photo taken in 1886 by the Post-Crescent Media,
shows the Outagamie County Asylum for the Chronic
Insane, which is no longer standing. 133 people who
were mentally ill or disabled lived there are buried
in unmarked graves nearby today. Local volunteers
are working to get row markers, a plaque with their
names and a memorial bench. It's part of efforts by
volunteers nationwide to recognize the forgotten and
bring attention to mental illness.
— For almost 80 years, no one is thought to have visited
Peter Gauslin's grave.
didn't know where he was buried or how he died until his
great-grandson Andrew Daft began researching family
history in 2012 and learned his death occurred at a mental
institution. He also discovered that Gauslin, his
grandmother's father, is buried in an unmarked grave in
Appleton, about 100 miles north of Milwaukee.
is among tens of thousands who were buried in unmarked
graves around the nation during the 20th century after
dying at state- or county-run psychiatric hospitals, then
called insane asylums or sanitariums. Families were either
too poor for a headstone, couldn't be reached or had
forgotten about their relatives.
of land where Gauslin is buried in Outagamie County along
with 132 other people who were mentally ill or disabled
will soon get row markers, a plaque with their names and a
memorial bench — part of an effort by volunteers
nationwide to recognize the forgotten and bring attention
to mental illness.
we forget those who are buried here then we forget that
they ever existed," said Laurie Shinkan, a volunteer
with the group Friends of Outagamie County Cemetery, where
burials occurred from 1889 until 1943.
photo provided by Andrew Daft shows his great father
Peter Gauslin and his second-wife Jennie in the
1920s in Rhinelander, Wis., before he died at an
Outagamie psychiatric hospital in 1934.
no record of how many mentally ill people are buried in
unmarked graves in the U.S. Records kept by states are
inaccurate, destroyed or can't be located in some cases.
But almost all states ran psychiatric institutions where
they buried unclaimed or unwanted patients in unmarked
graves, said Dr. Daniel Fisher, one of the founders of the
Massachusetts-based mental health advocacy group, National
500,000 people were in state mental hospitals in 1963, a
number that decreased significantly after the 1963
Community Mental Health Act, 1965 adoption of Medicaid and
closing of many state-run hospitals.
over the years in states including Georgia, South
Carolina, Ohio, New York and Minnesota have focused on
locating and identifying the people buried in these
cemeteries. But usually records are limited, if they exist
at all. And sometimes the approval process for making
changes to land still owned by public entities is quite
this May 21, 2015, June Daft, left, poses for a
photo with her grandson, Andrew Daft, in Caledonia,
Wis. June Daft recently discovered that her father
had died in a local mental institution in 1934 and
was buried in an unmarked grave. Andrew Daft helped
uncover the previously unknown details.
being done in Wisconsin's Outagamie County to recognize
those buried there has been underway for two years.
you think about it, the individuals that we care for today
— that we care for, that we love, that we serve —
would be in this same cemetery," said Gwen Zimmerman,
a residential case manager with Agape of Appleton, Inc.,
which houses people who have disabilities and are mentally
is heading the effort to honor those forgotten in
Outagamie County. The row markers and other changes will
be unveiled during a Sept. 24 ceremony.
this May 21, 2015, Laurie Shinkan, Gwen Zimmerman
and Mary Robertson stand by the old sign for the
former Outagamie County-run mental institution in
Appleton, Wis. They are part of a group of people
who helped recognize the 133 people from the
institution that were buried in unmarked graves
nearby from 1889 and 1943. By this fall, the area
will have row markers, a memorial bench and a plaque
with their names on it.
plans to attend the dedication, said family members had
told him and his cousins for years that his
great-grandfather Gauslin died in a lumber mill accident.
But after researching, he found the man died of a stroke
in 1943 at an institution, where he was taken after acting
violently and threatening his wife.
think it was something people were ashamed of. He had a
stroke. It wasn't like he was a criminal or something, but
I think in some ways that he was treated as such,"
said Daft, 28, of Caledonia.
grandmother, June Daft, was young when her father died so
she didn't know the truth about Gauslin. In August 2012,
Daft and his father were likely the first to visit
Gauslin's burial site.
think it's great that the people buried there and the
other people at the asylum will be remembered," Daft