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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 10, 2002

Project honors hospital's forgotten

Two bronze plaques list 541 people who died of mental illness. The identities of another 127 people are not known.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Health Writer

KANE'OHE — The names of the forgotten are worn by time and weather, abandoned in death as they were in life.

In all, 541 names are listed in solemn ranks on the two bronze plaques at Hawaiian Memorial Park Cemetery. They are the lucky ones.

Cremated remains of 127 others lie in the ground, nameless, their identities swallowed up decades ago in Kane'ohe's Territorial Hospital for the mentally ill.

Information on patients sought:
 •  Randolph Hack is looking for anyone with information on the unidentified Territorial Hospital patients or who remembers the 1960 remembrance service. Contact him at 586-4691.
The plaques bear silent witness to a time when mental patients were not treated but warehoused; when many of their families wiped them from memory; when they died so alone that their ashes were boxed and stacked on a hospital basement shelf.

Randolph Hack wants people to remember.

Hack, a mental health worker and a former patient at what is now called the Hawai'i State Hospital, is spearheading an effort to remember the 668 inurned at the cemetery; to heal the past and strive for a future in which mental illness is free of stigma.

Through a "remembrance project," he has secured about $500 to restore the shine to the aged bronze plaques and its 541 names. A community service is being planned.

"Because of the history of neglect at this hospital, the neglect of people, the neglect of remains, we should remember this history so such a thing never happens again," Hack said.

In 1969, when he was 22, Hack was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder.

Hack doesn't remember much of that miserable time — long hallways lined with beds, bad food that made him sick — but he remembers enough that he wants to honor those who came before him.

Today, he is the consumer adviser in the Department of Health's adult mental health division, an advocate for mental health "consumers" as they are called today.

The conditions in which patients with mental illnesses lived in at the Territorial Hospital in Kane'ohe were often atrocious.

Advertiser library photo • 1946

It was only in the late 1940s that scientists showed that mental illness was the result of a chemical imbalance, said Bud Bowles, executive director of United Self-Help. "Little by little," Bowles said, "the shame is being overcome."

But when patients entered the hospital early in the last century, they might as well have been sentenced to a life term. In many ways, the Territorial Hospital was nothing more than a prison to keep the "crazy people" away from everyone else. There was no hope for a cure. Treatments until the mid-1950s included prefrontal lobotomies, electro-shock therapy and insulin coma treatment.

In the late 1950s, there were more than a thousand patients at the Kane'ohe facility. They were once described by a hospital physician as the "faceless herd," abandoned by society and sometimes even their families.

The patients who rest beneath the two plaques have a grim tale. When they died, they were cremated and their ashes placed in cardboard boxes or tin cans that were stacked one on top of another in a hospital basement. State law prohibited tax money being used to give them a burial.

Some sat on the shelf for 30 years before they were found in 1960 by Advertiser reporter Jack Teehan, who spent a week reporting on the hospital. By then, mildew and age had erased the names on many of the containers. Some had broken open, spilling their contents to the floor.

As a result of Teehan's story, the Legislature found $5,000 to give the forgotten people a proper burial. Their remains were placed in urns and buried on a grassy slope at the cemetery. They were honored with a service on July 1, 1960.

They have slipped into obscurity again. While red and pink anthurium and ginger flowers adorn surrounding graves, a lone weed grows in a crack in the concrete of one of the plaques.

On Christmas Eve, about 30 people who are living with mental illness gathered at the cemetery site to honor the former patients. The service for the Diamond Head support group of United Self-Help was delivered by the Rev. Steve Kishimoto of Faith Missionary Church, who himself recently found he is at high risk for clinical depression.

"My main thing was I wanted to tell the gang was that by being there we remember these people but we also remember each other," Kishimoto said. "You're not in it alone."

Hack remembers feeling an incredible sadness as he looked on the plaques and read the names — Mary Boles, Henry Kahili, Saturine Villanueva — others are recorded simply as John Doe, Lambert and Chan. Even more poignant are the 127 who rest without a mark.

Hack hopes to add more names to the memorial — even just one — so the forgotten could know they are forgotten no longer.

Reach Alice Keesing at akeesing@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8014.