This massive complex of over 100 buildings and with a floor space of over 3 million square feet, got its start a little humbler way back in the pre Civil War days and with direct leadership by none other than famous US medical advocate Dorothy Dix. This is a picture of the complex today. It is just about a 30 minute drive from the DC downtown area... if not in rush hour. If in the later, you can add a few weeks to the drive. Hehe.
The hospital is a health care facility for those aflicted with mental health issues, and was the first federal institution, and in fact the only federal facility of its kind for over 50 years. Military psychiatry was one of its specialties from CW days until well past WW11. If a patient died while there and other arrangements were not made, they would be buried right on site, as was the case for over 5,000 men, women and children.
Sarah's 2nd letter pleads for more information about Joseph's health and reminds the hospital of her dire financial situation. In fact she went far enough to say she could not even afford to bury him should he pass away. By the fourth letter, thanking the hospital for all it was doing, she also notes that she cannot bear to tell the children the truth when they ask where their "papa" is and why is he not at home and how he was doing.
Her last letter acknowledged his passing away and again made special mention of the kindness the hospital showed to her ailing husband till his end. She also thanked them for the comforting thoughts the hospital passed on to the family at the time of their loss.
Joseph died on 21 March 1882 and was buried in the east cemetery out in back of the east wing of the hospital. The exact area of his grave is in the midst of a clump of trees just inside the red triangle above... but below the green indicator in that image.
To the right is the marker for Joseph Noil. For years the location of his marker was unknown. With much research under his belt, Mr. Don Morfe of the "Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States", of which I am a proud member, traced paperwork back to St Elizabeths. From there the Hospital, the federal government and the Chicora Foundation Inc, a cemetery field surveying firm, put their heads together and came up with the end result that this marker above and to the right is indeed in the name of Joseph Noil and that the spot marks where he lay at rest.
However there is still a problem. His name is spelt wrong. It says NOEL instead of NOIL. And to boot it is most incredibly difficult to read.
I also noted something else. While this Canadian hero died in March of 1882. A very close look at the date the marker was apparently ordered was not till quite some time later. It appears to say 1901 at the bottom right. NINETEEN years later, and maybe when staff were not around that could have picked up on the correct spelling!
The cemetery also tells me that it is in the midst of some fairly heavy workloads in providing care to the greenery on site and the trimming process for trees so needing attention. This was evident when I was taken on a tour in early October. The cemetery adds that it can only do so much at a time.
Before closing I would also like to note that the incredible work that Don Morfe had done has been a long time passion for him. He has PERSONALY visited and photographed over 2,850 Medal of Honor recipients grave markers. It is very doubtful anyone else has done so much to single handedly and no doubt at personal costs, preserve the history of these amazing heroes and their markers. He's been at it since 1999 and thinks he has done almost 99% of the known markers so far.
It's long past the time that the US federal government recognize him for his incredible efforts.
Kudo's to you Don.
Thanks also to the staff and particularly Mr Jogues R Prandoni at St Elizabeths for the considerable time spent in researching and emailing me info and spending time with me in early October and for having such a strong passion for the history of the institute and the men and women who have passed through its doors, and those that have remained behind in their afterlife.
More on Monday