They lie in unmarked graves, beneath a blanket of well-trimmed grass, in the shade of towering walnut trees, just yards from the hospital where they spent their final years, months or days.

More are buried in the Norfolk Regional Center's "new cemetery," which sits just west of the intersection of East Benjamin Avenue and Highway 35.

Although a list of names of the people buried in that cemetery exists, there are no public records of the names of the people buried in the old cemetery. And while markers provide information about a few of the approximately 525 people buried in both cemeteries, little is known about most of them.

That's a mystery Nancy Zaruba of Norfolk spends much of her spare time trying to solve.

For years, the historian, researcher and genealogist has gathered newspaper clippings, genealogical records and other stories about the people who lived - and died - at what was originally known as the State Hospital for the Insane.

In reality, Zaruba said, it was often the home of last resort for people who suffered from a variety of ailments.

"It was basically an old people's home," she said. "If families didn't know what to do with Uncle John, that's where they put him."

Zaruba estimates that the first burial in the old cemetery occurred shortly after the facility opened in 1888. Burials there continued until 1916, when the new cemetery opened. She theorizes that the old cemetery was closed because it was hard to reach. In fact, it was -and is - tucked in the trees behind the Regional Center and accessible only by a "cow path."

Today, markers indicate where two veterans - John Lewis and Calvin Carey - and one civilian - Marion Zink - are buried.

Wanting to know more about the men, Zaruba searched online resources and learned that Carey was born about 1844 in Canada, served in Union Army during the Civil War and was wounded at Gettysburg. After the war, he married Sarah Ann Hadden. The couple had nine children and lived in Michigan and Nebraska, and Carey died at the Regional Center- or State Hospital for the Insane - on Feb. 19, 1895. The 1900 census records show his wife and three of his children living in Adams County, Iowa.

Yet questions remain as to why he ended up in the hospital and why the family didn't claim his body when he died.

Perhaps, Zaruba said, the family couldn't afford to transport his body after he died and opted to let him be buried in the state cemetery. At some point, however, they erected the monument that still stands at the head of his grave.

John Lewis also served in the Union Army, enlisting in 1861 as a private in the 4th Iowa Infantry Regiment. He was promoted to corporal a year later, and the company saw action at Vicksburg and Chattanooga. Census records from 1885 show him living in Clarinda, Iowa. He died at the State Hospital for the insane in 1912. That same day, his wife, Mary, applied for widow's pension based on her husband's military service.

Zaruba learned that Zink hailed from Loup City where he was listed as "head of a household" that included his brother, his sister and brother-in-law, Martha and William Ayers, and their daughter, Bertha.

Today, only seven markers remain in the new cemetery. However, several years ago, genealogical society members mapped the area by walking it and noting the indentions in the ground, which, Zaruba said, they believe indicate the individual graves.

Still, mystery surrounds the lives of the 450 people buried there.

Newspaper records indicate that William Osborn was the first person buried there. According to the article, the 71-year-old died in 1916 of "apoplexy" and his body was assigned to No. 1, section No. 1.

Zaruba has discovered snippets of information about a few other people buried there. For instance, it is believed that the Elsie Raymond Sandoz buried in the southeast corner of the cemetery is the sister-in-law of the late Mari Sandoz, one of Nebraska's foremost writers. And the Henriette Lyonette who is buried nearby was one of Jules Sandoz's wives. Jules was Mari's father and the subject of her most noted book "Old Jules."

While the cemetery is well maintained, it has none of the trees, shrubs, "pretty lawns and neat roads" that were planned.

In fact, if not for the few markers, no one would know that the spot is the final resting place for hundreds of forgotten souls.

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