Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A forgotten man: Jacob B. Cavett

Go to the Find a Grave site for Mount Pleasant Mental Health Institute Cemetery and you'll find an old photograph that shows graves there marked by metal stakes. No names or other information, just stakes.

In the intervening years, the stakes have been removed and the area adjacent to Forest Home Cemetery allotted to the state-owned graveyard now is an uninterrupted field of grass containing a collective monument inscribed, "Life for the Living and Rest for the Dead: In Memory of our Patients Buried Here."

The institute itself is gone, too, now --- closed on July 1, 2015, after then-Gov. Terry Branstad vetoed the funding needed to keep it operating. The Mental Health Institute in southwest Iowa's Clarinda met the same fate.

The Mount Pleasant institute, opened during 1861 as the Iowa Lunatic Asylum, was Iowa's first attempt to serve institutionally its residents afflicted with mental illness. The Clarinda Lunatic Asylum opened in 1886.

Both had been home during the last 30 or more years of his life to a forgotten Lucas Countyan, John B. Cavett, declared insane and institutionalized sometime in the early 1890s while living with his family and working as a carpenter at Zero, a mining ghost town near the Lucas-Monroe county line. He would have been about 40 at the time.

That's his Henry County death certificate at the top. After spending more than 30 years at Clarinda, he was transferred because of overcrowding to Mt. Pleasant, arriving on or about May 8, 1924. He died six months later, on Nov. 12, 1924, age about 72, and was buried in the asylum cemetery.

John would have been a joint ward of Lucas County and the state, so county officials were informed of his death and one of the results was an obituary on the front page of The Herald Patriot of Nov. 27, 1924, which reads as follows:

"A recent notice coming from the superintendent of the hospital for the insane at Mt. Pleasant, to Lucas county officials, gave information that John Cavett had died there on the 12th inst., and his remains were interred in the plot of the hospital grounds set aside for that purpose.

"Mr. Cavett was a native of Washington township, the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Cavett, pioneer settlers of the county, and was well over 70 years at the time of his death. Early in life he was united in marriage to Miss Barbara Treasure, who at the present time resides somewhere in Missouri.

"They resided at the coal town of Zero, where Mr. Cavett worked at the carpenter trade when his mental facilities broke down, and he was consigned to the hospital at Clarinda, where he remained for more than thirty years, when owing to the crowded condition there, he and other incurables were transferred to Mt. Pleasant. When he was in control of all of his faculties he was a just and conscientious man, and has passed out after a life of gloom."

As the obituary noted, John was the eldest son of Samuel S. and Eliza Ann (Higgins) Cavett. They came to Washington Township, Lucas County, from Indiana during 1854 with 2-year-old John. The senior Cavetts, who died during the 1890s, are buried in the Lagrange Cemetery.

About 1883, John married Barbara Ann Treasure, perhaps in Missouri, and they had a daughter, Lulu Grace. After John's committal, Barbara returned to Missouri to live with her parents, then moved with other family members to Kansas where she died during 1938. Lulu married and raised a family in Kansas.

Several of John's siblings continued to live in Lucas County until their deaths, including Casandra (Cavett) Tinder, Rose (Cavett) Springer and George Cavett.

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