Another good Memorial Day stigma buster on the Ridges

Memorial Day 2015 at the Ridges

Since 2000, the Ridges Cemeteries Committee has been working to refurbish and beautify the cemeteries and, in so doing, restore dignity to the deceased and fight stigma against their living counterparts. Since 2005, the Committee has made sure that Memorial Day is celebrated there, too. In recent years, wreaths have been placed to emphasize the humanity of those buried there.

Michael Pierson, left, and Jacob Hamilton are descendants of Sarah Boyd, a patient at the Athens Lunatic Asylum. The two placed a wreath to Boyd’s grave on Monday as part of the Memorial Day ceremonies at the Tower Cemetery. Messenger photo by Joe Higgins

 

 

The 2015 ceremony, which took place under a large tent at the old Tower Cemetery was very moving. This year, two wreaths were placed. The first was for Sarah Boyd. A group of around twenty two-times, three-times, and four-times great grandchildren from several states were present.  In her eulogy, State Representative, Debbie Phillips stressed that, although she had been committed in a state of violent psychosis, Sarah might not have lived in an asylum for the rest of her life had she had access to modern medicine. Therefore, said Philips, “people should not be judged by their disorders but, to use the words of Martin Luther King, ‘by the content of their character.’”

 

 

Greg Polzer places a wreath at the group of 32 gravestones with unknown numbers – numbered headstones whose graves cannot be found. Athens News photo by Dennis E. Powell.

 

The second wreath was placed by Greg Polzer for a group of men about whom almost nothing is known. Mysteriously, the official record of male burials begins with number 64. Yet, stones for lower numbers had been found among women’s low number stones in concentric circles under which there were no burials and in a storage room in one of the Ridges. To date, the actual burial places to which those the mystery stones correspond have not been found. Polzer, who, over the years, reset most of the hundreds of uprooted stones in the two oldest cemeteries, recently completed his work by creating a small rectangle composed of these men’s stones. In his eulogy, Polzer talked of the medical philosophy of “Moral Treatment” in practice when these men were in the asylum – the beautiful environment and the “soul-satisfying” outdoor work. Noting that The Athens State Hospital had recognized that their patients were human beings first, he read from the plaque placed in front of the rectangle which, among other things says “Remember us, for we too have lived, loved and laughed.”

 

Flags are shown scattered among the graves at the Tower Cemetery at The Ridges in Athens. Those flags represent known U.S. veterans who were residents of the Athens Lunatic Asylum, likely suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Messenger photo by Joe Higgins

 

The dignity and solemnity of the ceremony were underscored by other individuals. Earl Cecil, CEO of our local Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, gave the opening remarks.  Sharell Arocho, a singer with a powerful Aretha Franklin-like voice, sang the National Anthem, Amazing Grace and Swing Low Sweet Chariot. And Vietnam War veteran Caroline Cade did Taps.  Reporters from the Athens News and the Athens Messenger gave this stigma-buster great coverage.