Three historic cemeteries (and two non-historic) are associated with the property around Central State Hospital, but without the efforts of employees who felt the lives of those who lived and died on these grounds deserved a dignified resting place, they would have most likely been lost to neglect. This post will focus on Cedar Lane Cemetery, which was historically known as the Asylum Cemetery. Within its 18+ acres are marble grave markers dating back as far as 1854. The exact date the cemetery was begun is unknown, but it was likely the late 1840s or early 1850s. The earliest burials of institutionalized people of the State Lunatic Asylum (as Central State Hospital was known at the time) were in Memory Hill Cemetery.
Thanks to the efforts of Bud Merritt and numerous volunteers, these metal “headboard markers” have been righted after many were buried over the years by bad management practices. I have talked extensively with Mr. Merritt about the process of “recovering” the cemetery and though he seeks no publicity for this enormous task, his insight and subsequent work on having the Central State Cemeteries added to the National Register of Historic Places, was crucial to their survival. Some of the markers are in their correct places, while others are not. All the markers feature a number that corresponded to a patient or prisoner’s name. It is a somber display, but makes one think of the conditions of those souls who spent large parts of their lives here.
At this time, I believe Cedar Lane is the only accessible of the Central State cemeteries. Typical of the time, African-American residents of Central State were segregated, even in death, and were buried in a cemetery of similar appearance.
As part of the process of reclaiming this sacred ground, a statue was commissioned and stands at the end of the lane of cedar trees which give the cemetery its modern name.
It was created by a prominent sculptor who did commissions for U. S. presidents and other important figures. [I will update with a name soon].
Central State Cemeteries, National Register of Historic Places