Site contains remains of unknown patients; dedication set for Saturday
South Fayette resident Todd Lewis says he wanted to do something for his Eagle Scout project that residents would remember long after it was finished.
As it turned out, creating something memorable involved honoring those who had been forgotten long ago.
For the past month, Lewis and other Scouts have been clearing and sprucing up a patch of land in Fairview Park once used by Mayview State Hospital's predecessor as a cemetery.
On Saturday, the restored cemetery will be dedicated as "The Forgotten Souls of Fairview" during the South Fayette's Community Day celebration.
At the 11 a.m. ceremony, the Rev. Kirk Carpenter from the Calvary Full Gospel Church also will consecrate the grounds.
For Lewis, 16, the experience has been not just labor but an attempt to find out more about the people who have been buried there.
What they've discovered, said dad Rick Lewis, is that there is little if anything on record.
"Here are people who were forgotten about," Lewis said. "These are forgotten souls."
What they learned is that the people were buried there between 1913 and 1918. All were patients of Marshalsea, later called the City Home and Hospital of Mayview, the predecessor of Mayview State Hospital.
When the patients died, their bodies were not placed in a coffin but were buried 2 feet deep in the ground, their graves marked with concrete obelisks, the research showed.
Rick Lewis said the patients could have been war veterans or mentally ill or retarded.
"There is no record of the names of those buried there. They put cement obelisks without anything, even numbers on them. Over the years, people have walked off with some of the obelisks, not realizing what they were," the elder Lewis said.
Longtime residents told the Lewises the site once had about 60 obelisks. Today about 25 remain.
Hundreds more bodies might be buried on the hillside overlooking the ballfield in the park. With plans to renovate the park, that was the reason for the consecration of the site, said Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Males.
"If we start finding bodies or parts, we're going to have to put the remains somewhere," he said. "At least this way, it's close to the general location — not that anybody cares. If anybody cared, it wouldn't have been in the condition it was."
When Todd Lewis began work on the site, many of the obelisks had been turned over, and the site was overgrown with weeds, trees and brush.
"I felt bad that it was that out of shape whenever we started," the younger Lewis said.
Since then, he and friends have put in about 250 hours clearing brush, resetting stones and erecting a picket fence around the site.
"It will be nice for people who remembered what it used to look like to see it now and appreciate it," Todd Lewis said. "Maybe it will give the people (buried) here a little more respect."
A local woodworker donated a sign for the cemetery, and Mayview State Hospital donated flowers. The township public works crews added topsoil to the site and will plant grass later this summer.
"What more fitting project is there for an Eagle Scout to do to reclaim a cemetery and give memory back to people who have been forgotten about?" the elder Lewis said.
Males said the cemetery is part of the township's past.
"It's an important part of our cultural history that shouldn't be overlooked," he said. "Before Mayview was a state hospital, it was a city hospital and a county hospital. There were people there who lived and died."
|Community Day schedule|
South Fayette Township's Community Day will be Saturday at Fairview Park. The schedule:
For details, call the township office (412) 221-8700.