For Them

December 1842.Tilman Barnett arrived by carriage with his wife to the Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum. He was the first patient admitted into what became the largest mental institution in the world. He was classified as a lunatic. His cause and duration of insanity was unknown. He was 30 years old. He died of manic exhaustion on June 18th 1843. 6 months after he arrived at this facility.

People were categorized as a lunatic for reasons such as religious excitement, inclination to study, jealousy, disappointed affection, intemperance, and epilepsy.

Out of the first 888 patients, 409 died; 43 of them being under the age of 18.

Tilman Barnett may have been the first person that died at what is now called Central State Hospital, but he was not the last. There are believed to be 30,000 unmarked graves on the 200 acres at Central State.

Since the hospital closed in 2010, the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority has been trying to sell off the land bit by bit to whoever will buy it. The question I keep asking is, what is going to happen to these people’s remains? To the forgotten.

My current installation titled “For Them” is centered on this place and these people.

Graves at Central State were originally marked with iron grave markers with a number instead of a name. During the 1960’s many of the numbered grave markers were gathered up and discarded in order for prison inmates to clean up the grounds more efficiently.The Georgia Consumer Council responded to this in the 1990’s and collected as many iron markers as they could find and assembled them into the Cedar Lanes Cemetery.

These iron markers, which have numbers instead of names no longer represent an individual. The paperwork was burned or shredded or lost years ago. Instead these 1763 markers represent the 30,000 people that lost their life on these grounds.

My current work involves cutting out copper grave markers by hand, the shape of which is a miniature replica of the Cedar Lanes Cemetery iron markers.

These miniature markers are then filed, sanded, stamped, and patinaed.

My goal is to collect as many names of the deceased as possible and to cut out and stamp an individual name onto each marker. For the names I can’t find, I am blind embossing the shape of the marker onto a piece of hand torn white paper.

This is very much a work in progress as I have only cut out 300 out of the potential 30,000.

My current research has sent me to the Georgia Archives where I scan microfilm of patient registrars from 1862-1924.

In the installation I pay special attention to the family members who were admitted together. I feel that it is important for them to remain side by side.

Judah and James Delt were brothers that were admitted on February 3, 1846. Judah was 13 and James was 7. Both were classified as an idiot, both were deformed, James was blind. James died within three months of being at Central State. Judah died just under a year later.

So far I have spent 63 hours and 42 minutes working on this piece. Every hour. Every minute. Every second is for them. For every person that was mistreated because of an illness or disability.

After this place is torn down, I do not want it to be forgotten. The people who spent time here deserve to be remembered.

It makes me wonder if people are just forgetting? Or are people trying to forget?

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