LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) — Drive down a long, shaded, country lane west of the long-closed Hastings Regional Center site, follow a couple of bends in the road, and eventually you’ll arrive at the Ingleside Cemetery.
The burial grounds are the last remnant of a mental health complex, formerly known as the Ingleside Hospital for the Insane, that once served 2,000 patients, and had its own farm, post office and railroad depot.
The cemetery was nearly forgotten until 15 years ago, when the Adams County Historical Society went to court to force the state to reveal the names of the more than 1,400 former residents of the mental hospital who are buried there.
Small markers on graves
Most of the graves are marked only by numbers, engraved onto brick-sized concrete markers sunk into the prairie turf.
Now some advocates for the cemetery are raising concerns about damage done to the graves in recent weeks.
A two-track road has appeared, crossing the cemetery and leading across several of the graves. And there are fresh tracks from a tractor, tearing up the grass.
Tam Pauley, a retired Hastings nurse, and State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, who grew up near the cemetery, said the damage revives feelings that those who suffered from mental illnesses are suffering again.
“It’s very sad,” said Pauley, who did her psychiatric nursing training at the Regional Center decades ago, after seeing the damage.
“I thought of some of my patients who were lifetime residents of the Regional Center. I thought there was a good possibility that they were buried there,” she said.
Blood, whose mother used to volunteer at the Regional Center, said the damage feels like another injustice for those who were confined, away from their families, at the facility.
“There’s so many lost souls there. They never really had peace in their life,” Blood said. “Why can’t we give them a true resting place?”
Both Pauley and Blood wondered if new signs or fencing might prevent future damage.
A spokesman for the state, which maintains the Ingleside Cemetery, said this week that state officials were unaware of how the damage occurred.
But the tracks weren’t related to recent demolition work being done at the Regional Center, where several buildings have been torn down, according to Eric Maher, a public information officer with the Nebraska Department of Administrative Services.
Maher said that state maintenance staff will reseed the areas where grass has been destroyed and that security personnel will work to inform visitors to keep vehicles off the graves.
The history of the Ingleside Cemetery goes back to 1889, when a state hospital for the “incurably insane” was established just west of Hastings.
In the early days, people could be committed there for reasons now considered outrageous, according to the Adams County Historical Society. Those included domestic trouble, financial difficulties, “hepatic dullness” (related to liver disease), intemperance and religious excitement.
Both Pauley and Blood said that led to people being confined to the Ingleside Hospital that didn’t belong there.
The hospital went through several name changes before becoming the Hastings Regional Center in 1971. It was closed as the nation moved to de-institutionalize those with mental illnesses and treat them in community settings.
Walt Miller, a retired architect and local historian, said recent demolition work has left behind a grassy field where there were once more than a dozen regional center buildings.
Only link left
“The only link to the past is this cemetery,” Miller said.
The last burials in the Ingleside Cemetery were in 1959, he said.
In 2012, after the court ruling freeing up the names of those buried in the cemetery, a small memorial garden was established at Ingleside, with a solemn headstone reading: “For all that was, for all that might have been, grant us rest and peace.”
Pauley said she suspects that the tracks across the cemetery might have come from construction workers or crews cutting down trees. Miller said all cemeteries seem to be magnets for vandals.
A path extends around the cemetery, Pauley said, but the new, two-track road cuts across the graves, like a short cut, and connects to a path that leads to nearby railroad tracks.
Pauley said the state’s willingness to try to repair the damage and prevent more damage is good news.
“That makes me feel good,” she said.
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