Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Getting a Grip About Unpleasant Realities

A 'reform school' in Florida finally closed in 2011. Survivors say it that kids were physically and sexually abused there, but it can't have been all that bad.

In a century of operation, only two adults and 96 kids are buried in marked graves on the school grounds: that we know of, anyway.

Dead and Ignored: Until Now

Some folks in Florida are digging up the bodies, trying to identify the people buried there. Maybe we can learn who they were, how they died, and maybe return the bodies to their families for a more conventional burial or cremation.

I think that's a good idea. Kids in reform schools are people, and may have families who a rip about them. That might be why they're in a reform school.

Identifying the bodies so that they can be returned to those families makes sense: to me.

Not everybody sees it that way. Some folks are afraid that they'll make less money if what other people did in a previous century gets reviewed.

Death, Justice, and "Negative Publicity"

They may be right. I don't have a problem with folks wanting to make money. I wouldn't mind doing that myself. I do, however, have a problem with trying to keep anonymous crime victims from receiving at least a measure of posthumous justice - to make a few extra bucks.

'Pillars of the community' like that are part of the reason that I never tried - or wanted - to be 'successful' in the conventional sense.

Here's part of what got me started on this topic:

(from Reuters, via, used w/o permission)
"White metal crosses mark graves at the cemetery of the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. (Reuters)"
"...Sid Riley, the managing editor of the weekly Jackson County Times, wrote to state officials in July, calling the plans a 'terrible project.'

" 'We have an active industrial development program and a tourist development program here. If they proceed with this terrible project, our community will be exposed to over a year of negative publicity, 'Riley wrote...

""...Jackson County Commissioner Jeremy Branch said the project would continue to blemish the county and Marianna, where the school is located. He said he was confused as to what the exhumation of the bodies would discover.

" 'Are we trying to determine if bad things happened 100 years ago in America?' Branch said. 'We know bad things happened in America.'..."

Make-Believe Virtue?

I sympathize, a little, with folks who fear "negative publicity." It's possible that Jackson County's industrial and tourist development programs will have to deal with unpleasant realities.

But, obvious as this may seem, reality is real. I think dealing with it makes more sense than trying to live in a make-believe world.

On the other hand, maybe Deadwood South Dakota would be more prosperous if city leaders had re-named it 'Happy Grove,' and made an effort to cover up Deadwood's colorful past. Or maybe not:

Dead Babies in Central Minnesota

Acknowledging Jackson County's unpleasant past, identifying the anonymous dead, and telling families where their sons are buried, is a good idea.

The 'dark past' of my adopted home town isn't quite the same as Jackson County's. Our abandoned cemetery holds the unmarked graves of quite a few babies and a maybe some young mothers. Folks with the local Knights of Columbus council are reconstructing burial records, and maintaining the cemetery.

As far as I know, there wasn't abuse involved in those deaths. Not at the institution where they died, anyway.

At the time, a few generations back, unwed mothers were pariahs. Those with wealthy parents might get sent abroad and later repackaged as virgins suitable for marriage to some promising young man from another 'good' family. The rest had very few options other than suicide or descent to the bottom of society's ladder.

The state of Minnesota ran a few places where young women who were pregnant but not married could go to have their babies without being molested. Giving birth wasn't an entirely easy or safe process. Sometimes the baby died, sometimes both mother and baby didn't survive.

One of these 'schools' was the Sauk Centre Home School for Girls, on the north side of town. When one of the inmates died, locals buried them in a place called Brookdale Cemetery. We think somewhere between one and three adults are buried there, and maybe 20 babies.
"...The reformatory school for girls opened in 1911. Pregnant girls were often brought in by train so they could give birth at the reformatory with the agreement that the baby would become property of the state and then put up for adoption...."
(Bryan Zollman, Sauk Centre Herald (June 19, 2013))
Someone charitably described record keeping from the Home School as "fairly poor." Figuring out who is buried at Brookdale, or even how many graves we have, is hard: when the State of Minnesota cut funding for that 'home school,' they also removed the grave markers.

Giving credit where credit is due, though: the state government at least allowed locals to bury the kids; and isn't trying to stop volunteers from maintaining the cemetery.

Dealing With Death and Life

Don't expect a rant about God killing wretched sinners, by the way. Two of our six children died before birth, we nearly lost my wife with the last one, but I'm pretty sure that God didn't kill those kids to 'get even' with me.

I'm Catholic. We've got more sense than that:
We're expected to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, help the poor: and bury the dead. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2447)

It's 'the right thing to do,' and personally important in the long run. (Matthew 25:31-46)

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.