Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Anna Stecklin, R. I. P.


In a posting on DS-Hum tonight, Lawrence Carter-Long pointed out this story from the Poughkeepsie Journal. Bravo to the 1033 Group for replacing the numbers with names, and reminding the world that these 650 people were people.

Sadly, there are plenty more cemeteries full of numbers out there: Ingleside Cemetery in Nebraska, for example, has about 1000 pre-1956 markers, none showing names, just numbers, for former residents of the one-time "Asylum for the Chronic Insane" (now Hastings Regional Center). A Minnesota organization, "Remember with Dignity," has taken on the challenge of honoring the institutionalized dead by replacing numbered markers with names in that state. (When Minnesotan Bertha Flaten's numbered stone ["7," above] was replaced, the original marker was sent to the Smithsonian for display, along with her admission photograph.) Other states have similar projects.

I'm not the only historian of disability to start thinking of her first project while standing in a cemetery. But the cemetery I was standing in was Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh NC, and the handsome obelisk I was looking at not only bore a man's name and dates (1806-1870), but the family's inscription, "Blessed are the Pure of Heart." Not typical for the gravestone of a 64-year-old man, but I knew a little about Thomas A. Cameron--I knew from his family letters that he was an "innocent," in the gentle language of his parents' generation. I wanted to know more.

And now, I hope someone will learn more about Anna Stecklin, and the other 649 people buried in Poughkeepsie.

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