South Toledo resident and Civil War re-enactor Joseph Dowd, 15, center left, escorts his mother, Kathy Dowd, as she places flowers on the graves of veterans Saturday during the seventh annual Veteran’s Memorial Program in South Toledo. SEE PHOTO GALLERY at toledoblade.com
His name was Earl Jones of Ottawa County. He was a mechanic by trade and never married or had children. He enlisted in the military in 1918 and was assigned to Company D 309 Ammunition Training and later served in the American Expeditionary Forces from 1918 to 1919.
By 1930 he was admitted to the former Toledo State Hospital, a psychiatric facility where he would spend the rest of his days before being buried in a nameless, unmarked grave; forgotten for more than half a century, according to hospital records.
“Some of the veterans suffered from what is now known as post traumatic stress disorder,” said Mychail Scheramic, CEO of what is now known as Northwest Psychiatric Hospital and the guest speaker at the seventh annual Veteran’s Memorial Program held Saturday at the hospital’s old cemetery behind Bowsher High School, 2200 Arlington Ave.
“Even people with anxiety or eating disorders ended up spending their lives locked up. A husband could take his wife to a state hospital and have her committed.”
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More than 300 Toledo-area military veterans and residents gathered Saturday at the old cemetery to honor and remember Mr. Jones and nearly 2,000 former psychiatric patients — many of them war veterans — who lived in the psychiatric hospital. When they died, their bodies were unceremoniously dumped and forgotten in the unkempt cemeteries.
Conner Geithmann, 11, center, with his fellow Boy Scouts from Troop 200, attend the ceremony. The former State Hospital buried 906 people in the cemetery between 1888 and 1922.
“Over time, the cemeteries were forgotten,” said Mr. Scheramic. “As the years went by many of the coffins sank deep into the ground and their stone markers collapsed into the hole with them.”
Ten years ago founding member Larry Wanucha created the Toledo State Hospital Cemetery Reclamation Project, whose goal is to restore neglected cemeteries, restore honor and dignity to the people buried in those cemeteries, and promote community awareness about the cemeteries. The organization works with the hospital and other military organizations to research who might be buried in the grave sites.
According to hospital records 906 people are buried at the old cemetery, which closed in 1922. But only 250 of those burial sites have been found. The new cemetery is on the University of Toledo Health Science Campus, where 1,100 former patients are buried, including two veterans. Most served in the Civil War.
For the past decade the group has painstakingly studied hospital and ancestry records and had to poke around for missing graves and cement markers, which have sunk deep into the ground. This has especially been a challenge at the old cemetery, said Jane Weber, another co-founder of the cemetery reclamation project.
“This was just a grassy field 10 years ago,” she said, waving her arm across the now well-manicured cemetery that features some of the recovered tombstones.
In the 1880s, South Toledo, where Bowsher High School is located, was still mostly woods and deemed isolated enough from the main city that facilities for the community’s less desirable were built in the area, Ms. Weber said. Two of those facilities included the Toledo State Hospital and a place to house people with tuberculosis.
Lt. Cmdr. Vidal Valentin addresses guests during the Veteran’s Memorial program on Saturday in the former Toledo State Hospital Cemetery behind Bowsher High School.
Saturday’s event featured music performances. a rifle salute, the shooting of a cannon, and taps. A woman clothed in a black dress placed flowers over each grave site.
As a steady rain began to fall, speaker Lee Armstrong, executive director of the Lucas County Veterans Service Commission, told the gathered crowd that he was glad so many people came to pay their respects.
The falling rain was soon replaced by sunshine as event organizers began a roll call of veterans buried at both cemeteries: “Jackson Arnold ... Frank Gallagher ... John Jackson ... James Kennedy ... Samuel Reed ... Frank Case ... George Grames ... Earl James ... Valentine Smith ... Harry Smith ... Albert Hodges ... Harry Morton ... Lee Webster ...”
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