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Friday, September 27, 2019
Two years ago, Morgan Allara received a letter from a volunteer genealogist, letting him know the ashes of his great-grandfather were housed at Oregon State Hospital. Caught off guard, Allara set the letter aside and forgot about it.
Only when his grandson’s research confirmed the letter’s contents, did Allara choose to act.
“It’s because of my grandson Benji’s inspiration that I came forward,” said Allara, who lives in Milwaukie, Ore. “I was ready. Coming forward was the right thing to do.”
Allara was one of nearly 150 people who attended Oregon State Hospital’s memorial ceremony on Sept. 19. The purpose of the event was to celebrate the reunification of families with the cremated remains of 103 patients from Oregon State Hospital, 22 patients from Fairview Training Center, two from Oregon State Penitentiary, and four from the Tuberculosis hospital. Their bodies were cremated at the OSH facility between 1914 and 1973.
The ceremony featured music and remarks from several people, including OSH Superintendent Dolly Matteucci. Afterward, family members received the cremated remains of their loved ones and ancestors.
“I am so happy to share this event with you to celebrate another 131 people on their journey home,” Matteucci said during the event. “Every day, every month and every year, we strive to ensure that people we serve today – and those served in the past – are not forgotten.”
Damion Blair is Allara’s son-in-law and a director of nursing services for the hospital. Moved by the ceremony, he said he saw the event through the lens of a participant – instead of a nurse – for the first time.
“This gave me a newfound appreciation for the families who come forward and for the patients who are here,” he said. “This event highlighted the importance of recognizing our mistakes and fixing them.”
When these former patients passed away, no one came forward to claim their ashes. Sometimes, there was no one to notify, or the family was too poor to afford a burial. Other times, the stigma of mental illness kept people at bay.
Oregon State Hospital has served as custodian of the remains ever since – beginning with the remains of 3,500 individuals. To date, nearly 800 of them have been claimed by their descendants.
The memorial was dedicated in the summer of 2014. Each year since then, hospital staff take apart the memorial’s columbarium walls to remove the ceramic urns and give them to the families who’ve come forward during the past year.
Grateful he attended this year’s ceremony, Allara said he has many unanswered questions about his grandfather, John S. Pitt. He does know Pitt was admitted to the hospital in 1927 for senility, and that he died six months later at the age of 83.
“What has been preserved here is so important,” he said. “I am very thankful for this ceremony, and I can only hope that this tradition at Oregon State Hospital continues.”
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