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Abandoned Souls of the Outagamie County Asylum for the Insane

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For decades, a small plot of land in Appleton, Wisconsin, overgrown with grass and weeds, lie virtually unnoticed by the growing community around it.  Anonymously, it sat undetected by the thousands of cars that would unknowingly pass it every day along Highway 41, just mere yards away.

For almost 70 years, this tract of land was simply forgotten… except by those in the paranormal community of the area.  Paranormal enthusiasts were aware that under this abandoned field lie over 130 bodies buried by the former Outagamie County Asylum for the Insane, which used to stand close to this site.

This small field was once the cemetery for the Asylum, claiming the bodies of those who died there from 1891 until 1943.  Although it appears that headstones were utilized at one time, since at least the mid-1970’s this has been virtually a mass grave, with no visible burial plots; no names, no headstones.

In recent years the abandoned cemetery had become a popular place for paranormal enthusiasts and a regular stop for Ghost Tours and paranormal investigations. Rumors began to circulate about paranormal activity in the area; phantom screams, shadow persons, etc. According to asylum records, some of those buried in the cemetery were as young as 14 or 15 years old.

Laws regarding treatment of the mentally ill in the beginning of the 20th century were much different than today.  Once one was an “inmate” in the Asylum, it was almost always for life.  Many of those buried in the cemetery we would not think of today as being mentally ill at all.  According to records, some of the reasons for admittance were for common physical ailments, being “impoverished,” and even “drunkenness.”  Many times, children abandoned by their families would be sent to the asylum rather than an orphanage.

Burial Row 2 as found by Ground Penetrating Radar

Burial Row 2 as found by Ground Penetrating Radar

The cemetery undoubtedly held the bones of many restless souls.

Over the last two years, however, the future of the cemetery was changed forever.  A small, private committee was formed to attempt to restore the grounds, giving those buried under the seemingly barren sod the dignity they deserve, even decades after their deaths.  They were joined by a County committee to oversee the project, received permissions from state boards, as well as help from numerous local volunteers.  Ground penetrating radar was utilized to find all of the graves, which numbered 133, the exact number in the asylum records.  A large granite memorial was placed at the site, with a list of the names of all those who remain there.

For most, no information other than their name and date of death are known.  However, slowly but surely researchers are beginning to tell their stories.

Such as the story of Peter Herbert Gauslin, who was married twice, had 11 children, though due to complications from a car accident suffered on July 4th, 1931, he was brought to the Asylum for the Insane and died in 1934. He was buried in the cemetery in Plot #106.  His descendents unaware until recently.

Or the story of Euphrozine Eisert, who was born in Wisconsin in 1869, was brought to the asylum for unknown reasons as a widow, and died in 1941.  She was buried in Plot #122, rather than being brought to Holy Trinity Cemetery in School Hill, WI, next to her husband.  A cenotaph memorial stone with her name on it still lies at Holy Trinity today, next to her husband, without her presence.

In time, hopefully the stories of all of those buried at the Outagamie County Cemetery will be told.  Possibly it will take the assistance of paranormal investigators to uncover them, giving voices back to those who were silenced many years ago.

Stone

A full listing of all names buried at the Outagamie County Cemetery can be found here.

Scott Wittman is a professional Historical Landscape photographer, writer, researcher, and traveler. More of his work can be seen at www.scottwittmanvisual.com.

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