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Discovery of asylum's mass grave halts U. Miss. construction project

Parking garage planners said finding of at least 1,000 bodies was not a surprise

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University of Mississippi Medical Center (photo courtesy UMMC)

The University of Mississippi's School of Medicine was forced to delay construction of a parking garage after tests revealed the presence of as many as 1,000 bodies buried at the Jackson, Miss., site.

They were not identified, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, and are thought to have been former patients at the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum, which closed about 80 years ago.

The discovery wasn't entirely unexpected, university spokesman Jack Mazurak told Yahoo News. "The property that the University of Mississippi Medical Center is located on used to be the location of the state insane asylum, which operated from 1855 to 1935," Mazurak said.

"Historically we knew that there were a lot of graves, many of which were not marked. In the '90s, we took the handful of marked graves and reinterred them in a designated cemetery area," he said.

"Throughout the years, as construction projects have gone on, on campus, we've occasionally run across a coffin. In fall of 2012, we were extending a road for a new intersection. That extension ran across an area that had rows of graves." Mazurak said they found about 66 graves in that instance.

Mazurak said the university quickly determined it couldn't build on the site, both out of respect and due to the cost to move and rebury the bodies, which would have added $3 million to the cost of the parking garage project at about $3,000 per grave.

The recent discovery was made before any bodies were physically dug up. Having learned their lesson from previous instances, researchers used ground-penetrating radar to test before breaking ground.

Officials from the medical center are currently discussing where to build the parking garage as well as other structures and parking lots they have planned for the campus.

The main campus for the University of Mississippi is located in Oxford. The Medical Center is located around three hours south in Jackson.

Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).

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