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County Home's unmarked graves remain a mystery

Saturday, October 3, 2009

These cement poles mark the area where several unmarked graves are believed to be. The site is behind the Putnam County Home, which was closed this summer. No one seems to know for sure how many bodies are actually buried in the area.
GREENCASTLE -- Some mystery surrounds a cemetery with unmarked graves that lies on property at the Putnam County Home.

Two things are in question: Exactly where the bodies lie and how many are there.

There are at least 11 documented bodies buried on the hillside of a pasture directly behind the county home. A local farmer who rents the property told Putnam County Planner Kim Hyten he believed there were at least 52 bodies buried there.

Hyten has also been told there are 32.

Putnam County Sheriff Steve Fenwick had a post placed near a marker planted where the bodies were buried years ago. A plaque on the original marker states there are unmarked graves in the area.

Records from the home kept on a separate sheet of paper in a journal between 1933 and 1943 show that 11 people who were admitted at the county home died and were buried there during that decade.

Those listed are Abner Hensley, Thomas Hester, Frank Knott, James Williams, John Bowers, John Hughes, Daniel Staggs, Thomas McCullough, James Browning, William Gastineau and Harvey Cloverdale. These deaths and burials are documented on later pages in the journal.

Another page in the beginning of the journal lists the deaths of 40 inmates during this same time frame, but does not list where the bodies are buried. The 11 people on the sheet of paper are included in the journal and listed as buried at the county home.

Other pages in the journal list admissions and dismissals by the year, including deaths and where the people were buried. The journal chronicles the admissions and dismissals of residents through December 1971.

However, most of the dismissals after the 1950s don't list where residents were buried, so it is possible there could be more than 11 bodies in the cemetery.

Hyten has received permission from the Putnam County Cemetery Board to fence off the area to protect the area where it is believed the bodies are buried.

He said he would like to find a way to locate the bodies to document the number buried.

"Any ideas anyone has would be appreciated," he said. "I'm hoping somebody can suggest a way to locate the bodies. I know we can't identify them, but at least we would know how many were there."

One possibility might be a school like Indiana University that has sonar-type devices to locate buried bodies.

"Maybe some school would do it as a class project," he said. "Or, if we could find a way to rent the equipment we might be able to do it ourselves. We just don't know right now. We're looking for ways to do it."

The County Home was closed at the end the summer, and county commissioners are trying to determine what to do with the 1835 building. The surrounding land will most likely be sold in parcels or auctioned off.

Much of the furniture and supplies inside the home will be sold as well.

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This is a very historical part of Putnam and should be saved as such.

-- Posted by carolmonnett on Sun, Oct 4, 2009, at 6:35 PM

When I was a student at IU, we used ground-penetrating radar in a cemetery and it worked quite well. I'll pass the story along and maybe they can help.

-- Posted by JenniferSR on Mon, Oct 5, 2009, at 7:16 PM

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