ST. PETER (AP) -- 1027. 838. 837. Each one, the number on a nameless grave. There are 10,000 graves like that at Minnesota hospitals for the mentally and physically disabled.
Now they have names: Laura Hammersley. Jacob Altmeyer. John Mayhew. Each one, marked Thursday with a gray granite headstone at the cemetery up a winding dirt road from the St. Peter hospital.
About 50 people, including relatives of the deceased, members of an advocacy group, and hospital staff, attended the ceremony to celebrate the marking of the graves. About 800 of St. Peter's 2,600 graves are now marked.
Although markers were erected in Faribault in 1997 and later in Willmar, three-fourths of the numbered graves at Minnesota hospitals remain anonymous, according to Jim Fassett-Carman, a community organizer for Remembering With Dignity.
The group is a lobbying organization that represents 11 disability advocacy groups. It has been working for eight years to mark the graves of anonymous state hospital patients.
Last year, the state allocated $200,000 toward the effort, enough to pay for markers on about one-third of the graves at the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center Cemetery as well as others at a state hospital in Cambridge.
"Next year, we'll get more money from the state of Minnesota, who we really believe is responsible for these (gravesite) numbers," said Fassett-Carman of the state hospital burials, which are now exceedingly rare.
The 137-year-old St. Peter hospital, the state's oldest, is one of 10 such institutions in Minnesota with anonymous, numbered gravesites.
Dorothy Anderson of Chisago City shared some of her experiences in Faribault during the ceremony. She stayed in Minnesota's state hospital system until she turned 29, when she moved in with a foster family.
"I was scared when I moved out because (the hospital) was all I knew and I didn't know what it was like to be a part of a family," Anderson said.
She looks back on Faribault with mixed feelings and wouldn't want to go back again.
"I'm glad the people who lived and died here are now being remembered and they should not be forgotten," she said.
No. 1782 is now marked as the grave of Albert Berger, who died in 1948. His great-niece, Gerry Leonard, paid $160 out of her own pocket to have his grave marked because it is in a different area from the ones marked on Thursday.
"I have peace of mind that he's just a little bit more than a number," said Leonard, 75, of Nicollet. "I want to go to the family reunion this year and brag that he finally has a marker."
Roger Filzen, a former St. Peter patient who has difficulty speaking, spoke at the ceremony with the help of his nurse of 12 years, Meg Jakubiec. Like many patients, Filzen was ultimately deinstitutionalized and now lives in his own home in New Ulm.
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