Iowa City Man finds Ancestor's Remains in 'Library of Dust'

By Forrest Saunders, Reporter

OXFORD, Iowa - It's a family reunion that almost wasn't. An Iowa City man recently brought home the ashes of a long lost relative that spent decades in a storage room on the other side of the country.

About a month and a half ago Bobby Jett was emailed by a woman who had looked at his profile on Ancestry.com. She said she was trying to unite people with long forgotten ancestors across the country, and knew the location of Henry Wagner, a distant relative of Jett's.

"He's actually the husband of my aunt, of his great grand-uncle," said Jett.

The woman said Wagner's cremains were in something called the "Library of Dust", a storage room at the Oregon State Hospital which held the ashes of approximately 3,600 people. Many were former patients of the mental hospital who died between 1914 and the '70s.

Wagner was one of them. When he passed in 1938 no one claimed his body. Per hospital policy, Wagner's body was cremated, sealed inside a copper canister and shelved.

"Mental illness in that time was something everyone wanted to distance themselves from. They did not want to talk about it. If a family had it, they were often times just written out of their history," said Jett.

That's no longer the case for Wagner. Jett agreed to take possession of the ashes, and placed them at the Oxford Cemetery next to the grave of Wagner's parents.

"I feel so at peace," said Jett.

The "Library of Dust" was discovered in 2004. Since then it has been moved to a better facility, which still holds about 3,500 unclaimed remains. You can check the database of names here: http://www.oregon.gov/oha/amh/osh/pages/cremains.aspx
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