Genealogy Hedgecoe-McKenna History

Kankakee State Hospital, Illinois, United States of America

I’m making a note***
This post deals with very very sensitive information that may not be acceptable to all readers.  Please do not continue reading if you are easily disturbed.  There are outgoing links in this blog that lead to websites where we do not post or control the content.  Thank you for your understanding.
Posting Member: Jenn
Topic: Kankakee State Hospital
Family Name Associations: McKenna
Location: I’m in Barrie, Ontario, talking about Illinois, US.
Mood: Somber.

 Often the life stories we uncover are sad ones.  The worst, in my mind, has always been the death of children long before their time.  Although that’s greatly rivaled by some of the war horrors we’ve learned of…  Things we’ve discovered that change your way of thinking because you can’t help but be affected by the horror, the sorrow or the desperation of the past.
Reading about Kankakee State Hospital has to be one of the most horrific items we’ve uncovered to date.  Not just the theories on patient deaths, wrongful practice and so on…  But the concept that these people won’t be reunited with their families, ever.
Trapped in life and in death seems just too much to understand.
First off…  We’re all pretty well educated about past medical practices.  The modern age we live in…  We’re really blessed.  Something we often take for granted.  If anything, to anyone who continues reading, it will reaffirm your gratitude for being alive and healthy now.
All of us understand that today’s level of care and compassion is vastly different from the past, and choose to see it as an evolution in humanity that we can claim improvement.  It is also our expressed opinion that no family is responsible for poor choice in placing anyone within the care provided by City or State.  We’re not judges.  This is our history, and all we can do is record it and hope to learn from it.  There is no fault nor blame casting in regards to the patients and their families in these notes, and we hope to progress with the utmost respect for everything that each of these individuals has lived through.
This search branched off because we’re working on some McKenna connections in Chicago, with Jake’s recent trip (Which he’ll update about asap) and his research there.  We were focusing on Michael Joseph McKenna’s line and came across his youngest child, James McKenna.
James is listed as living with his sister, Susan on the 1910 census.  Having been born in 1884, he was about 26 years old.  However the next census listing had my blood running a little cold.  James McKenna isn’t listed with his sister any longer, and is instead coming up as a patient for Kankakee Mental Hospital.  We can’t find him again after 1920.
I almost stopped looking at this point.  I have to admit, I dislike hospitals on the best of days…  But after looking up the Find A Grave Memorial on this specific Hospital, I needed to learn more.
(Updated FindAGrave Cemetery Posting
James McKenna doesn’t come up in the listing they have on FAG, just so I’ve made note of that.  Which means we have no further information on him after 1920, and no idea of where he died or is buried.  The post reads as follows:
“Cemetery notes and/or description:
This cemetery has been removed from the public eye. If you take River Road east from the entrance of the Kankakee Community College, you will make a left at the second road. This road leads into the baseball diamonds and into River Road Park. Between the ball diamond and the park, on the west side of the road is a new 8′ SOLID wood fence, with store bought, plastic, NO TRESPASSING signs posted. There is a path around the fence, which is chained off. If you walk down either side, as you get to the rear of the lot, the fencing is older and only 6′. Many of the slats are warped or twisted. (Damaged areas are quickly repaired.) You can peek between boards and see the graves. There has to be almost 1000 there.
There is ONE gate in, on the south side. The gate is solid wood, 8′, and secured by 3 very large padlocks. It is obvious that someone(???) does not want the public snooping around. There are NO signs to indicate what is behind the fence, and nothing telling you where to go or who to talk to for information.
From what I could see, the stones (all the same, much like a Military Cemetery) had the deceased name, date of death, and hospital patient number. There are some flat ground stones on the west side. The Kankakee State Hospital no longer exists. It is now The Shapiro Developmental Center, and has been so since the mid 1970’s.”
Another note we read on a message board suggested that the measures of protecting the graves had been taken to prevent damage and vandalism.  However, several people also reported being unable to find anyone who would allow even direct descendants access to the grave yard, and records seem to be non-existent.

One poster on a message board suggest there could be up to 6000 persons linked to this cemetery.  Without the public being aware of this situation and making it their business to have the information made available, there is no hope for it to ever again see the light of day.  Several people have suggested that the cemetery itself has been ‘protected’ by fencing and padlocks to discourage the public from seeing and therefore asking about the cemetery and who is buried there.  Apparently it’s an area that’s becoming more developed, and the potential for it to just be built over is high.  And if you do manage to get inside…  Burials by patient number are apparently high.  Without coordinating files, all that’s left is numbers and lost souls.More information….

Asylum Projects: Kankakee State Hospital
(No longer valid)

Roots Web: – Asylums: Kankakee

Genealogy Trails: Kankakee Abandoned Asylum almost makes an important note: Kankakee Hospital is now the Shapiro Developmental Center, meaning the grounds are still in use and patients are still being treated there.  Researchers must keep this in mind.

Abandoned Asylum: Photographs
Link no longer valid.

Florence Hutchison’s list of Deceased patients, as published in 1985 before the records were sealed in 1995: Red Barn Burials 1850-1870

Ultimately, after reading from these websites, and from the Illinois State department’s statement in regards to releasing any information on an non-direct relative…  We know we can kiss ever seeing these records good bye.  Barring mass intervention and them becoming public, James McKenna’s life story will likely be shrouded in mystery forever.  We’ve still got some hopes of finding his death certificate…  And of course, there’s the eternal optimist that suggests maybe he escaped Kankakee and went and built a lovely life in Florida where he died a prosperous old man of 101 with a hundred grand children who saw him aged and content.

But all in all, this has been a sorrowful twist, with inconclusive and disappointing ends that won’t ever seem to be tied up. To James McKenna, where ever he is…  We hope he’s resting in peace.
Always one for making things pretty, Jenn is our resident artist. Métis, British Home Child Descendant, family historian and genealogist, she is always looking into some new branch of research and encourages historical preservation and education.


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