WHO Lies Beneath: The Asylum Welcome to WHO Lies Beneath: The Asylum. This podcast is about restoring dignity and respect by giving a voice to the voiceless. On the old Athens Lunatic Asylum grounds in southeast Ohio, you'll find tremendous beauty. There are regal buildings overlooking town, and the sprawling grounds originally had a park-like setting, with gorgeous ponds, gardens, and fountains - the beauty in stark contrast to the history of what happened to some of those who were taken to the now closed facility. The grounds contain three cemeteries where approximately 1900 patients who weren't claimed by their families when they died - were buried. Those who were unclaimed were buried under numbered tombstones, with no names or dates on them. This was common practice with many state and national mental health and medical institutions at the time. Each week, you'll hear the life stories of people who were buried under those numbered tombstones in Athens. Each person will tell their own story - using a first-person style account and voice actors. We'll also talk with Doug McCabe, a retired library archivist who spent many years digging through old documents linking names and life stories with the numbers on the grave markers, along with other researchers and mental health experts. If the subject of this podcast interests you, please subscribe to WHO Lies Beneath: The Asylum wherever you access your podcasts. You can also listen at WOUB.org/listen.
WHO Lies Beneath: The Asylum

WHO Lies Beneath: The Asylum

From WOUB Public Media

Welcome to WHO Lies Beneath: The Asylum. This podcast is about restoring dignity and respect by giving a voice to the voiceless. On the old Athens Lunatic Asylum grounds in southeast Ohio, you'll find tremendous beauty. There are regal buildings overlooking town, and the sprawling grounds originally had a park-like setting, with gorgeous ponds, gardens, and fountains - the beauty in stark contrast to the history of what happened to some of those who were taken to the now closed facility. The grounds contain three cemeteries where approximately 1900 patients who weren't claimed by their families when they died - were buried. Those who were unclaimed were buried under numbered tombstones, with no names or dates on them. This was common practice with many state and national mental health and medical institutions at the time. Each week, you'll hear the life stories of people who were buried under those numbered tombstones in Athens. Each person will tell their own story - using a first-person style account and voice actors. We'll also talk with Doug McCabe, a retired library archivist who spent many years digging through old documents linking names and life stories with the numbers on the grave markers, along with other researchers and mental health experts. If the subject of this podcast interests you, please subscribe to WHO Lies Beneath: The Asylum wherever you access your podcasts. You can also listen at WOUB.org/listen.

Most Recent Episodes

Season 2 wrap-up and looking ahead to Season 3

This is the last episode of season 2, and we are going to introduce you to some people in upstate New York, partially inspired by what they heard on this podcast, who are doing the hard, sometimes tedious work, of unlocking the information to tell the stories of those buried in an unmarked graveyard in their community. They are partnering with this podcast to tell the stories of some of those individuals for season 3 of WHO Lies Beneath.

Jane Galford Johnson

Jane Johnson is a pretty common name. So common in fact that there are two people buried on the asylum grounds with that name.

Prudence Parkinson Kincade

Prudence Parkinson Kincade's story was a mystery to her descendants until they discovered that she was buried at the Athens Asylum and reached out to us to help put some of the pieces together. We learned that Kincade was institutionalized for approximately 25 years and was part of a high profile transfer of what the newspapers called "lunatic and imbecile inmates" to the Athens Asylum in 1904.

James Douglas and William Black

Sometimes people ended up at the Athens Asylum because none of the other ways society dealt with those who were deemed difficult seemed to work. James Douglas and William Black appear to be two of those people. We also talk with Nora Steele about her research into an Asylum Newspaper and the inmates who wrote stories for it.

Ruth Close & Baby Close

According to the Old Athens Lunatic Asylum gravebook, there were three babies who died at the Asylum and weren't claimed by their families. One of them who was buried in the Asylum cemeteries was a baby girl who is only identified as a baby with her mother's last name. Cheri and Doug, along with Ohio University Professor Emeritus of Social Medicine Jackie Wolf talk about what might have happened to the baby and her mother, Ruth, during their time at the Old Athens Lunatic Asylum. We also hear from a Lancaster, Ohio historian who is working to preserve the headstones and life stories of those buried in his community.

Amanda Smith and Levi Mercer

Amanda Smith and Levi Mercer are connected by more than just the fact that they both are buried in cemetery 1 of the Old Athens Lunatic Asylum. They are also connected by blood, as the two were father and daughter. Amanda and Levi were both institutionalized at different times. Levi was admitted to the Asylum seven years after his daughter, Amanda, died there. We don't know if he knew that his daughter was buried on the grounds under a number or if he had any idea he'd likely join her there. But one of his present day ancestors has been conducting research trying to put all the pieces together to tell both of their stories.

Intention vs. Reality

As we begin season 2 of the WHO Lies Beneath podcast, Cheri and Doug look at the history of the Athens Asylum and what was originally intended for the patients who were housed there versus the reality of what happened. Experts talk about other similar cemeteries in Ohio and how the stigma and labeling of those with mental illness led to unmarked burials in Ohio and across the nation. We also preview the individual stories of people buried in asylum cemeteries that you'll hear during season 2.

Looking Ahead to Season 2

In this final episode of "WHO Lies Beneath: The Asylum" Season 1, Cheri Russo and Doug McCabe look ahead to the stories they hope to tell in Season 2. They answer listener questions and read messages from listeners about their relatives who are buried in the Athens Asylum cemeteries. They also talk about two other institutions with unmarked graves that they plan to learn about and then tell the stories of people buried there. Historian Paul LaRue shares his knowledge on the old Feeble Minded Institute in Orient, Ohio and the numbered tombstones located there. They also learn about the former Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia. If you have any information you want to share with us, you can email us at wholiesbeneath@woub.org.

Alice Mayle

With the help of voice-actor Karen Chan, Alice Mayle tells her life story. Mayle was buried in the Asylum cemeteries in 1929. Alice's committal records are missing from the archives, but one of her descendants was able to fill in the pieces of Alice's life. It's a story of marriage, adultery and contracting a sexually transmitted disease, which eventually led to her time at the asylum. We hear from Alice's great-grandson Richard Davis and talk with Jackie Wolf, who is a professor of the history of medicine at Ohio University and specializes in the history of women's health and children's health, along with the history of public health, and the history of biomedical ethics. We'd love to hear from you and see if the work done in Athens might lead you to some answers about one of your relatives. Email us at wholiesbeneath@woub.org.

John T. O'Donnell, James Hardy and Arthur D. James

With the help of voice-actors Tom Hodson, Chad Kopenski and Lynn Shaw - John T. O'Donnell, James Hardy and Arthur D. James tell their own life stories. The three men had different life experiences, some criminal in nature, but all experienced violence and trauma in their lives before they were admitted to the asylum. We talk with Paul LaRue, a retired social studies teacher who has conducted research projects involving veterans and unmarked graves and Lisa Skeens, who is an associate professor of social work at Ohio University and is a therapist. Her specialty areas include anxiety disorders, grief and PTSD. We'd love to hear from you and see if the work done in Athens might lead you to some answers about one of your relatives. Email us at wholiesbeneath@woub.org.