© David Maisel, from the series Library of Dust

A new database should help infamous cremated remains find their way back into the possession of family members.

David Maisel‘s Library of Dust is well-known by now. Maisel got early access to a basement of decaying copper cans that hold the cremains of nearly 3,500 former mental institution patients who lived and died – and remained unknown and/or unclaimed – at Oregon State Psychiatric Hospital.

Maisel’s images reflected the keen interest the story garnered across the US (see Oregon’s Forgotten Hospital, Oregonian and Long-forgotten Remains of Oregon’s Mentally Ill, New York Times).

I placed Maisel’s work in the context of a longer visual history of the institution.

Last month, Oregon authorities – pushed by a committed volunteer Don Whetsell – announced a new venture to locate surviving families. The Los Angeles Times reports:

“Officials now hope that the launch this year of an online database detailing the 3,476 canisters yet to be claimed will help other relatives reunite, or unite for the first time.”

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