A mass grave was discovered in Norman. Nearly a century after the state's mental hospital burned down, killing dozens of patients inside, officials say they have located the mysterious burial site
In 1918, 40 inmates died in the fire at the Oklahoma State Hospital, presently known as Griffin Memorial Hospital, all but two were burned beyond recognition. Their bodies were buried in a large unmarked grave.
"These individuals that died in the fire were in our care a long time ago. It seemed to me, not right that we didn't know where they were buried," said Larry Gross, Executive Director of Griffin Memorial Hospital.
Gross joined in the efforts to solve the mystery when he took the position at the facility a couple of years ago.
"I think there is some lessons to be learned for how individuals were cared for back then and these sorts of tragedies," Gross said.
Gross says he considered it the hospital's obligation to find the mass grave where its former patients were buried. The hospital first called on the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey at OU five years ago, to search the suspected burial site at IOOF Cemetery in Norman.
The technology for such a task was unavailable until this year.
"We ran our new equipment in the area and lo and behold there it was," said Scott Hammerstedt, a member of the research faculty at Oklahoma Archaeological Survey at University of Oklahoma.
Hammerstedt said the equipment allowed them to see underground. The imaging shows the dirt was disrupted all those years before.
"You can never be 100% sure until you actually excavate," Hammerstedt said.
Hammerstedt says they have no plans to do so.
"But based on what we know and the size of the anomaly we found we are pretty confident," he said.
Hospital staff still has work to do. Gross said they plan to place a monument at the grave site.
"It can become a place where they can go and pay their respects to their family members," said Gross.
First, the hospital plans to locate the victim's families to get their input on a design for the monument.
Griffin Memorial Hospital is accepting donations to cover the cost of the memorial. Donations can be sent to Griffin Memorial Hospital, P.O. Box 151. Norman, OK 73070. Please note that the money is for the fire memorial.