The Ridges Cemeteries Project

NAMI Athens is also involved with other groups and organizations in a major effort to restore, beautify and demystify the three mental health graveyards located on the grounds of the old psychiatric hospital complex on the Ridges. Prior to the onset of this project, the graveyards were in poor repair, with many

NAMI's Greg Polzer

NAMI’s Greg Polzer resetting one of the many stones once uprooted at the Cemeteries.

graves abandoned to brush and woods and hundreds of stones uprooted and broken.

Related Story: How the graveyard restoration project has affected the family of one former patient, Viola Rapp.

In addition, in the fall of 2000, Fox Family Channel had featured “The Ghosts of Athens”- notably those in its Ridges cemeteries – in its program, “World’s Scariest Places.” To combat this nonsense and restore respect to the nearly 2000 former mental patients buried in the three cemeteries, the Ridges Cemeteries Committee, made up of representatives of various public entities, Ohio University, the Gathering Place, the Civilian Conservation Corps, NAMI, etc. was created under the leadership of Bill Dunlap at the 317 Board.

Related Story: How Civil War Veteran Nathan Littler finally received the respect and recognition due.

Since then, the Committee, now headed by a member of the NAMI Board of Directors, has overseen an impressive multi-entity effort to restore the cemeteries themselves and to build a 1.3 mile Nature Walk

Nature Walk Stairs

CCC workers building the Cemeteries Nature Walk stairway across from the Dairy Barn

among the cemeteries.   In addition, then State Representative Jimmy Stewart helped our committee pass a bill making public the names of all persons buried with only numbered stones. Based on that information, cemeteries enthusiast and volunteer Terry Gilkey, did the hard work of creating our first Cemeteries Directory. Then Ohio University Library Archivist, Doug McCabe, corrected errors in deciphering the sometimes sloppy handwriting in the old grave book, added additional information, and kindly gave us permission to use his newer directory. Thank you, Terry and Doug. (Visit the Directory.)

As part of the Walk, an old pond at the base of one cemetery has been rebuilt. The purpose of the Walk is to shine light, metaphorically speaking, on these beautiful grounds with their remarkably abundant wildlife and to make them a place of healthy, respectful recreation.

Click for the new Nature Walk Guide and for a story and pictures about the 2012 Walk.


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Want to hear more about the Ridges and the Cemetery Project?

Click the links below to listen to a one hour Conversations from Studio B interview of NAMI member Tom Walker, by WOUB library archivist Doug McCabe (Oct 2008):

First half hour

Second half hour