"Cuckoo's Nest" Hospital Remains: 3,500 Unclaimed Souls

cuckoo's nest, jack nicholson, 4x3 Warner Bros. Entertainment/IMDB

cuckoo's nest, jack nicholson, 4x3
The mental hospital where "One Flew Over Cuckoo's Nest" was filmed is seeking survivors of 3,500 former patients and inmates. The 1975 movie starred Jack Nicholson as a disruptive mental patient. (Warner Bros. Entertainment/IMDB)

(CBS/AP) They call it the "room of forgotten souls:" the storage area at Oregon's state mental hospital where the cremated remains of 3,500 former patients and inmates were stashed away. Now the decrepit, 128-year-old hospital - the site where "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" was filmed - is trying to match the remains with surviving relatives.

It won't be an easy task.

On Friday, the Oregon State Hospital published online the names, birthdays, and dates of death for the former patients and prison inmates, who died between 1914 and the 1970s. The remains were discovered in 2004 in corroding copper canisters. Some of them had fused together after years of neglect.

The 1975 movie, in which Jack Nicholson played a wily mental patient, drew national attention to the treatment of patients in psychiatric hospitals. Nearly 30 years later, a group of lawmakers stumbled upon the remains while touring the hospital and vowed to improve mental health treatment.

Their discovery was a catalyst for the approval of a new state mental hospital and a boost in staffing.

Officials were able to identify all but four canisters of remains. Relatives have claimed those belonging to 120 people since lawmakers first drew attention to the cans seven years ago.

The first patients moved into Oregon's new 620-bed mental institution this month, leaving behind a crumbling hospital that had toxic paint, asbestos and a leaky roof. Forty percent of it was unusable, left to collect pigeon droppings and piles of antique medical equipment.

The old building was designed around outdated theories of mental health treatment. The hospital was harshly criticized in 2008 for poor management practices after federal investigators found mice in rooms, deaths from pneumonia and outbreaks of scabies, along with nearly 400 cases of patient-against-patient assault during one year.

The new facility is built with shatterproof glass instead of jail-like bars. To provide the privacy that helps with treatment, many patients have their own rooms.

With any luck, the former patients and inmates may soon have their own places too.

  • David W Freeman

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