Newsroom > DHHS News Release

July 13, 2012
Marla Augustine, Communications and Legislative Services, (402) 471-4047 or
Utah Man Places Gravestone on Great Grandfather’s Grave at Regional Center
Ribbon Cutting for Memorial Garden
Lincoln—The family of John McCandless had been looking for him for a long time.  What happened to him was a family mystery.  No one knew where or how he died, until his great grandson located his death certificate in Nebraska.  The certificate said where his relative was buried—on the grounds of the state mental hospital, now the Lincoln Regional Center.
Scott Patterson, the great grandson, arrived in Lincoln from Salt Lake City, Utah, on Wednesday with a gravestone with “John McCandless, 1868 - 1926” inscribed on it.  It was placed on his great grandfather’s grave on Thursday.
“He’d been missing for over 100 years,” said Patterson. “No one talked about him, so we knew almost nothing about him. It’s good to finally have closure.”
Patterson said that his father at one time was director of a state mental hospital in Utah, so it is somewhat of a surprise to find his great grandfather buried at a mental hospital in Nebraska.  Patterson’s mother, a sister and a brother are all mental health professionals.
There has been a nationwide movement to recognize those buried at state mental hospitals, said Scot Adams, director of the Division of Behavioral Health at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
“For a long time, the identities of people buried at the cemeteries of mental hospitals were kept secret, even from their families,” Adams said.  “Most graves were just marked with a number.  Now information about those who are buried there is openly available. I would like to see more families locate the burial sites of their loved ones.”
Death certificates list where a person is originally interred.  The names and death dates of people buried at Nebraska’s regional centers are also available from the Nebraska State Historical Society.
Patterson’s mother, Kathryn Patterson, and sisters Annabel Bodell and Jeanette Vazquez, all of Salt Lake City, came to Lincoln for the placement of the gravestone.
John “Jack” McCandless was born in 1868 in Illinois. He died March 13, 1926, at the age of 57.  He was a farmer and laborer.
A celebration-of-life ceremony to recognize McCandless was held at the gravesite on Friday.  The ceremony also marked the dedication of a memorial garden at the site of the cemetery.
“This garden is about returning dignity and respect to a group of people who died without ceremony and were historically disregarded,” said Carol Coussons de Reyes of the DHHS Office of Consumer Affairs. “They should be accorded the dignity and respect they deserve.”