New effort to identify people buried at Westland's Eloise cemetery

WESTLAND, Mich. – A few weeks ago, Local 4 reported on hidden graves near the former Eloise Hospital. More than seven-thousand people-- mental patients, tuberculosis patients and the poor-- were laid to rest in a field a few hundred yards from the hospital because they had no family to claim them.

There are now two volunteer groups trying to come together and work with Wayne County to figure out what's next for this cemetery. Many people who've reached out to Local 4 hope it's something that can connect them to their long-lost loved ones.

"If there are 7,100 people buried here, this field can only account for two-thirds of those people," said Fred Kuplicki as he surveyed and measured Potter's Field.

Kuplicki is a genealogist and historian working with the Eloise Cemetery Research Group-- the second volunteer group to uncover grave markers here. He's been mapping out Potter's Field at Eloise Cemetery in an effort to one day identify as many of the people buried there as possible, and then create a database.

"In the future if someone wants to find out if someone is buried there, they can go to that database they can find out what the marker number is and where that person is buried," said Kuplicki.

Since the 500 or so grave markers have been uncovered in the last four months, Wayne County has stepped in. It wants Eloise Cemetery Research Group to hold off on any more digging and work with Friends of Eloise, a group formed in 1999, to come up with a plan. Everyone may not agree on that plan, but all agree that connecting names to plots may help these lost souls rest in peace.

"I'm just hoping everyone can work together," said David Raimer, a recent volunteer who's lived near Eloise most of his life. "Nobody is looking for any glory or a pat on the back. We're just doing it because it's the right thing to do."

Kuplicki plans to use the winter for research and then in the spring, get enough volunteers to possibly execute a massive one-day dig to uncover all of the markers.

"I guess this is a mission here... and I want to see it through," said Kuplicki.

Some volunteers believe the county is going to come through tomorrow and fill in all the uncovered markers with dirt to protect them for the winter. However, a Wayne County spokesman tells Local 4 a determination on that had not been made yet. The county is concerned with the safety of the people who are tending to these graves, but it does want to work with these groups to find a resolution.

In a meeting last week, it asked Friends of Eloise to take the lead for the volunteers since the group is older and is a registered non-profit organization with a previous relationship with the county.

Friends of Eloise also uncovered some markers beginning in 1999 but its president Patricia Ibbotson said "it was an exercise in futility," since the filled back in on their own.

She says the group helped research and identify many of the 4,000 or so names of people buried at Eloise Cemetery. Those names can be found on FindAGrave.com.

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