By Julie Wiessner
The Winslow Indian Sanatorium Cemetery (WISC) until recently was the unmarked final resting place of at least 540 individuals. Gayle Sadler noted, “The Double Crosses of Lorraine were finally erected to mark the site where very sick, very poor people, two-thirds of which were either children or babies, died at first of tuberculosis and later from any ailment, being penniless or wards of the state, and were buried at this site.”
Burials began in the 1930s, with some of the graves not more than 18 inches deep. Over time erosion took its toll, and there is concern now with what the depths are now since they were only buried in canvas bags during that time.
Some horrible things have happened at this site; there is no permanent fence, and youths have been found to go to this location on Halloween, cut the barbed wire fence and start digging, thinking they are digging for buried treasure. Sadler noted that it is amazing, because this property is visible from the highway, and it is more amazing that none of these youths have actually uncovered one of the bodies.
At one point in the past, there were wooden crosses to mark each gravesite, but when highway clean-up time came, since many of the wooden crosses had already been knocked over, people just raked up what was thought to be sticks, which were picked up and thrown away.
The sanatorium has changed hands at least three times, the records on who was buried were lost and after 50 years, all medical records are destroyed. There are no grids or markers to denote whose remains are where now.
This has been a labor of love for Sadler, chronicling the heartaches of the events and the people who are buried there, creating an index with names, parents’ and spouses’ names, dates and places of birth and death, and cause of death, categories typically needed for family research. The original index has been supplied to The Roxanne Whipple Memorial Library, Winslow City Hall and to the LDS Genealogical Library for sub-mission to the archives in Salt Lake City for public access.
Sadler has been researching this for the last two years, but every year the 50-year wait is lifted for review of death records, and the names of more people buried at this site are discovered. To let relatives know where their loved ones are at last is one of her goals.
Another goal is for the Winslow Indian Sanatorium Cemetery Commission to hold fundraisers to raise money for a permanent fence that cannot be cut through, but the estimated cost is between $50,000 and $60,000, and the commission is not even halfway there yet.
If you would like to donate to help build the permanent fence or in some way contribute to this effort, please make a check or money order to: The City of Winslow-WISCP, Historic Preservation Committee, 21 N. Williamson Ave., Winslow, Ariz. 86047, or contact Peggy Wilson at (928) 289-1411.
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By Julie Wiessner