History detectives searching through 100-year-old newspaper clippings, cemetery maps and records from Oregon’s first insane asylum think patients are buried under a parking lot at Portland’s Lone Fir Cemetery.
Records show that at least 140 indigent patients are buried at the cemetery, and most are probably near or under the lot at Southeast Morrison and 21st.
Now advocates including Friends of Lone Fir and Metro, which manages the historic cemetery, are working to make sure the forgotten residents — along with turn-of-the century Chinese workers buried nearby — are remembered in a memorial garden on the site.
Dr. J.C. Hawthorne’s Oregon Hospital for the Insane, founded in 1861, occupied 75 acres between what are now Ninth and 12th avenues and Hawthorne Boulevard and Belmont Street, according to a July report commissioned by Metro. The grounds of the Greek revival building included a dairy, produce garden and wood lot.
Patients were expected to work the farm. Manual labor was a cornerstone of the progressive and compassionate routine Hawthorne gave patients — called moral treatment and based on practices developed by the Quakers, says Grace Heckenberg, a Portland mental health activist.
The bell in the tower tolled the hour, giving the day’s rhythm. It was probably rung when a patient escaped, too. The bell, all that remains of the asylum, is housed at Oregon Health & Science University. Some envision it being returned to become part of the memorial.
“Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to hear that bell toll as you’re walking through the cemetery?” Mary Miller asks on a recent tour of the site. Miller is president of Friends of Lone Fir, which is planning a fundraising campaign to help pay for the memorial garden.
After Metro decided to expand plans for a garden to include the mental patients, the agency reached out to the mental health community this fall for ideas on how best to honor them.
Janet Bebb, principal regional planner at Metro, says many felt strongly that the patients’ names should be inscribed in the garden and that the emphasis should be on the patients, not the asylum’s founder. Jason Renaud, a longtime mental health activist and volunteer at the Mental Health Association of Portland, says listing patients’ names would grant them their personhood at last.
Fountains, roses and inscriptions all cost money, and Bebb says Metro would like to secure public funding for the memorials and then use those to attract private funding.
For now, Miller hopes a new CD featuring local musicians and original songs about Lone Fir’s more prominent residents raises money and engage an audience that typically might not take much interest in the cemetery.
The CD features Storm Large and her song about Charity Lamb, Oregon’s first convicted murderess and one of Hawthorne’s patients. Lamb is buried in an unknown grave at Lone Fir.
Jane Hansen of landscape design firm Lango Hansen hopes to have preliminary drawings of the memorial garden, with an area for asylum patients and one for the Chinese workers, in a few weeks. Miller and Bebb estimate that it will be take a couple of years to raise enough money.