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Effort seeks to place markers on unmarked graves in Lansing

April 14, 2019

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The remains of 60 boys who were institutionalized and unlucky in life lie in unmarked graves on a bare hill at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

They were wards of the state: juvenile delinquents, orphans, children from families who couldn’t afford to feed or provide medical care for them during harsh times.

All of them died between 1856 and 1933 at the former Boys Training School in Lansing, which operated for more than a century on the city’s east side.

A renewed effort is underway to place markers on their graves, the Lansing State Journal reported.

“A lot of boys were not juvenile delinquents,” said Loretta Stanaway, president of Friends of Lansing’s Historic Cemeteries. “Even those that were still deserve to have some kind of identity and recognition that they had lived and they died and they’re here.”

Only one boy’s grave is marked. That marker bears the name of Richard McKimmy who died on Christmas Day 1926. He was 12. Stanaway said it’s believed his family paid for a marker.

Some of the bodies of those buried before 1874 were moved from the Oak Park Cemetery to Mount Hope Cemetery, when the city closed the Oak Park site.

Stanaway’s group is picking up the torch from long ago efforts to mark the graves.

Nancy Mahlow, a retired secretary from the Department of Environmental Quality, headed fundraising efforts a decade ago.

But instead of the $17,000 she needed to place markers on each grave, she raised only enough to engrave 61 names on the back of a 1950s marker erected at the site.

She’s thrilled that the effort has started again.

“I really want to see these boys have an identity. They have their names on the monument but to be able to see their names laid out where they are actually buried, they deserve that much. I’m excited about it,” she said.

Mahlow, president of the Eastside Neighborhood Organization, heard the story of the unmarked graves years ago and became fascinated with it. She wanted the boys to be remembered.

While working for the state, she spent hundreds of her lunch hours scouring state archives for information on the boys. She first had to get help from former Democratic Rep. Joan Bauer of Lansing to have the records unsealed.

“It just became an obsession, because I felt so bad that these boys died and they had no identity. It still bothers me to this day,” she said. “I was on a mission to find out when they were born, when they died, and what they died of.”

Mahlow found the cause of death for many of the youths. They mostly were afflictions of their times — tuberculosis, pneumonia, typhoid fever and measles.

They ranged in age from 11 to 18. About half the boys who died were black and half were white, she said. One was from Canada and another from Austria. Mahlow doesn’t know how they ended up in Michigan.

One youth was in there for stealing $2.25. Another took flour, pork and rice cakes.

Contrary to urban legends, she found no signs that they were abused or died in a fire at the school, she said.

The school operated from 1856 to 1972. It had a hospital, dental clinic, farm, barber shop, tannery, newspaper, band and football team, Mahlow said, giving the disadvantaged kids opportunity.

Most of the buildings were torn down in 1973 except for what’s now the Don Johnson Fieldhouse, built in 1925, and renovated in 1976. A smaller building used for storing sports equipment also remains.

Portions of the land were sold off in later years, including the land that is home to Eastern High School, Lansing Catholic High School and the East Village subdivision.

Stanaway said the hill of unmarked graves is a relatively unknown part of Lansing history.

“There have been people born and raised here who don’t know this exists,” Stanaway said.

Stanaway said at least $18,000 is needed to provide 8-inch by 16-inch flat grey granite markers. The boy’s names, year of birth and year of death will be on the markers.

A fundraiser will be held April 28 at the cemetery.

“When you think about it, most of us are driven by a few basic desires and one of those is to have a legacy. For these boys, this is their legacy. For good or bad, it’s what remains of them,” Stanaway said.

The boys, so unlucky in life, deserve some lasting recognition.

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com