The Athens Lunatic Asylum operated (under a variety of names) in Athens, Ohio from 1874 until 1993. During its operation, the hospital provided “services”–some considered barbaric in our day–to a variety of patients including Civil War veterans, children, and those declared mentally unwell.
By the 1950s the hospital was the town’s largest employer, with 1,800 patients on a 1,019-acre, 78-building campus, serving 15 Ohio counties.
The former hospital is perhaps best known as a site of the infamous lobotomy procedure, as well as various supposed paranormal sightings. Myths and mysteries surround the asylum. The mystery is fueled partly because public access to patients is quite limited and partly because of the widespread use of lobotomies, hydrotherapy, and electroshock as well as its prison-like regime.
The remains of 1,930 deceased inmates are buried at the three cemeteries. Of those, 700 women and 959 men lay under the headstones marked only with a number. Some patients were buried in family plots elsewhere. Until 1943 only numbers were placed on gravestones.
Beginning in 2000, the Athens, Ohio chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) started the reclamation of the cemeteries, taking on the work that was once the responsibility of the Ohio Department of Mental Health. It has worked to restore the cemeteries at the Asylum to beautify and demystify the three asylum graveyards.
What little information about the patients has been uncovered mostly involves the veterans. Many of these veterans did not receive military honors and only 19 had any recognition while 80 veterans are interred. Of these veterans two fought in the Mexican War, sixty-eight fought in the Civil War, one was a member of the Confederate Army and another two veterans served with the United States Colored Infantry. There are three veterans who served in the Spanish–American War, and seven fought in World War I. Some of the other veterans that are buried here were on active duty in the late 19th century and the early 20th century.
Beginning in 2005 Memorial Day Ceremonies were organized in the cemeteries to help recognize the plight of veterans, many of who had probably suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other post-war conditions.