Florida State Hospital cemetery: efficient, anonymous
United Press International
CHATTAHOOCHEE - Florida State Hospital has enough need for an undertaker to hire one fulltime.
The hospital has its own mortuary, fulltime funeral director, mortician and grave yard.
The coffins are made on the hospital gounds. So are the tombstones. The graves are dug by inmates from the nearby River Junction state work camp. There are about 6,000 graves at the cemeterv - 27 acres on a hilltop a couple of miles from the city. There is no sign, no offical name and the gate is usually locked.
THE GRAVES are of Chattahoochee patients who died over the past 45 years. Most of the tombstones carry no names, but a number that has meaning only to the few hospital officials with access to confidential patient files.
The stigma associated with mental illness led to the confidentiality and numbers - not names - on the tombstones. The coffins are made from medium- grade pine in the hospital carpentry shop, lined with white muslin stapled to the inside walls and painted battleship gray.
Hospital officials have become highly efficient in disposing of their dead. One or two graves are always ready - even though there may be no body that particular day for them. When one grave is filled, another is dug a foot away.
There are 6,000 graves at the cemetery - 27 acres on a hilltop. There is no sign, no official name and the gate is usually locked.
Several dozen tombstones are neatly stacked in a work shed.
FAMIlES of the patients can arrange burial or leave it to the state, says funeral director Leonard Herring. There is no charge to the family, although it can voluntarily pay about $170. Last year, 216 patients died at the hospital. So far this year, 105 have died. About one third of them are buried in the hospital cemetery.
There is a small chapel at the hospital morgue. Services can be arranged if the families want it.
"We do it however they want," Herring said. "We just try to please the family. Most people seem real pleased. We get lots of letters."
Funerals are held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays because that works out best for the prison labor, he said.
The chaplain calls shortly after 8 a.m. on each of the days to see if there are to be any funerals.
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