As best as anyone can remember, the first bodies were discovered because the University of Mississippi Medical Center needed a new place to do laundry.
This was back in the early 1990s, when the construction of new laundry facilities necessitated new pipes, which necessitated digging, which unearthed the unmarked graves. Forty-four of them, coffins of pine wood, laid out neatly in rows. No names. “At that point people were reminded, ‘Oh yeah, there’s a cemetery here,” says Ralph Didlake, the director of UMMC’s Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities.
The cemetery belonged to the Mississippi State Asylum, which operated from 1855 to 1935. There’s a reason no one thought about it much anymore: The bodies underground are the only thing left. The building was torn down long ago, and there’s no memorial or marker. When the graves were uncovered during construction in the 90s, the UMMC figured out a way to proceed: It relocated the 44 bodies to another cemetery where the current medical school buries anatomical donors. And that was that.
Then in 2012, during the construction of a new road through campus, teams discovered 66 more unmarked graves. Also in pine coffins, also laid neatly in rows. The medical center in downtown Jackson, Mississippi, had ambitious plans to expand its campus, but it was hemmed in on all sides, so it only built on existing land. A small wooded area on campus was slated to become a parking garage. Given that the bodies kept turning up near there, the school decided it was time to figure out exactly how many people were buried under its campus.