When I was a child in the early 1940s, I stayed with my grandmother on Hymer Avenue in Sparks while my mother, Phyllis, worked in a casino. One day, my older cousin saw a dragline working at the nearby state asylum cemetery, so being curious kids, we went to see what was happening. The dragline was digging a deep ditch across the cemetery and was digging across many of the people buried there near Hymer and 21st Street.
During the past several years, I have written articles about the plight of this historic cemetery. Over the years, the cemetery deteriorated even more. Finally, a group called the Friends of the Northern Nevada Mental Health Services Cemetery approached the Nevada Legislature. As a result, during the 2009 session, a bill was passed and signed by Gov. Jim Gibbons, to declare the cemetery a historic cemetery and to make several improvements.
The Nevada State Public Works Board prepared the plans and several contracts were awarded to make major improvements to the long-neglected cemetery.
Cassinelli Landscaping and Construction was the low bidder on the project and began work by exhuming 18 graves from one small section of the historic cemetery and bringing the remains to a plaza where they were reinterred near the large and older part of the cemetery. I was the foreman on the project and supervised the exhumations and the reinterment at the place where a memorial plaza was being built by another contractor.
The entire perimeter of the historic cemetery was fenced off with a substantial black iron fence, A concrete plaza with sidewalks and new lawn areas was built. A nine-foot-tall granite obelisk memorial marker was installed with bronze plaques on each of the four sides. The plaques contain the names of 767 people known to be buried in the cemetery. This single marker is the only marker to memorialize the hundreds of people buried there. There is evidence there may be 400 others whose names remain unknown.
I was given four sets of unidentified remains that had been accidentally dug up during construction on 21st Street. All the remains were placed in new caskets with liners and reinterred in the area surrounding the plaza and the grave markers were placed over them. All work authorized by the legislation has now been completed. Most of the grave markers are marked “unknown.” We have been told there were many patients at the hospital who became insane from working in the Comstock mills where mercury was used for ore processing.
A rededication ceremony was held at the historic cemetery at Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services on Jan. 21, 2011. After many years of destruction and neglect, the hundreds of Nevada citizens buried there will now receive the respect and memorialization they deserve.
Dennis Cassinelli is a Dayton author and historian. You can order his books at a discount on his blog at denniscassinelli.com.