Cemetery notes and/or description: Cherokee Mental Health Institute Cemetery Established 1902
Rededicated as Beacon Hollow Cemetery August 15, 2002
The first patients arrived at Cherokee Mental Health Institute in August of 1902. In September of 1902, the groundskeepers were directed to create a hospital cemetery, and the first patient deaths were recorded that same year. Several patients were buried in that cemetery in 1902, but it appears that those early gravestones were relocated after a nearby creek flooded the burial sites.
Probably many patients died from pneumonia, syphilis, tuberculosis, old age, or cancer, all of which are readily treatable today. They were buried at the Cherokee Mental Health Institute because they had no family to claim them, their families couldn't afford to move them back to their home communities or they were unwanted by family members. In creating this memorial cemetery we celebrate each life. Lives that have no less value for the mental illness which co-existed; lives which inspires us for the courage each showed in searching for a meaning beyond their illness.
Since 1902, 831 patients have been buried at this cemetery. The last patient buried here was in 1962. Grave sites #1 - #361 have above ground markers. There was a shroud of secrecy about these people's lives because of their mental illness.
An effort began in the late 1990's to bring recognition and dignity to the 831 patients buried at the Cherokee Mental Health Institute. Many hospital employees joined the effort to restore the cemetery. New headstones were ordered with the patients' names, birth and death dates on each plaque. Staff members formed a committee whose purpose was to preserve the historic nature of the cemetery with dignity while improving its appearance.