Politicians had been talking for years about the need to replace the Oregon State Hospital, but didn’t get serious about it until a group of legislators made a grim discovery during a 2004 tour: the cremated remains of 3,600 mental patients in corroding copper canisters in a storage room. The lawmakers were stunned.
“Nobody said anything to anybody,” said Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, who dubbed the chamber “the room of lost souls.”
The remains belonged to patients who died at the hospital from the late 1880s to the mid-1970s, when mental illness was considered so shameful that many patients were all but abandoned by their families in institutions.
After doing some research into the story, Photographer David Maisel got in touch with the hospital administrators – the same hospital, it turns out, where they once filmed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – and he was granted access to the room in which the canisters were stored.
Maisel set up a temporary photography studio inside the hospital itself. There, he began photographing the canisters one by one.
His book, Library of Dust, will be released later this summer.
Tip of the Hat to: Cleanser