The Sun described a dirty room for small boys, who were naked and spilling food all over themselves, watched by one attendant. The newspaper noted there was no schooling for young patients, and epileptic children spent their days on a bare floor.

In 1953, The Sun reported, the sickest women were kept in "a room as forbidding as a dungeon," and there were not enough beds or toilets for the patients.

Lurz said the squalid conditions and the lack of funding and staff prevented patients — often referred to as "inmates" — from getting useful treatment.

He said his research indicates lobotomies were common in the 1940s and 1950s. He also said patients at Crownsville — as well as other state hospitals — were used as subjects in medical experiments.

Doctors drilled into patients' heads to drain the fluid from around the brain and to pump in air or helium, he said. Patients were then "somersaulted" upside-down and X-rayed.

Other times, doctors tested drugs on patients. It's not clear whether patients always agreed to the experiments, Lurz said, but some patients were given cards to buy coffee and cigarettes at the hospital canteen in exchange for participating.

"That didn't seem right to me," Lurz said.

Jordan-Randolph, the state deputy health secretary, said the hospital was "grossly underfunded."

Over the years, thousands of patients died at the hospital. Janice Hayes-Williams, a historian based in Annapolis, said she has reviewed death certificates and documented the burial of about 1,500 patients on the site. She said the bodies of another 1,000 were sent to the state anatomy board or the University of Maryland's medical school.

The stone markers at the old cemetery on the Crownsville campus show only numbers, not names.

When the hospital closed, the General Assembly passed legislation that directed the state to preserve the cemetery. But Hayes-Williams said the markers haven't been maintained and there's no way for family members to access the cemetery.

Hayes-Williams wants to see a monument to honor patients who died at Crownsville, and perhaps a wall listing their names.

"That cemetery needs to be restored to the dignity it had," Hayes-Williams said.

Del. Sandy Rosenberg, who sponsored the original cemetery preservation bill in 2004, said Wednesday that he would work on new legislation when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

"I want the people buried there to get the same treatment and maintenance and access for their family as is the case at a private facility," the Baltimore Democrat said after attending the hearing.

The Crownsville campus has been left largely untouched since the hospital closed. More than 500 undeveloped acres were turned over to Anne Arundel County. Another 500 acres contain dozens of vacant former hospital buildings.

One group has proposed reopening the site as a center for nonprofit and medical organizations that would be called the Community Services Center at Crownsville.

Tom Parlett, chairman of the group, told members of the Black Caucus the project would include a cultural center that would include information about the hospital's past.

"The history needs to be preserved," he said.

Braveboy said it might be appropriate to create an independent commission to develop recommendations for how to honor Crownsville patients.