Unclaimed remains at Oregon State Hospital are not from Asylum Cemetery, officials say

The Oregonian, July 3, 2014

For years, Oregon officials assumed that some of the thousands of unclaimed urns at the Oregon State Hospital belonged to patients who were buried in a hospital cemetery, exhumed in 1913 and 1914, then cremated.

Now, officials said this week, researchers don’t think any of the urns are linked to the old Asylum Cemetery — and that the fate of the cemetery bodies, about 1,500 in all, is a mystery.

“We believe they were obviously disinterred and cremated,” research project manager Sharon Tucker said. “We just don’t know what happened after that point in time.”

Of the urns, about 3,400 remain unclaimed from the approximately 3,600 discovered a decade ago stacked like paint cans in the hospital’s “Cremains Room.”  Continue reading at OregonLive.com

Info on Cremains Memorial


  • Number of urns in 2007: About 3,600
  • Number of urns left unclaimed: 3,447
  • Urns in memorial: 3,423
  • Urns to be returned to Native American and Sikh communities: 24
  • Where those in the urns came from: Oregon State Hospital, Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital, Mid-Columbia Hospital, Dammasch State Hospital, Deaconess Hospital, Oregon State Penitentiary, Fairview Training Center and the Salem community
  • When they were cremated: 1913-71
  • Number of states represented: 48 (no one from Alaska or Hawaii)
  • Number of countries: 44
  • Veterans: 182 (110 unclaimed; of those, 88 urns and their records were sent to Oregon Veterans Affairs for research)
  • Infants: 11 (6 unclaimed)
  • Executed inmates: 9 (6 unclaimed)
  • Employees: 8 (5 unclaimed)


1883: The Oregon State Insane Asylum and Asylum Cemetery are completed in Salem.

1910:  Steiner’s Chimney is built on the grounds for cremations and disposal of waste and infectious material.

1913: The Legislature orders all the bodies exhumed from Asylum Cemetery and cremated to free the land. A notice runs in a Salem newspaper April 19 notifying relatives that cremations of unclaimed bodies will begin June 3. The facility’s name is changed to Oregon State Hospital.

1971: The cremation facilities are used for the last time, and an inventory is done on the hospital’s cremated remains.

2004: Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney tours the Oregon State Hospital and is appalled at the conditions, including the storage of corroded copper urns in a small “Cremains Room.” He leads the Legislature to approve $467,000 to kick-start a hospital replacement project.

2005: The Oregonian writes a series of stories and editorials on the hospital and neglected urns.

2006: The Oregonian wins the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing for its hospital coverage.

2007: The Legislature approves $458 million to build two new psychiatric hospitals, in Salem and Junction City.

2008: The U.S. Justice Department issues a scathing report, warning that hospital conditions threaten patient and staff safety.

2011: Researchers with the Oregon State Hospital Replacement Project discover that none of the urns is connected to those removed from the cemetery. Ultimately, they can’t find records on the fate of the cemetery remains.

2012: Construction is completed on a new 620-bed Oregon State Hospital in Salem.

2014: Remains in the urns are transferred to ceramic urns and placed in a new memorial at the hospital. The Oregon State Hospital Cremains Memorial will be dedicated July 7. A 174-bed state psychiatric facility in Junction City is set for completion this year.