the cemetery to connect to a water line on Tibbs. They did this knowing that the cemetery was there and without an archaeologist onsite to monitor the dig for any signs of burials and to stop the work if any were discovered. Before the crew noticed that they were hitting burials and reported it to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as required by law, the skeletal remains of three individuals ended up crushed and mangled in the backfill pile.

DNR was alerted and archaeologists were brought in to retrieve those remains and properly and respectfully exhume ten additional individuals whose burials were in the path of the water line. All of these remains will be reinterred as soon as possible.

Unfortunately the damage didn’t end there. Since this incident, we have learned that crews began directional drilling across the area at two additional points. The depth of the drilling is consistent with the varying depths of the graves exhumed by the archaeologists. At the time of digging and the subsequent drilling, it was known to the City of Indianapolis, the IMPD Mounted Horse Patrol, IMPD’s K9 unit, and the construction crew that we strongly suspected that the cemetery was in this area. This was not based on a whim but rather on our historical research, past accidental discoveries of human remains in the area, and a 2003 survey by Landmark Archaeology that used cadaver dogs and probing to identify three areas on the grounds where probable human remains were indicated. We now have more firm data from the preliminary GPR report confirming more precisely where these burials are, and it is very likely that this directional drilling has disturbed or destroyed additional burials. We may never know the extent of this potential damage.

This is simply not ok. The necessity of it is debatable, and it wasn’t done transparently. Many of you have supported this project, morally and financially. We believe it is important for everyone to be aware of what’s happened and what is still happening on the site. And we fervently hope that no additional desecration of graves will be allowed to occur.

We are heartbroken and deeply disturbed by these events and want to publicly express our disappointment that these individuals, who were treated in life as though they were in the way and didn’t matter, are now being treated the same way in death by agencies that expressed empathy and support until it was no longer convenient.

The people buried there, our fellow human beings, suffered greatly in life. They deserve to be remembered with respect. They DO matter. Their experiences matter. They deserve to be treated like any of us would treat the remains of our own loved ones. If the true measure of a society is indeed found in the way it treats its most vulnerable members, we all owe them this respect at a minimum.

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