Forgotten Mendocino mental hospital patients commemorated at mass graves
Below a simple granite headstone in a peaceful section of the Russian River Cemetery in Ukiah lie the remains of hundreds of people, a reminder of a dark, 80-year period during which people confined to the local state mental hospital during life were, after death, buried in unmarked graves, then forgotten.
“Let no person ever be laid to rest without recognition,” the headstone reads in part.
Those people, many confined against their will, are forgotten no more. Their lives were among tens of thousands honored on Monday in “remembrance” day ceremonies being held across the state, including ones at Napa State Hospital and the Sonoma Developmental Center.
It’s the 14th year of such ceremonies, according to Disability Rights California and People First of California, the two advocacy groups sponsoring the events. In 2010, the state Legislature deemed the third Monday in September as the “California Memorial Project Remembrance Day.”
From the mid-1880s to the 1960s, more than 45,000 people died at state mental hospitals and disability centers statewide, according to Disability Rights California. Their remains often were unclaimed by family and many were simply buried on the facilities’ properties, often in unmarked graves.
About 1,600 people died at the Mendocino State Hospital — originally the Mendocino State Asylum for the Insane — located in Talmage, just outside of Ukiah, during that time period. Some 1,200 were cremated and 400 were buried in a mass grave at the Ukiah cemetery, where they were relocated following the hospital’s closure in 1972, according to disability rights advocacy groups and state records. The property now is part of the City of 10,000 Buddhas.
About 4,000 people are buried at the Napa State Hospital, many in a field that, over time, was used for grazing. About 1,400 were buried at the Sonoma Regional Center, according to Pat McConahay, spokeswoman for Disability Rights California.
The Ukiah event was attended by three dozen people, including mental health and disability rights officials and representatives of state and federal lawmakers.
“No one should be thrown away like so much garbage, as though their time on this earth didn’t mean anything,” said Ruth Valenzuela, reading from a statement issued by her boss, Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg. Representatives of Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, also attended.
Mendocino State Hospital was established in 1889. Programs offered at the site over time have included treatment for the criminally insane, alcohol and drug abuse rehabilitation, and a psychiatric residency program, according to state archives.
The attendees at Monday’s ceremony included a politically minded vocal group called “The Raging Grannies” of Mendocino, who sang two songs.
“We didn’t walk the way you do
nor did we sound the same
and so they locked us up real tight
and soon forgot our name,” the lyrics to one of the songs went.
You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 707-462-6473 or firstname.lastname@example.org.