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March 26, 2014

Grave for fire victims found

NORMAN — After years of searching for a mass grave in the IOOF Cemetery where 38 fire victims from the 1918 Oklahoma State Hospital fire were buried, the hunt has finally ended. There were 40 deaths, but two victims were identified and buried separately.

A meeting was hosted Tuesday night at Griffin Memorial Hospital, formerly Oklahoma State Hospital, to discuss the search and how individuals determined what is believed to be the 13-by-16-foot grave where the victims were laid to rest.

“You can’t really be sure without excavation,” said Scott Hammerstedt, a member of the research faculty at the Oklahoma Archeological Survey at University of Oklahoma. “I’m about as confident as I can be at this point.”

Hammerstedt has been at OU for seven years and the project was brought to his attention about six years ago, but at the time, they did not have the equipment to search for the grave, he said. About two years ago, OU’s College of Arts and Sciences purchased equipment and the surveying began.

Two different types of equipment were used to survey the IOOF Cemetery to locate the grave. After surveying five grids, the sixth grid led to what they believed to be the correct location.

The survey data, plus the recollection of a local man who remembered his father saying that was where the grave was located, convinced Hammerstedt the grave was there, but it couldn’t be proven without excavation.

While there was some discussion about augering, Hammerstedt said his worry would be that they would auger too deep and come up with human remains, which he wants to avoid. For now, the area will remain flagged until a grave marker, monument or some kind of memorial is placed there.

Director of Griffin Memorial Hospital Larry Gross said they are reviewing hospital records, trying to determine exact ages of people and doing genealogical research to try and get in touch with any living family members of the fire victims.

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