Today, this parcel off Glendale Avenue in Sparks, Nev., is a serene and shady park. It wasn’t always that way. In fact, its history is downright horrific.
Venture inside and you’ll find an impressive 9-foot granite obelisk memorial stretching toward the sky. Bronze plaques feature the names of 767 people. Each was a patient at the Nevada State Asylum — and each, until recently, had been buried in an unmarked grave, forgotten by history.
From 1882 to 1949, asylum patients were buried on the hospital grounds. What started out as an orderly cemetery devolved to a mass grave. Bodies were stacked atop one another, and burials often were done by other patients.
When a large pipeline was installed in the 1940s, several graves were ripped apart and the remains used as backfill. When 21st Street was constructed in 1977, several graves were accidentally dug up and had to be reinterred inside the cemetery boundary.
These atrocities went unaddressed until a group known as the Friends of the Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services Cemetery appealed the state legislature to designate the area as an historical cemetery. SB 256, passed on May 22, 2009, finally brought an end to years of neglect.
Improvements included converting this parcel from a kid park to a memorial park and reinterring 18 graves buried west of the main cemetery. And, of course, the granite obelisk monument was installed. In addition to the 767 people known to be buried in the cemetery, there may be as many 400 others whose names have been lost to time.
On Jan. 21, 2011, a rededication ceremony took place to pay respect to the hundreds of souls who suffered untold neglect for so long. Attendees gathered in the new memorial park to give prayers and remembrance, and to recite histories of some of the people.
They were largely forgotten in life – and they were certainly forgotten in death – but with the hope, love and hard work of a caring group of people, these patients of the Nevada State Asylum can finally rest in peace.