Rita Landgraf, Secretary
Jill Fredel, Director of Communications
302-255-9047, Cell 302-357-7498
Date: May 9, 2016
NEW CASTLE (May 9, 2016) - Gov. Jack Markell joined other dignitaries today in unveiling and dedicating a monument that adds the names of hundreds of patients of the Delaware State Hospital and others who are buried in the Spiral Cemetery on the grounds of the Department of Health and Social Services' Herman Holloway Campus near New Castle. The ceremony included the dedication of a Delaware Historical Marker to honor the cemetery's significance.
The Spiral Cemetery, which was active from 1891 to 1983, contains 776 graves. Until today, those graves were noted only by numbers on small granite markers. Since 2010, a group of people has been interested in restoring the cemetery and honoring the individuals buried there by having their names engraved on a monument. In time, the group formed the Friends of the Spiral Cemetery Committee, which has been working to clean up and restore the cemetery, commission the monument, install a historical marker and honor the individuals buried there.
"The dedication of this monument and historical marker are part of our commitment to the families of those buried in the Spiral Cemetery that their loved ones will never be forgotten," Gov. Markell said. "It is our responsibility to see that these sacred grounds remain a place of reverence and honor. With this monument, we will keep that commitment."
Artists from the Creative Vision Factory in Wilmington, who are living with mental illness and use art as a form of expression and therapy, created the monument that includes the names of each person buried in the cemetery matched to the number on their marker. The monument's decorative surface depicts a flower garden, and was applied using handmade glazed tile. The shape of the monument mirrors the shape of the Spiral Cemetery.
William Slowik, who came up with the idea for the monument and guided its construction, said he was proud to have helped with the project. "This is a message of love, a message of respect to the people buried here," he said.
State Sen. David McBride, whose district includes the Herman Holloway Campus, sponsored the Delaware Historical Market with state Rep. J.J. Johnson. Sen. McBride unveiled the marker.
Almost all of the individuals buried in the Spiral Cemetery were patients at the Delaware State Hospital - now known as Delaware Psychiatric Center. Among those who were not patients are three hospital employees who died during epidemics and two babies who were stillborn to hospital patients. Also buried there are two veterans of the Civil War and one veteran of the Spanish-American War.
"Both the reforms we are carrying out at Delaware Psychiatric Center and the community-based system of care we are building across our state have helped to reduce the institutionalization of individuals with serious and persistent mental illness and the stigma associated with the disease," Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf said. "I thank the Friends of the Spiral Cemetery and the artists at the Creative Vision Factory for helping us to take another positive step forward. Displaying the names of the individuals buried in the Spiral Cemetery is our lasting commitment that their lives always will be honored and remembered."
Joining the Governor, Secretary Landgraf, Sen. McBride and the artists as part of the dedication program were Larence Kirby, executive director of the Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs; Faith Kuehn, Chair of the Friends of the Spiral Cemetery; Holly Dixon, peer services director at DPC; Dr. Katherine Dettwyler, anthropology professor at the University of Delaware who researched the lives of the individuals buried in the cemetery; Delaware's poets laureate Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Albert Mills; DPC music therapists Petie DelPizzo and Audrey Haussig; the Rev. William Boatwright, chaplain at DPC; and Wilmington State Police Pipes and Drums.
"The Cemetery Project has restored the dignity to those buried in the long-obscured graves in the Spiral Cemetery," Kuehn said. "We may not know any of the dead, but the people buried there and the lives they lived are part of our shared history."
Since 2012, Dettwyler has been researching handwritten State Hospital patient ledgers to learn about the vast majority of the people buried in the cemetery. Her project led to the creation of a searchable database so researchers can learn more about the treatment at the hospital from 1894 to 1920 of people with serious and persistent mental illness, developmental and intellectual disabilities, and traumatic brain injuries. When completed, the database will be available through the Delaware Public Archives.
To learn more about the Friends of the Delaware State Hospital (Spiral) Cemetery Committee, go to delawarerecovery.org/spiralcemetery.
To find the name of each individual in the Spiral Cemetery matched to the location of their grave marker, go to: findagrave.com.
NOTE TO THE MEDIA: To download photos from the May 9 event go to: flickr.com/photos/deldhss/albums/72157668097618226.
Delaware Health and Social Services is committed to improving the quality of the lives of Delaware's citizens by promoting health and well-being, fostering self-sufficiency, and protecting vulnerable populations.