Our Legacy: Saturday event honors sad legacy of Crownsville's Hospital for Negro Insane

Correspondent

Join the Friends of the Crownsville Patient Cemetery Saturday during the annual "Walk for the Woods" hosted by the Scenic Rivers Land Trust on the Bacon Ridge Natural Area in Crownsville.

At 10 a.m., during the walk, the Friends will perform their annual remembrance and celebration of the lives of former patients who died at the Crownsville Hospital for the Negro Insane.

This simple remembrance includes prayer, song, libation, the picking of a name (of a former patient buried there) from a basket, taking a handful of rose petals to the cemetery grounds, and saying the name of a former patient while releasing the rose petals.

Do we know the location of the burial site for each patient? No we do not, however we know that they are there somewhere on the 12 acres in accordance with a State of Maryland Certificate of death signed by the first superintendent of the Maryland Asylum of the Negro Insane — Dr. Winterobe.

It has been about 10 years that I have been invited by trust to share the stories of patients who lived behind the walls of Maryland's first Asylum for Negros during the Walk for the Woods. What is so fascinating about the location of this cemetery is that it is where Maryland's first Negro Asylum began: on a willow farm. This beautiful place where the air is clear is where many of the original patients came to live whose diagnosis was tuberculosis. It was here on Bacon Ridge where the men in this photograph made baskets.

It is hard to believe that it has been 14 years since my uncle, the late George Phelps Jr., received an invitation to see the Crownsville Hospital Patient Cemetery from then-superintendent Ron Hendler. My uncle invited me along to see this place that none of us, not George, Ron, nor I, even knew existed.

In the years since this discovery there have been many volunteers, scouring over death records from 1911-1965 who have assisted in discovering exactly who these people were and where they came from and why they died. Through these years of research there have been many tears shed as each death certificate viewed, told a story of medical treatment, manor of death, age of death, place lived before being admitted to Crownsville, the place of birth, and whether or not at their death they were removed to a family cemetery, removed to the University of Maryland Medical School to be used as a cadaver or, buried at the Crownsville Patient Cemetery.

On March 13, 1911 the first patients arrived at Maryland's Hospital for the Negro Insane as prescribed by law adopted by the General Assembly and fulfilled in 1910 with the purchase of the Boswell-Garrett-Hatch farm, 566 acres in Crownsville.

The first patients arrived by train from Spring Grove Mental Hospital in Baltimore and were taken to the willow plant where they lived on what we know today as, the Bacon Ridge Natural Area. These patients were shipped to Crownsville so that their labor could be used to expedite the construction of the buildings of the newly founded Asyum.

The grounds of the asylum were reminiscent of a 20th century plantation, this time run by the State of Maryland, where the Negro patients built the buildings (where they would live and be experimented on), harvested the crops, maintained animals, made their own clothes, made their own coffins, and buried each other.

Thousands of Negro patients, the majority from Maryland, but others from Georgia, Alabama, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina. Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Spain and the West Indies all buried on Bacon Ridge — the final resting place designated by the State of Maryland when the useful life of a Negro patient at Crownsville was over.

This year the Crownsville Task Force of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture will be joining us at the Crownsville Hospital Center, Meyers Building in their celebration of this amazing history at 11 am

Lest we never forget.

Historian Janice Hayes Williams writes occasionally about the African-American history of Annapolis. Contact her at ourlocallegacy@aol.com

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
37°